Tag Archives: Trump

Palm Fronds and Tomahawks

Donald Trump has given every preacher a gift for Palm Sunday.  To prove he is in charge. he sends Tomahawk missiles on Friday and a Carrier Strike Force on Sunday. Meanwhile,  around the world, churches show a different projection of power. In many parishes a Donkey will have led a Palm Sunday procession through the neighbourhood streets. Power is displayed with a shout of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm leaves.

Jesus the King enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. No gleaming escort or royal troops. No brass bands. No flags. No symbols of personal or national power. No Eagles with arrows in their talons.  No slogans of Peace Through Strength.  Just a dusty road, a borrowed donkey and peasants waving flora. He’s not very kingly with his talk of turning your cheek to be struck over and over and the idea that your neighbour’s life is as important as yours. God’s idea of the good life is very different from what we conjure for ourselves and set as the template for all.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, exhorts us to see the futile nature of sabre rattling and power projection. He makes us conscious that conventional munitions kill Trump’s “beautiful babies” just as tragically as chemical weapons.  He leads us to see the show of force is not really about beautiful babies but rather policy and alliances and national prestige. People don’t really come into it.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, only has love of God and love of neighbour to offer. The  Church has spun that into complicated theories of just war and Christendom where the state is God’s agent of order, justice and purpose. In reality those things are confessions of our failure to ride the donkey.  Just like the guy who asks, “Who is my neighbour”, we spark a parable about good Samaritans and the idea that citizens of the kingdom do not have enemies but only possible future friends.

Jesus sits in paradox to the kingdoms of this world and requires us to ask what is so special about our kingdom that it needs protecting with missiles and warships and sabre rattling rhetoric.

Donald Trump’s election (and the Brexit vote here for that matter) wasn’t because of racists, economic left behinds or alt right fanatics; though they are all factors.

What brought him to power were three national myths:

  1. Scarcity: There is only a limited amount of rights and opportunity and wealth to go around. If everyone has the same rights and access to opportunity it somehow takes away from me.
  1. Scapegoating: who are the people doing this to me? Corporations, blacks, women, illegals, gays. “We’ve been pretty tolerant of what they’ve wanted so far and now they want to take more. Well, the line is drawn here.” I genuinely believe people without a consciously racist or sexist bone in their bodies bought into this because it wasn’t about isms; it was about survival in a time of scarcity.
  1. Infinity is possible: We can consume in unlimited volumes and it will be keep coming. Yes, that seems to contradict myth one but it works on the following logic: there is infinity but my access to it is being blocked by all these other people who keep asking to have what I have in the same amount. There is infinity for me as long as there isn’t for others. White voters voted in their droves to restore their access to infinity because the scarcity was caused by people who they felt shouldn’t be in a position to cause it in the first place.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, didn’t believe these myths and neither did his mother. When she found out she was carrying him in her womb she sang the Magnificat which contains these phrases:

 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.   Luke 1

The Gospel of Matthew tells about the adult Jesus sitting on a hill with a bunch of others while telling them  how his kingship would turn the world upside down. The people who mattered were the meek, the mourning, the peaceful, the pure, the persecuted and those who wanted to be righteous. Jesus tells them if power is the starting point then we’re looking in the wrong place. If you want a kingdom guaranteed to create poverty, conflict and joylessness then follow the one with the proper parade and honour guard.

Jesus, the King on the Donkey, is a ridiculous figure in a ridiculous procession declaring a ridiculous Kingdom of love and a sacrifice. His power doesn’t teach the world a lesson, but instead saves it. His parade does not lead to higher poll ratings but rather to a cross.  This is a procession about our heart’s desire: palm fronds or tomahawks.  You can’t have both.

 

 

 

 

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What’s the Alternative?

 

Alternative facts.

My children would have loved to have access to those when they were little.  “I didn’t break that glass, the manufacturer failed to make it to a high enough standard.”  “No way, you broke the glass. Don’t lie”.  “I’m not lying, I’m giving you an alternative fact.”

Touche’.

We often  accuse politicians of thinking we are stupid.But when we let someone in power tell us that there are such things as “alternative facts”, well, we’re just making it too easy for them.  Why do you need an alternative fact? Is it because the fact at hand isn’t working for you;  because the fact at hand doesn’t help you control the story?

Lots of people who grew up in America about the same time as me have had to unlearn lots of “alternative facts” about gay people, black people, women, and Catholics to name a few. It took a long time to unlearn that stuff. It was important we learned those facts because they told us where we were and without them, we were lost and America was in danger. Or so we thought.When I look back, those facts seemed to be about diminishing those we didn’t like, who we felt threatened by, who we wanted to keep down and keep in their place.

In the world of real facts, I like the pilot of the plane I am flying on to know how much fuel is in the tank. I like the doctor to know that dark spot on my ear was a benign nothing to worry about. I like my pay slip to match  the amount of money actually deposited in my bank account. I am willing to accept that facts can be spun, used to serve many arguments and contexts but I can’t accept that they have alternatives. An empty petrol tank can’t be full. A loaded gun can’t be empty.

It might seem amusing to have a religious person talking about alternative facts. People might accuse us of having a preference for them, but we really don’t.  I believe Jesus’ death on the cross repaired a fundamental wound in the fabric of the cosmos. I believe that God created the world. That Jesus rose from the dead and that following the living Jesus is a crucial part of putting the world back together. These aren’t alternative facts. They are my starting points for who I am and how I engage with the world around me.

I can’t “prove” anything I believe in. I can’t show you photos or statistics or metrics. I believe in powerful eyewitness accounts. I believe that those who have gone before me have offered a powerful world changing tradition and experience. I believe my fellow believers and I have had powerful experiences of our own. Just as I can’t “prove” these, they can’t be disproved either.

In life, my beliefs have to coexist with facts. Facts like gravity, church electric bills, members’ lists and officers.  Jesus lived in a real place, under a real Roman Empire, in a real century, died on a real cross with the story written in real Greek.

Truth is  important as a way of navigating between faith and facts and getting the best out of both. For instance, factual information about how human activity negatively impacts creation around us leads me to put my reaction in faith terms: how does God feel about what we are doing to a creation he brought into being with his own words and breath? Facts lead me to seek faithful action.

A desire for alternative facts is a desire to hide the truth and hide from  it. It is a desire to hide our inability to handle that truth.  It is sad for a president of the USA to  line up a bunch of Christian preachers to see him into office and to not have one of them point out the folly of his approach to the truth and facts. It is sad they chose not to school his staff in the ways of letting truth be truth.

If they had chosen to do some schooling, they might have told him about Psalm 15:

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbours
or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honour the faithful followers of the Lord,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.

That’s a hard road to follow and it is guaranteed to have stumbles and falls and restarts. But people who walk the road will be better people for it. Had those preachers done their duty, they would have pointed out that truth leads us to a better place both in the world and in our souls. It’s a shame they didn’t agree with the  Psalmist whose words are for everyone whether they are kings or peasants or presidents.

The short message of the Psalm is this: the one who walks this way walks towards the light. The only alternative to light, is darkness.

I will give my consent to….

We live in very interesting political times. Donald Trump in the US has torn up the rulebook about how to run and behave as a potential presidential candidate and in doing so has garnered enough support to be the likely Republican candidate  come the convention later this year. While many describe him as racist, misogynist and falling to have a grasp of the roots of major issues, he just responds with a sort of “I’m just saying what people are thinking”. Some people, Donald, not all  of them.

Here in Britain we  have  a referendum looming about whether we should stay in the EU or leave it.  Our Tory government is split on this issue  with members of the cabinet not only disagreeing with the Prime Minister but actively criticising his ability to understand the issues and speak truthfully about them. In the best of times this would result in a spectacular collapse of the government but in these special circumstances  it is labelled “Freedom to Campaign”. How these people will be able to return to normal government and collegial relationships after the vote is hard to see, regardless of the outcome.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 146

    Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

Right now, we may be tempted to agree with him.  When politicians are making promises about all the problems they will fix, all the prosperity they will bring and the order they will keep, we would do well to be wary. We all know that what is said on the hustings is quickly forgotten in government (remember Nick Clegg and no tuition fee rises?).  When someone promises salvation it’s best not to hold your breath.

Christians have been keen as anyone to put their trust in princes and see them as fellow builders of the Kingdom (or at least bulwarks against all that is bad in a “fallen” world). This rush to embrace candidates who are “saying what we are thinking” has its dangers and we’d be wise to look out for them. What we need is a lens to view candidates and their promises and their policies through.

It’s not that hard to make such a lens. The apostle Paul gives us two really good starting points: where our heart’s desires lay and how we should be as people. After all, what we desire and how we believe we should be set the tone for what we want to see government and society do.

The first starting point is about where our mind should be. Paul writes in Phillippians 4

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Clearly not all policies can be noble or beautiful. Some legislation deals with bus fares and school curricula. Pretty boring you might say. However, maybe with a little high mindedness you might think about those who are reliant on public transport and that  it should be comfortable, affordable, and convenient.  Perhaps in school children should be educated as creative, purposeful, and potential filled people rather than as future employees.  Thinking in this way means more than just a process of attainment and measurement and production. If your policies are about people having fulfilling and thriving lives regardless of their status then your policies are going to be about what benefits people rather than what benefits the economy or big business or the rich.  Everyone will have a stake.

This is a Christian value. All are made in the image of God and therefore all are created to share in the whole of creation in a meaningful, creative, peaceful and just way.

Paul also wrote to the church talking about what transformation looked like in people. In Galatians 5 he talks about the fruit of a person’s life:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I’m not suggesting we create a theocracy but to support a candidate ignorant of these values or who works directly against them isn’t such a great idea either.  These ideas provide a realistic lens by which we know they can’t live up to them but will do good if they try to go as far as they can in them. But holding a candidate up to this template will reveal what they really stand for and reveal exactly who or what they are willing to abandon in pursuit of what they believe is important.  If their words don’t stand up to that list of fruits then neither will their governance.

Voting as a follower of Jesus frees us from the demands of party politics. Our identity comes from Christ first and then we may align ourselves with those we fit with. We start as independents who do not find their identity in isms or economics. We are distrustful of slogans like “Making America Great Again” or “Fixing a Broken Britain” because they raise far more questions than they answer.

Christians (and everyone really) have little interest in or use for abstract statements about our country.  They have a great interest in greatness being defined by the well-being of all citizens. A great nation removes vulnerability from people rather than increasing it; a great nation sees everyone as important to the well-being of the nation and therefore doesn’t tolerate margins. It recognises people’s limitations but doesn’t establish their value based on those limitations. All in all a good country is like the Kingdom of God: if you want a place in it, come and take it.

The Kingdom of God is not going to come through the ballot box. The work of the Kingdom will not be replaced by reasonable policies and legislation. Instead, it comes from transformed people who live by the patterns God put in us at creation and who follow the one who lived it best and makes it possible for us to do it too.