Disrupting Church as we know it.

If we consider Christ’s example as arguably the first and best example of a Christian missionary, (He left the splendor of heaven and entered a foreign and hostile culture to deliver a transformative message) I think we could gain some insight as to how the church should relate to nonbelievers. To religious non believers (pharisees and the like) He confronted them, challenged them, and generally made them uncomfortable to the point that they conspired and followed through with killing Him. To non religious unbelievers (woman caught in adultery, tax collectors, prostitutes etc.) He showed compassion, love and service. So if we were to apply Christ’s example to how we do church, we would seek to make members uncomfortable and those who are considered outsiders to feel loved, served, and welcomed. 

Of course, what complicates my analogy, is that the distinction between saints and sinners isn’t as clear as perhaps it was in Jesus’ day. For example, in Oklahoma as in much of the Bible Belt, perhaps most everyone would claim Christian beliefs, and those in and out of the church would probably have difficulty articulating the gospel and core Christian doctrines. So what do we do? The challenges of social distancing in the age of COVID-19 gift us with an opportunity to challenge how we do Church. Perhaps it is time for Pastors and parishioners alike to rethink our methods.

I think in order to be a good missionary to our culture we have to seek to be attractive to the culture by pursuing excellence. Excellence doesn’t equal perfection nor does it equate with making people feel “comfortable” per se. Excellence is worshiping God to the best of our abilities and gifting while encouraging others who are in Christ to do the same, and giving them opportunity to do so. So that when unbelievers come to visit, even if they reject our message, they will be impressed with our devotion. Excellence glorifies God and inspires people. When it is truly and effectively preached, the gospel of Christ will always be offensive to the unbelieving heart, so we should do our best to remove any other unnecessary offense to the gospel. A desire for and purposeful pursuit of excellence in all that we do helps to achieve this end. 

Likewise our services, should also be disruptive, disturbing the peace of all who attend by showing an alternative Kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdoms of this world. 

As Neil Postman famously observed in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, “With the invention of the clock, eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events.” Thanks to further invention and innovation, we now have the ability to not just tell time but to also waste it. With technological advancement it seems humanity is increasingly insulated from the wonder of the enchanted world. This presents unique challenges for those of us who are called to be witnesses for the gospel of Christ. How do we effectively engage our culture—which has successfully segregated that truth to the sphere of privately held religious beliefs—with the truth of the gospel? Especially since our culture embraces pluralism, where faith is but one option among many?

Alan Noble, in his book Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, seeks to illustrate these challenges while illuminating a course of action that Christians can take that will result in a better understanding of “how our culture processes beliefs, so we might better fulfill our duty to love our neighbor and glorify God.” Dr. Noble acknowledges, “There are no easy answers to the problems created by our contemporary condition, but by changing our personal habits, recovering church practices that convey God’s holiness, and rethinking how we participate in culture, we can offer a disruptive witness that will help people to see the world anew, as created by a living and sustaining God.” Noble lives up to his namesake in making an effort to disrupt conventional thinking when it comes to reaching the culture for Christ, specifically by building on the contributions of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and his daunting work, A Secular Age. In this text, Taylor posits the idea of buffered selves, a phenomenon where “the modern person experiences a buffer between themselves and the world out there,” resulting in distraction “from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true.”

“Disruptive Witness” by Alan Noble

Noble unpacks the portmanteau of the buffered self through a series of illustrative moments from his personal experiences as well as through references to literature, culture, and scripture to prod readers forward to a powerful understanding of what it means to live our Christian faith instead of just believing in our Christian faith. For the casual reader, a word of caution is necessary: Noble seeks to stretch the boundaries of your mental acumen. The content of this book will disrupt what it is you think you know, and it will require some effort on your part to fully comprehend the arguments. You will need to read it twice, maybe three times, to appreciate its depth. Like the culture he is critiquing, and the Christian response to it, Noble refuses to produce just another consumable tome that results in a sugar high with no lasting intellectual nutritional value. The Christian reader may be a bit disappointed in a lack of easily digestible scriptural illustrations, although there are some. For example, Noble references 2 Peter 3:4 to illustrate the lament of a distracted generation: “They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” But front and center is a challenge to what so many Christians have sacrificed on the altars of cultural relevance and a call to reclaim and redeem our personal and collective habits for the glory of God. In an age of distracted, cacophonous shouting, Alan Noble reminds us that a reflective whisper of an enchanted world is a welcome reprise and may be the most disruptive and effective witness for Christ.

Our witness must be disruptive if we really seek to make a difference in our distracted world.

Again, the example of Christ is helpful. He was both attractive and disruptive. He would have mass gatherings where He miraculously fed people and healed them (perhaps a modern equivalent would be having services that are designed to minister to the “felt” needs of folks) and then He would then preach to them “Eat my flesh, and drink my blood” making them so uncomfortable that most would leave. 

I don’t think it necessarily has to be an either/or dichotomy. We can faithfully minister to the culture and challenge the culture at the same time. In fact, I think Christ has uniquely designed the church to do exactly this.

Confessions of a recovering manipulator.

I have a confession to make, I’m a recovering manipulator. In his book Scary Close Don Miller describes five types of manipulators, sadly I have probably exhibited all of these at some point in my life. I have also been manipulated by others in all of these areas. Reflecting on eliminating these bad behaviors in myself and recognizing them in others in order to avoid this kind of control. I want to cultivate mature, healthy, authentic relationships with others. At the end of my life relationships will be what mattered. Indeed, as a wise man has often said “Life moves at the speed of relationships.” Relationships should be our most valued resources. In order to cultivate our relationships, we must be willing to work on ourselves first. 

Do you recognize any of these?

1. The Scorekeeper: A score- keeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win. Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way they’re winning.

2. A Judge personality strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power. Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around. When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others. The Bible becomes a book of rules they use to prove they are right rather than a book that introduces people to God.

3. The False-Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do. This one’s tough because this is my go-to form of manipulation.

4. Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell. Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong. They are never vulnerable and fear being perceived as weak. Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy.

5. A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can. This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation. In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor. If you enter into a relationship with a Flopper, sooner or later that oppressor will be you.

We cannot change what we refuse to acknowledge. I acknowledge may failings in these relational areas, and now understand that people aren’t a means to the ends of my goals. But God made people as ends in and of themselves. Love others. The investment has eternal returns. 

Let the wind blow

I’m feeling a new wind. A second wind if you will. And I’m grateful. A second wind is a colloquialism that refers to the point when a long distance runner feels a surge of energy and gains to the ability to push through fatigue and finish the race. God has given all of us a purpose in this world. I believe that. Whereas I used to think that getting unstuck required a great deal of energy or self-determination, I now understand that discovering a “second wind” simply means doing what is next. It isn’t always glamorous, it isn’t always fun, but it is rewarding. I intend to finish what I have started. In order to do so, I have to decide to do the next thing that is in front of me. I am thankful for this opportunity. 

“Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information” -Walter Lippmann

 I read this earlier and I certainly find it to be true. We should find a way for people to have access to more information and not less. Information is not an enemy of truth, in fact it helps us defend the truth and become more a part of God is calling us to be. I feel like this is the source of my “second wind.” I love to learn and grow and push forward in what God has called me to be, God is changing me and I can feel the work of His Spirit within me.

I read today something that Augustine had written, “The inhabitants of the city of God walk on gold and love people, the inhabitants of the city of men love gold and walk on people.” What a great understanding of how the gospel influences and changes our lives. God does an amazing work in us and through us. God is good to us every step of the way.

I find that winds blow at their greatest strength in storms. May that wind be harnessed to propel us to the next shore. Let the wind blow.

Misguided Prophets & Demagoguing Politicians

In 1851, John Babsone Lane Soule proclaimed in the Terre Haute Express, “Go west, young man, go west!” Horace Greeley was impressed with the phrase and rephrased it slightly in an editorial in the New York Tribune on July 13th 1865: “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” When I was eighteen years old, having graduated high school, I answered that call. I went as far west as I could fathom, landing in Stockton, California. I was enamored with a large church in my small Pentecostal denomination that had a Bible-training school for aspiring preachers. The church was dynamic and exciting, filled with vibrant young people; in fact, at the time, they had a talented youth choir that received national attention for their spirited singing. During my time there, the church services were typical Pentecostal fare with lots of enthusiasm and emotion and preaching that centered more on feeling rather than thinking. Often through the preaching and teaching, we were admonished to empty ourselves of all skepticism, as this approach was the way to access the “miraculous power of God.” We never contemplated the idea that a total absence of skepticism might lead to complete acceptance of any version of “truth.” But not everything should be believed, because when virtually everything is miraculous, nothing is then demonstratively miraculous. However, those kinds of thoughts would not occur to me then, and I, like many of my peers, was caught up in the wonderful feelings that surround perceived miraculous moments. 

It was in one of those moments I first encountered the Reverend Timothy Spell. Spell was invited to be a guest soloist on a live recording for the youth choir. Spell, a talented gospel singer and preacher from Louisiana with natural charisma and good looks, charmed the live audience with the melodious hook, “Have faith in God!”  Imagine if Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis had a baby (and Jerry Lee had taken his cousin Jimmy Swaggart’s religion more seriously) then you would have a pretty good idea of my impression of the talented persona of Timothy Spell. I mean that description as a compliment; Spell was and is an engaging and exciting speaker and world class gospel singing talent. 

He would show up in my life again, now some thirty years later, as a frequent source of commentary on my social media postings. Spell and I disagree quite vigorously over the 45thoccupant of the White House, and he is quick to defend President Trump and right-leaning politics consistently and fervently.  I always regarded Spell’s predictable punditry as stereotypically Trumpian, unoriginal, pedestrian, and relatively harmless—until last week. Spell and his son Tony, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, received national attention for their refusal to comply with national and state mandates on not gathering as large groups in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Both made local and national news for their defiance, and they recorded a twenty-minute Facebook video defending their actions as an appropriate response in the face of government intrusion and overblown media hype. There were many Old Testament references taken out of context and a lot of conflation of American ideals and biblical values. Currently the video has views in excess of thirty thousand, and Pastor Tony has made appearances on Fox News and The Glenn Beck Program. If this act of defiance had not been made in the midst of a national health crisis, these Louisiana preachers may have been dismissed as comedic caricatures of themselves. But of course, in this case, their actions may literally be a matter of public safety. 

Pastor Tony and Reverend Tim Spell defend their actions on facebook live. https://www.facebook.com/timothy.c.spell/videos/10156745860820025/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

I asked Spell on his public social media how exactly this large gathering served to fulfil the command of Jesus in Matthew 12:31: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He responded cryptically, “That’s low hanging fruit.” In another exchange, I asked more directly, “Would the President support your actions?” No answer to that question, only an exchange suggesting that if the “heat” was too much on his thread then I should leave the proverbial kitchen. But I hadn’t even broken a sweat. Social media exchanges aside, I think Tim and Tony’s refusal, along with a smattering of other churches in various denominations across the country, to comply with instructions to help diminish the impact of The COVID-19 virus on our nation is illustrative of a greater issue than imagined persecutions or infringements of First Amendment rights. Their actions illustrate an inconsistency in how the idea of faith is applied in the rudimentary values that govern our lives and behaviors as Americans—specifically, as Americans who embrace the Christian faith. 

For example, I have no doubt that Spell and his son would be strong proponents of the Second Amendment, and would find it prudent to have armed security present at their services (a response to a rash of mass shootings in the last few decades across America, many of which involved churches and other places of worship). This security, like in most other churches, often involves volunteers who practice concealed carry of their weapons. I’m confident that Reverend Tim and Pastor Tony would see such preparations as a necessary precaution against a tragedy occurring at their church. They would not view this as a lack of faith, but as a matter of common sense in a dangerous world. But yet the same folks who would advocate for Second Amendment rights as a precaution against a dangerous world, continue to gather in large groups because the threat of the coronavirus is a production of liberal media biases. The inconsistency of when precautionary measures are applied and when they aren’t is telling, revealing a distinction of values that in turn reveal even greater allegiances than those consistently and traditionally pointed out by professed people of faith.  

The Bible is replete with references of both supernatural and natural means of deliverance for those who enjoyed God’s favor. And often the Scriptures that provide us the most comfort are those that demonstrate God doesn’t always intervene to rescue His beloved, but rather chooses for His own purposes to let a natural course of events play out to an unknown end. Certainly unknown for those experiencing the events, but for those of us who believe, they are never unknown to God. The Christian faith instructs us to trust that God is good and will “work all things together for the good of them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). None of the Apostles escaped suffering or death, but neither did they seek it. And that is an important distinction. When the Apostle Paul learned of a plot to kill him, he did not confront those wanting to kill him, but rather changed his routine and was lowered over a wall in a basket to escape his persecutors. Paul also utilized the natural means of Roman courts to escape the persecution and murderous plots of religious leaders to execute him. Paul placed his faith in Christ alone, regardless of the outcome. I also find personal comfort in this God of the New Testament, in the person and work of Jesus who demonstrated at the cost of his own life that God doesn’t exist to serve our every whim or to rescue us from every disruption or inconvenience. 

Now, Tim and Tony, and others like them, may lay claim to these religious texts in solidarity of their cause, but it misses an important point: the government is not forbidding Church, but merely one expression of church as we have come to experience it in our American context. Sunday gatherings of church congregations are not The Church, certainly not in the Biblical sense, but rather an extension of our consumer-driven version of Christianity. 

Watching the Spells defend their actions, it is clear what they are defending is not The Church, but they are decrying a disruption of what they and most American Christians have come to enjoy as our version of church. Tim also ventures into a strange colloquy conflating a disruption to the economy and the ensuing potential political harm to President Trump—as a justification of their actions as leaders of the congregation. At one point in their video defense, Tim says their actions aren’t about money, then strangely, emotionally adds, “I’m losing money by sitting in this chair right now. I’ve had churches cancel me!” There can be no doubt that Tim is venting here, as much of his income is derived from his appearances at churches across America. As Upton Sinclair famously observed; “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” 

The French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu looked at how the cultural leaders convince the rest of society they are special, and how this keeps such leaders in power. Perhaps Bourdieu was on to something: we are living at a moment in history when cultural leaders adhere to certain values at the expense of others in order to identify with their constituency and to avoid disruption in the civil religion of American consumerism. Religious leaders like Reverend Tim and Pastor Tony seek to establish their bona fides by decrying government intrusion into the religious sphere and dismissing health science as a media-induced panic. 

Additionally, political leaders, like Donald Trump, then continue to trade with the currency of fear and division. This political and social hubris was in evidence this past week when, at a daily briefing the subject turned to a possible treatment for the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was adamant that there’s no evidence chloroquine—which has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration—will work against the deadly virus. “The evidence you are talking about is anecdotal evidence,” he told reporters. “The information you are referring to is anecdotal, so you can’t make a definitive statement about it.” Moments later President Trump chimed, “I feel good about it. Just a feeling. I am a smart guy, we’ll see soon enough.” Watching this, I was reminded of my Bible school experience so many decades ago, “Let go of your skepticism.” 

Donald Trump, with experience as a reality TV star and real estate mogul, wants us to trust his “feeling” over the facts delivered by science. Timothy Spell wants us to trust his “faith” over the facts. In this instance, sadly, the feelings of Trump and “faith” of Timothy Spell are insufficient to navigate the staggering challenges in front of us. In these difficult times, all of us want hope that life will soon return to normal. The desire to communicate hope on the part of our political and religious leaders is understandable. But simply wanting something to be true does not make it so, and optimism and reality should not have to be mutually exclusive. Good leadership communicates hope while telling the truth, not in spite of it. 

Hope and science are not incompatible. 

At the same briefing, Peter Alexander of NBC Newsasked President Trump, “What do you say to Americans who are scared right now?” Trump responded, “I say you are a terrible reporter,” and then proceeded to lecture Alexander, accusing him of “nasty reporting and bad journalism” adding that “the American people are looking for answers and they are looking hope.” Neither of which the president, in that moment, was giving. Imagine if the president would have remained calm and answered by saying, “this is a very difficult and trying time, and we are doing the best that we can to provide answers to the American people.” Imagine if he would have taken the moment to talk sincerely about his professed faith and how that brings him comfort and guidance in these moments and will provide the same for all of us. Imagine if the President had shown an ounce of empathy in that moment, how different would the emotional temperature have been in the room? In the nation? In this moment, we need leaders who possess both authority and empathy, who are willing to tell the truth and give us hope—a balance that isn’t found in these misguided prophets or demagoguing politicians. This is the kind of leadership the American people deserve. 

Perhaps, now more than ever. 

A timely prayer

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, a Prayer of Protection, also known as The Deer’s Cry, The Lorica of Saint Patrick or Saint Patrick’s Hymn, is a lorica whose original Old Irish lyrics were traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century.

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Fact or Fake?Trump tests positive for negative leadership.

The First Amendment to the United States constitution is clear; “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” The United States Constitution is unique in this point that it mentions a particular profession, that of the press, and specifically grants to that profession Constitutional protections. In recent years this cherished freedom has been tested, most recently with the ascendancy and subsequent presidency of Donald J. Trump. Repeatedly, he has singled out news sources who don’t agree with him or seek to question his legitimacy or policies, and has labeled them “Fake News.” With the current National emergency involving COVID-19, this becomes a great deal more serious then just the standard political theater. For instance, just a few weeks ago President Trump told his supporters that the virus was simply the latest Democratic hoax, with pundits on right wing media eager to agree with him and downplay the severity of the virus, but now the President has changed his tune. Offering a far more sober response that should have been front and center from the beginning.

One particular news organization has incurred the brunt of Trumps wrath; CNN. On numerous occasions Trump has christened CNN as the standard bearer for all that is wrong with journalism. Trump’s criticism has been so ubiquitous it has earned CNN a spurious distinction as a leader among fraudulent news purveyors in the Trump universe. A cursory view of American history will reveal, however, that Trump is not the first American, nor President for that matter, to make this claim. As Patterson and Wilkins point out in Media Ethics: Issues and Cases, “Madison, Hamilton and Jay in the Federalist Papers expected citizens to be informed and to participate in politics. They knew that political debate, including what was printed in the press, would be partisan and biased rather than objective, but they also believed that from this ‘noisy’ information the national being would find the truth. Unfettered communication was essential to building a new nation. Citizens had an obligation to read such information: the press had an obligation to provide it.”

What the founding fathers recognized as inherently bias, Trump goes the extra step and labels “fake.” The validity of this claim is suspect, indeed it is not the news media, but Trump’s claim that is “fake.” CNN, along with its counterparts Fox News, and MSNBC, populate the cable news spectrum with news that is packaged to be received by a specific audience. For example, it would stretch the bounds of credulity to suggest that Fox News doesn’t make every effort to put the policies and the person of the 45thoccupant of the White House in the best light. However upon close examination, what both CNN and Fox News haven in common at their core is basic facts. 

For instance, CNN led with details of the Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election, Fox News led with the strong economic numbers that have been a hallmark of the Trump Presidency. But both eventually reported the same facts, but what is different is the placement and emphasis they choose to place on those facts. This “spinning” of the facts is done to appeal to the specific audiences these particular networks have targeted. 

This is fundamentally important to understand when it comes to reporting of information that has political impact. Evaluating these networks and specifically evaluating President Trump’s claim that CNN is “fake news.”, may be accomplished through utilizing three important measurements; The Williams test of political relevance, The Williams framework of political virtue, (developed by political scientist Bruce A. Williams 2009) and by evaluating a particular role the news media may be fulfilling at any given moment.

A timeline of Trump’s responses to the Coronavirus

            First, the test of political relevance. A claim or news item is determined to be of political relevance when it meets the following criteria, “Useful: does it provide citizens with the kind of information that helps individual and collective decision making? Sufficient: is there enough of it and at enough depth to allow people to make informed choices? Is the information trustworthy, or is the source and the content reliable and credible? And finally, audience: the political ‘we’ on which the ancient Greeks placed so much emphasis.” When this test is applied to the information flowing from CNN and its rivals, the information meets these minimum tests, although that information may be skewed to the political left or right to appeal to the networks target audience. Thus, by this evaluation of this test, CNN is not fake news. 

            Next, Bruce Williams further evaluates the validity of news claims by the virtues of the content when measured by the following standards;

Transparency: Does the audience know who is speaking?

Pluralism: Does the media environment provide an opportunity for diverse points of view, either in different messages that are equally accessible or within a single message?

Verisimilitude: Do the sources of the messages take responsibility for the truth claims the explicitly and implicitly make, even if these claims are not strictly verifiable in any formal sense?

            Finally, it is important in any serious evaluation of news that the “normative roles for the media in democratic political systems”be taken into consideration. The text outlines these roles as: 

  • The radical role operates when the media provide an alternative vision to the current political and social situation in a country. 
  • The monitorial role is what citizens most often think of when they speak of the watchdog function of the news media. 
  • The facilitative role is perhaps captured by news coverage of elections and political advertising about candidates and public issues. 
  • The collaborative role, where the media promote the views of the state.

Even a cursory viewer of CNN or any of its competitors will quickly surmise that all of these roles are fulfilled and exceeded, securing them a position of credibility, rather than “fake” as the President so regularly claims. 

            In the final analysis, the standards put forth as outlined in  Media Ethics: Issues and Cases demonstrates that CNN is not fake news as the President claims. But rather, when the President is held to these standards, his claims fail the test of validity. The American people are privileged to live in a system that provides protections to speech and the press, insuring that our valued Republic may not be dismantled because of an unwise vote of the electorate. What is important during this moment of National challenge is the way Trump chose to lead. From the beginning of his Presidency, he established a standard of vitriol and division, making a point to disagree with the easily verifiable facts of his inauguration’s crowd size. Leadership isn’t about “hitting back,” or labeling your political opponents with dismissive nicknames or promises of retaliation. Leadership is about rising above the fray and calling all of us to the higher ideals of our Republic. And leadership is perhaps most often missed in the moments when it is needed most. Such as now.

History will perhaps judge the Presidency of Donald Trump as a chaotic moment in the democratic story of America’s larger narrative. A loss for us all. But equally, because of the checks and balances wisely built into our system by our founding fathers, this momentary loss will not derail liberty’s legacy of ultimate victory. Because of this we all win. 


The White House/White Privilege

If the Presidency of Donald J. Trump has one overarching theme thus far, it would have to be the attempt to undo everything the Obama administration accomplished. In fact, the Trump presidency “brand” could simply be captioned “Anti-Obama”— a label that both appeals to Trump supporters while simultaneously angering his opponents. Yet no matter where you land on the policy debates surrounding the actions of President Obama, even a cursory survey will reveal that most of the Obama legacy remains despite the efforts of Trump to reverse them. For example, Obama care is still existent, even given all of its problematic issues and implementation questions that are now before the courts; to date, the Republicans have failed to repeal or replace The Affordable Care Act. Even in matters of foreign policy, it is difficult to imagine that the pragmatic approaches and strategic displays of strength are all that different now compared to what they would have been given a continuation of an Obama-like administration. With perhaps the assassination of Iranian General Soleimani and the controversial call to Ukrainian President Zelensky being notable exceptions, with Obama (and now continuing with Trump), the affairs of the world turn in problematic directions with a complexity of issues. My aim isn’t to minimize policy differences. There are many, but a close analysis indicates both political parties are driven by certain policy expectations to meet the needs of the American people. Both Obama and Trump endeavored to meet those expectations. But what is dramatically different between President Obama and President Trump is the tone, style, and character of the two men, and how Americans, specifically white Americans, choose to respond to the words and actions of President Obama and, now, President Trump. Imagine if anything done or said by President Trump had been done or said by President Obama; how would the responses by white Americans have been different? 

A head-to-head comparison of President Trump to President Obama, mostly in relation to temperament and character, illustrates the double standards by which we assess leadership in our nation. Such a contrast reveals very clearly the privileged position occupied by white leaders when compared to their black counterparts. 

For example, the Obamas have been married for twenty-eight years with no marital scandal to report. Barak Obama made a living by teaching at The University of Chicago Law School and advocating for poor and marginalized communities. Donald J. Trump has been married three times, and has had at least one confirmed affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, a mistress Trump authorized to pay $130,000 prior to the 2016 election for her agreement to keep the tryst quiet. My point here is not to exclusively condemn President Trump for egregious moral failures, nor to suggest that this in any way prohibits him from carrying out the duties of his office, although I do have an opinion on these serious character flaws. Rather, my point here is to draw attention to the way this behavior was quickly excused, justified, or dismissed out of hand by Trump supporters. Imagine how President Obama would have been vilified by white America had he engaged in any of the sexually questionable behavior engaged in by President Trump. 

President Obama and family

Yet given the exemplary behavior of President Obama as a husband, father, and citizen, he is maligned to this day with the continued perpetuation of false accusations concerning his birth, religion, and loyalties. And in these instances, the differences in how the two Presidents are treated stretches the bounds of credulity. President Obama has consistently said publicly that he is a Christian. Yet many of his critics continue to circulate false claims that he is, in fact, a Muslim. President Trump has also said publicly that he is Christian, while at the same time stating that he has never asked God to forgive him. And most recently he utilized the National Prayer breakfast to celebrate his acquittal, openly saying that he wasn’t sure if he agreed with the command of Christ to “love others as we love ourselves.” Yet relatively few are willing to question Trump’s confession of Christianity, with many going to great lengths to justify his incongruent words and actions. 

This energetic embrace of the 45thPresident and equally energetic dismissal of the 44thPresident by many in Christian white normative circles is emblematic of a larger effort to sustain white mediocrity while attempting to take out black excellence at the knees. 

As Ta-Nehisi Coates eloquently writes in a 2017 article for The Atlantic, 

“Whiteness in America is a different symbol—a badge of advantage. In a country of professed meritocratic competition, this badge has long ensured an unerring privilege, represented in a 220-year monopoly on the highest office in the land. For some not-insubstantial sector of the country, the elevation of Barack Obama communicated that the power of the badge had diminished. . .For the preservation of the badge, insidious rumors were concocted to denigrate the first black White House. Obama gave free cellphones to disheveled welfare recipients. Obama went to Europe and complained that “ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs.” Obama had inscribed an Arabic saying on his wedding ring, then stopped wearing the ring, in observance of Ramadan. He canceled the National Day of Prayer; refused to sign certificates for Eagle Scouts; faked his attendance at Columbia University; and used a teleprompter to address a group of elementary-school students. The badge-holders fumed. They wanted their country back.” 

And Whiteness in America would take it back in the form of the election of Donald J. Trump. Andrew Marantz in his book Antisocial details this phenomenon via the explanation of the Overton window; “a metaphor invented in the 1990s by a libertarian think tank to explain how cultural vocabularies fluctuate over time.” Those ideas, political philosophies, and candidates clearly visible at the center of the window are those which are universally acceptable. In cultural terms, they are mainstream. The outer edges of the window represent the more controversial, novel, or radical ideas, philosophies, and candidates. The Overton window would suggest that for those in the white community the election of Barak Obama in 2008 was a major shift in what we thought possible. That major shift (in what was considered mainstream) required an equally radical response in 2016. Enter Trump—a candidate who perhaps at any other time in American history, and indeed in 2015, was considered by most unelectable, secured the Republican nomination and ultimately the presidency. Trump shattered the Overton window. 

Marantz goes on to point out this shattering of the window in favor of what many had relegated to the radical fringe of the GOP, wasn’t a novel concept, but one that had been in development for years. According to Marantz, “Steve Sailer, a prolific opinion columnist with a small but passionate online audience, had reached the conclusion. . .that Republicans should drop their disingenuous platitudes and campaign openly as a white-identity party.” Sailer reached his conclusions by analyzing exit-poll data in November of 2000, and “he demonstrated that if Bush had increased his share of the white vote by just 3 percent –if 57 percent of white Americans had voted for him, rather than 54 percent—he would have won in a landslide.” Sailer concluded even if Bush had lost every non-white vote, by these percentages he would have still won. Sailer demonstrated again via exit-poll data in 2012 the viability of what was then known as The Sailer Strategy. This strategy suggested a white GOP candidate need not be bothered with appealing to politically correct sensibilities, but could simply appeal to white voter concerns “without making any overtures to Hispanic voters, or to any other minority voting blocs. All he needed, again, was more white votes—specifically, more support among working-class white men in the Rust Belt.” In 2016 Donald Trump went all in with The Sailer Strategy. A strategy that had been tried two decades before with less success. 

David Duke

In 1990 I was 19 and had taken a summer job at the Pentecostal camp meeting in Louisiana. The weeklong gathering was a celebration of all things Pentecostal and attracted upwards of 10,000 people from across the state. Thursday night was set aside for state and local politicians to make their appeal to the mostly white Pentecostal constituency. 1990 was the year founder of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, having been elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, was running for Governor. After he was introduced and addressed the crowd to welcomed applause, I turned to a quintessential white “church lady” who was hosting me and friend in her home. In the best confidence I could conjure as a 19-year-old, I said to her, “I’m not sure how comfortable I am with some of the views of David Duke.” She responded, “I like him. I hate [the N-word]. To my shame, I didn’t say anything. The moment passed, the choir resumed singing, the congregation resumed clapping, and David Duke later came in second place receiving 32% of the vote for governor. Then, in 2016, Donald J. Trump reportedly received 81% of the white evangelical vote utilizing a similar strategy to that of Duke. 

I would like to think we have progressed as a nation since 1990; however, the concerted efforts on the part of white America, many of whom claim to embrace Christ, to dismiss the exemplary character of President Obama, and in many instances disparage his character and at the same time and often with the same breath excuse, defend, applaud and even reward President Trump illustrates that nothing much has changed, and perhaps it is even worse. White privilege and white enablement of this White House is flourishing. 

The post first appeared on Faithonview.com

Broken

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. –Ephesians 4.2-3 

This is a difficult Scripture to grasp. What does this look like in the twenty first century? And where do we draw the line between not becoming a door mat and being ‘completely humble and gentle?’ The author of this passage, The Apostle Paul, was anything but ‘completely humble and gentle.’ Remember how he handled the abuses at Corinth? He writings seem to reveal that he was anything but humble, gentle, patient, unifying. Paul was divisive with his declarations of truth. He was never willing to compromise truth, but yet he demanded of the Churches he founded and led, that they should behave in this manner. 

This poses the question how do I, as a broken, imperfect, individual, lead other broken, imperfect, individuals? Paul was fond of saying that in his weakness he was made strong. How in the world can I be broken and strong at the same time? I need help. I need the help of The Holy Spirit to lead, to teach, to live. I want to do better. I want to be better. But how? 

Jesus went to the cross willingly. When faced with the highest political power of His day, Jesus looked at Pilate and said “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus went on to say that had it been of this world, then his followers would take it by force. Jesus refused to use the conventional forces of this world to launch his Kingdom. The system killed him, as it does all of those who refuse to utilize the conventional forces of this world. 

So, if I choose not to use the conventional forces of the systems of this world, what does that say about my leadership? Will it die or will it thrive? Should I embrace assertiveness? Or should I embrace servant leadership and turn it upside down? 

Paul says ‘Keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ Peace keeps unity. I want to be someone who cultivates peace, but finding out how to accomplish that is difficult. Cultivating peace is extremely difficult in a broken world, especially among broken people. Broken. I keep coming back to that word.

When will the brokenness be healed? When will the broken be made whole? 

Amazon. She is a beautiful beast.

Amazon. You are a beautiful beast. 

Promenading from your canopy

Trees that aren’t content with an earthly stint

But stretch high and wide 

Where sun and sky collide 

Amazon. You are a beautiful beast. 

Amazon walking tree

Your indigenous children, strong and lean

Rise to call you blessed indeed

Feet that are wide and sure

Their stride bold and secure 

Amazon mother. You are a beautiful beast. 

Culture old and tried

Simplicity unrefined 

Food of the tree and of the ground

Fish from the river found 

Enough for all to eat

Space for all to have a seat

Welcome guest and stranger alike 

Amazon. Seductress of perplexity’s night

You are a beautiful beast 

In your quiet I found reprise 

In your depths I did sleep 

In your rain I bathed 

Rare was the breeze

But constant was the serenade of teeming topiary 

Your promontories challenged me 

Rigid rocks

lengthy vinery stalks 

Like beautiful long dreadlocks 

Flowing down the back of the jungle queen

 Amazon. You are a beautiful beast 

Underneath your moon lit empyrean

My soul reflects on the last time I’d seen him

River under moon

A glimpse of a former self

Feelings of emotions felt 

Pain

Hurt 

Fear 

Regret

All lost in your gentle caress 

I’ll cherish our forbidden kiss

Until I return to take the trip 

Up the river 

 And through your caves 

Navigating your exacting maze 

To experience you once is never enough

No matter how harsh, how sharp, how rough 

Until then I have my memories

 At the very least 

Until I’m held again by Amazon

For she is a beautiful beast

Life is like a River