Putting things in their place

In my last post, I commented on a quote from Corrie Ten Boom to urge Christians to consider the ways in which they were devoting large segments of their lives to things that may be okay on their own but have grown too significant. I’m sure there are hundreds of good things that we could let become ultimate things if we are not careful. This is why Solomon gave the stern warning, “Above all else guard your heart, for from it flows the wellsprings of life.” (Prov 4:23) Jesus echoed this idea when he said “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

What follows are some practical tips to help diagnose whether this could be true of you. Could you be, as Corrie Ten Boom said, rearranging pictures in a house that is burning down with people inside?

Get out more: Conservative evangelicals are generally a white middle/upper class bunch and it is possible and even probable that most will avoid being challenged with seriously struggling people in their context. The middle and upper classes have the means to hide or drown their struggles so unless you do something differently, you can live your whole life thinking everyone is pretty much okay. This is true in the church as much as among unbelievers, and is the basic definition of the Christian bubble. I think it’s even more powerful in the “good churches” that tout themselves as better than the others because of (mostly correct) doctrinal distinctions, but have the boomerang effect of shaming struggling people into silence.

Get out more effectively: Once you decide you may be affected by the Christian bubble, come up with a plan. You don’t have to sell everything and move into our neighborhood to start coming out of the bubble (but you are welcome to do that). The Bible is clear that people around you are hurting and if you simply engage them on a more than superficial level you will begin to see it. This means you may have to say no to some of your “Christian” stuff or personal time but it’s really the only way you’re going to do it.

Read the Bible differently: One thing that God used to motivate us was simply reading the Bible to look for God’s attitude toward struggling people. God spends a lot of time talking about people exploited by leaders, and many of those groups continue to exist today. God does care about widowed, orphaned, materially poor, shamed, outcast, and lonely people differently and his promises to them reflect their actual condition. It could be that you are God’s

Ask different questions: If you’re going to do #3, you’re going to have to ask different questions. Rather than reading Matthew 25 and explaining why it doesn’t apply to you, you will need to ask how it does apply to you. When you read about God’s care for widows, you will need to ask whether obedience and love demand you get to know a widow on more than a surface level and start caring for her. As you struggle through Leviticus in your annual reading plan and get to 19:34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and kyou shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God, you will have to ask yourself whether you know strangers in your context and how you will mirror God’s love and mercy toward them. You can’t just assume someone else is doing it because for the most part, they aren’t.

Stop comparing yourself to others: This one came back to the front of our minds recently when my wife and daughter read the biography of Keith Green. It’s easy to think of the progress you make as monumental when you compare yourself to people whose eyes are not yet open to this need. Keith Green is an encouragement, but he is not the standard. Jesus, who left heaven and perfect fellowship in the trinity and constant, pure praise of angels to die for people who would reject him is the standard. Christian literally means “little Christ” so we should always be evaluating our lives relative to his example and nobody else’s.

Leave the Republican party behind: I saved this one for last because it will offend the most people. GOP does not stand for God’s Own Party. It does not represent Christianity well, and given its current standard bearer the trajectory is getting worse. I think Wayne Grudem is right when in his book Politics (which was excellent) he said the traditional GOP party platforms were more in line with the Scriptures about 75% of the time when compared to Democrat positions, but that doesn’t mean we walk in line with the GOP no matter what. The American political process tends to favor extremists in the primary system which means you’re never going to find a 75% Republican who lines up with the Bible well on everything. Marco Rubio, a 93% Republican, got run out of the presidential race because he wasn’t Republican enough. We need to be a people that engages politics on the basis of our Christian witness rather than political affiliation. Much harm has been done by people professing to be Christians blindly posting stuff on social media by right wind websites without doing any fact checking. If these stories end up to be false, and many of them are, we are bearing false witness.


Of course it’s a Muslim ban

After spending a couple days on Facebook listening to really silly arguments about how President Trump’s moratorium is not a ban on Muslims I felt like I might try to add some common sense.

  1. The President is fully within his rights to issue this order. He may end it early or extend it at his sole discretion.
  2. He has consistently said the order is about protecting Americans from terrorism.
  3. He has consistently said the terrorism threat is from Islamic Extremists.
  4. According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 98% of those living in the countries covered by the ban are Muslims. If you exclude Syria, it’s 99%.

Objection: It’s not a Muslim ban because non-Muslims from those countries are also affected.

I use the old math, but I think 98% is a pretty big number. If I told you that I spent 7 hours and 50 minutes playing video games and 10 minutes checking email from work, the natural conclusion you would make is that I took the day off. You would be right. This is really not even close.

Objection: Obama did the same thing in 2011 and nobody called it a Muslim Ban.

Nobody called what President Obama did in 2011 a Muslim ban, because it’s not the same thing. After arresting two Iraqis on terror charges who had ties to terrorism in Iraq, the Obama administration slowed down the visa process for Iraqis. There was never a shutdown, and no person seeking a visa was ultimately denied one. This is different because of the scope of the ban, the amateurish way it was implemented, and the fact that there is no actual cause or trigger to do it other than a campaign promise.

Objection: He’s not targeting Muslims

The hypocrisy in this one is really amazing to me. The whole campaign, Trump said his opponent wasn’t worthy of being Commander in Chief because she wouldn’t even name the enemy. Trump repeatedly named his Public Enemy #1 as Islamic extremists not only in extemporaneous speeches but in written communication that was presumably thought out. Here’s what he published after his infamous Muslim ban speech.

“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

I would expect him to at least respect the intelligence of the public enough to admit that he’s just doing what he promised to do in the election cycle. If he was intellectually honest he would not have stopped at the seven nations and would have included places like Saudi Arabia, home of Osama bin Ladin and the vast majority of the 9/11 terrorists.

My friend Kevin Carson has posted a helpful article on how Christians ought to think about the ban and if you are interested you can read it here.

President Obama’s Best and Worst

At this point it is probably too early to give President Obama a final grade as a US president. To make the list the issue had to be good or bad for a large segment (say 60-70%) of the population, not just his own party or the other party. For example, Democrats nationally have less power and influence after President Obama than they have in my lifetime. Since half of America would put that in the best column and half would put it in the worst, it’s the kind of thing I want to avoid.

Best of Obama

  • He actually did something on healthcare. With the run up to Obamacare, I did a lot of homework on the healthcare system in America. I wrote about it back in August/September 2009 if you are interested. It has lots of pretty sizable holes. While the actual bill that was created and its implementation has been almost universally seen as a disaster (even by Bill Clinton), I have to give him a lot of credit for actually doing something instead of just talking about it. There were a lot of injustices in the old healthcare system and Republicans did nothing about most of them when they had a chance. Had President Obama taken the approach I suggested and isolated specific issues he could have gotten most of what is broken fixed without all the horrible side effects Obamacare brought.
  • Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan. This may be a surprise to some people and maybe it will prove to be a non-issue, but there really are a lot of areas in America that do not have reliable high speed internet access. This is a really big deal to the economic, health, and social futures of these people. Of course you can say if they want internet they should just move to the city, but if everyone did that we’d have no food,fewer vacation spots, and more unemployment. When you think about how those of us with high speed internet use it, and how often we use it, it’s pretty clear what an advantage it is. It’s good that he made spreading high speed internet a priority.
  • Being who he is.  I read many left wing authors like to say that the greatest accomplishment of President Obama was his wonderful personality and being the first black president. I think they are overstating it, but I do think it is important. The fact that something is irrelevant to me (which his skin color is) doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. It could be that I am simply wrong or insensitive or undervaluing something.  important.  I loved reading the story of the time he let a little black boy feel his hair after the boy asked, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.” To many Americans, representation matters and it is significant that a man of a very humble background and broken home rose to he highest office in the land.

Worst of Obama

  • Immoral foreign policy. It’s hard to imagine a foreign policy that hurt more people than his did. I’m not saying that he did it on purpose, I just think he came in being successful giving speeches and somehow he thought if you just talked to people nicely they would respond. He seemed unable to see that his action or inaction could have serious unintended consequences and refused to see that some people are just evil. He led Iranian freedom seekers to believe the US would support them and then did nothing, leading the government to imprison many of them. He told Syria that there would be consequences if they used chemical weapons and then did nothing. He attacked Lybia, destabilizing North Africa for no apparent reason. He is the only 8-year president who was at war from the first day to the last. His short sightedness in Iraq was almost as bad as George Bush’s point person there, and his policy there is what gave ISIS a chance to thrive. His misreading of the situations in the Middle East and North Africa greatly contributed to the refugee crisis, which handed the immigration issue to hard core right wingers and brought the world  Brexit and Donald Trump.
  • Hyper partisanship. More than any president before him, President Obama treated those who thought like him as friends and those who disagreed with him as enemies. He treated those with different views as “nothings,” as if they didn’t even exist. I believe that he more than any other one person has brought us to a season of contempt that was addressed in a well written New York Times article. When he did listen to someone with an alternate view, he seemed to do it as a photo op and then immediately ignored anythingo they had to say. Even his token Republican in his administration was fired when he disagreed with the party line. Anyone can argue that others were equally partisan, but the President has the opportunity to change the tone in ways nobody else can, and he simply didn’t do it. He spent eight years wagging his finger in the face of his political opponents saying things like “we won, get over it.” A good article addressing this in more ways can be read here. The unhealthy political climate we have now is due to President Obama more than any other single person.
  • Absence of accountability after scandals.  I have had to laugh at so many of my friends posting things about how President Obama served for eight years without a single scandal.  John Fund covers those well in his Jan 17 article so I will not retype everything we know about Solyndra, Fast and Furious, the Cambridge Police debacle, the Benghazi cover up, IRS targeting, the Black Panther voter intimidation, etc. I will say that President Obama is responsible for allowing each of the perpetrators to face no consequences. When bad behavior is not held accountable it creates more bad behavior because nobody is afraid of getting caught. The fact that Eric Holder could keep his job after Fast and Furious ended up killing U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry is beyond reprehensible.

The Problem of the Presidential Suite

When traveling for work I recently found myself on the road in the days leading up to my birthday. It was well after midnight by the time I checked in and all I wanted at that moment was to go to bed. Then it happened.

The lady at hotel registration said, “Mr. Keating, we saw that your birthday was coming up and so we have placed you in the Presidential Suite for your stay with us.” I was pretty amazed and very gratefully accepted.

When I got to the room and started looking around I had only one reaction – “I wish my wife was here. She would love it.”

Having possession of such a wonderful place totally changed my point of view. It gave me energy. I wasn’t tired anymore. I immediately dialed up my wife on FaceTime so I could show her everything I was seeing. I was already writing online reviews in my head so I could tell total strangers about it. Seeing this wonderful place and knowing it was mine changed me.

More than that, I knew I was paying our meager corporate rate for this luxury palace. It was so clear I didn’t deserve this. I knew it was nothing but the kindness of the hotel that had given me this possession. According to the hotel website, I deserved a 40 square meter room without a view and no amenities, but I was living in a 240 square meter room with every amenity imaginable. Rather than being treated like everyone else, I was being treated like a prince or head of state that visited the city.

Here’s the thing – Jesus is better than the Presidential Suite.

It wasn’t long before I started asking myself why I wasn’t this eager to tell others about Jesus. What was it about the Presidential Suite that made me an enthusiastic evangelist for it?

First, I could see it. I knew it was real. I didn’t have to fight for faith in anything, I just had to look around. It’s hard not to be amazed at a private gym, 10-person dining room, luxury bath, etc. It took no imagination whatsoever. I didn’t need anyone to remind me of the truth of its magnificence – it was obvious.

Second, I connected the magnificence of the place to my real life in a way that stirred my affections. If I hadn’t connected the wonder of that place with my desire to share it with Kristen I don’t think my juices would have been flowing at all. I have had lots of experiences that many people would consider incredible that bored me because I knew they would not be something that would have any impact on the people I cared about.

Third, it really was the shock of how much my expectations had been exceeded. Generally speaking, the inside of a hotel room in Tokyo or London is pretty much the same as the inside of a hotel room in Clarkston, Tennessee or Cleveland, Ohio. I knew what my reservation deserved and it was incredibly more than I deserved. I suppose people who have stayed in other Presidential Suites may actually have been disappointed. I don’t know. I only know that for me, it was shocking grace compared to what I deserved.

Translate this into the Christian life for a minute and ask yourself the same kinds of questions I asked myself.

  • Do you believe, I mean do you really believe, what the Bible promises to be true? Do you believe it in such a way that it alters your behavior and countenance? Consider Hebrews 10:34 – For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. What was it that made the Hebrew Christians give up their time, talent and treasure? It was their knowledge that they had something better. They didn’t think they had something better – they knew it.
  • Are you others focused in the way you view the blessings God has given you now and promises in the future. How quickly do you look for ways you can bless others with the blessing you have received from God? In Genesis 12:2 God tells Abraham the point of God’s kindness to us is as a vehicle for Him to bless others.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. When we miss this, we become consumers rather than Christians. The extent to which our identity is wrapped up in how well we point people to a generous God who sacrificially gives is the extent to which we are truly Christian.
  • Finally, when was the last time you reflected how much you do not deserve even the smallest kindness from God. Americans see the conditions at the Guantanamo Bay terrorist prison with its library and air conditioning and private cells and cable TV and are in some sense justifiably outraged at how much kinder we are to terrorists than they have been to us. How often do you see yourself as someone who was a cosmic terrorist before Jesus rescued you? All of us were by our nature enemies of God deserving of an eternal prison camp called Hell. Do you realize that? Do you meditate on the fact that you don’t deserve a working shower, a child that obeys, a car that starts or a bus that is on time, clear air and water or anything else good in all creation? BTW – you will know the answer to this question by the number of times you thank God for these things.

The “inevitability of Trump”

Well I want to be really clear at the start that this is NOT and anti-Trump post. I may add more content about what confuses me about the attraction of Trump but this post is really about how once people start saying things enough it seems to be true and lots of people start believing it without any reality behind it. You see this in all phases of life, not just politics.

Here are some of the headlines that I’m talking about. All of them imply or state that Donald Trump is a force that cannot be stopped:

  • Trump’s Super Tuesday Wins Set Off Alarm Bells (Politico)
  • GOP Choice: Embrace or Rebel (CNN)
  • Trump is unstoppable; it’s game over for the rest (Fox News)
  • 5 Moments the Establishment Missed to Take Out Trump (ABC News)
  • Trump is huge, and he isn’t going away (CNN)
  • Rivals Have Just Two Weeks to Stop Trump (NBC)
  • Trump Dominates as Rivals Pick Up Few Wins (RealClearPolitics)

Here’s the actual reality from the primaries and caucuses completed so far:

  • Trump has gotten only 34% of the vote in the GOP contests
  • According to many reports, this includes lots of Democrat voters who crossed over to vote in the GOP races because 1) they thought their vote didn’t matter in their own race; and 2) they would rather run Hillary Clinton against Trump than anyone else in the field.
  • The only reason Trump is the front runner is because there are 10,000 candidates. At this point four years ago, Romney had 40.7% of the GOP vote vs. Trump’s 34.2% today. Trump is not some kind of superstar.
  • Trump has gotten only 316 of the 1237 delegates necessary for the nomination.
  • While he has 100 more delegate than Cruz, Trump must win a majority and does not currently have a majority of the total delegate count and he does not have that now.
  • The upcoming winner take all states mean a lot – if Trump does not win those, he will be in very bad shape.
  • For all the talk of him steamrolling through the GOP primaries, he has not once gotten a majority of the GOP votes, and gotten over 40% just a few times.
  • This last number is the most telling for me. Looking at total registered voters, Trump has gotten only 5.4% of the total registered voters in states that have chosen so far. The highest number he has gotten is a little over 10% in Alabama.

The last figure is important because Trump’s supporters seem to believe that he is somehow a lock to beat Hillary Clinton in a general election. The GOP primary numbers do not support that and there is not a reliable outside poll showing that. Most visibly, I don’t know of a single person who is not voting for Trump who says they would vote for him in the general election. I’m sure they exist, but if even 10-15% (not the greater than 65% of GOP voters opposed to Trump) of registered republicans stay home in November then the Democrat will win.

This highlights why narratives matter so much. They get people moving in a direction that makes no sense.It’s why politicians talk about “message discipline” rather than “fact discipline”. They know that repeating the same things over and over tend to make an increasing number of people believe them.

Trump may win the nomination and everyone should vote their conscience, but let’s not pretend that the drip, drip, drip of the same comment over and over does not have any effect on America’s collective thinking.

The Deal of the Art

Donald Trump has no doubt mastered the art of dealing with an angry Republican base. His campaign and his detractors all agree on this point. The question that has been in my mind for nearly a year now is how in the world that makes him qualified to be President, or garners the support of so many people who have been consistently on the right (conservative) side of politics.

I think I could write a book about my quandary but have chosen to limit my thoughts here. It’s clear at this point that the majority of Trump supporters are never going to be persuaded that he is a bad idea so the point of this blog is actually just self-therapy to let me think out loud about my confusion.

  • The same people who said Bill Clinton was untrustworthy and unfit because he was unfaithful to his wife seem to have no problem with a guy who cheated on then discarded one wife when she got too old for him, and then dumped the other in a financial move intended to save him tens of millions of dollars.
  • Trump argues that he’s a great deal maker. The reality is that the best deals he has made have been his bankruptcies. In his own words “I used the law four times and made a tremendous thing. I’m in business. I did a very good job.” Another time he said “If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.” Let’s understand what happens in a bankruptcy. You let your mismanagement of resources result in basically stealing what is owed to another person. So rather than pay the bank his $100 million, maybe he pays them $70 million and they call it even. Who pays the other $30 million? You and I do, and other people who are either taxpayers or shareholders of the bank.
  • Often, in exchange for the bankruptcy “restructuring”, the people who are owed money get some kind of asset in return. This is exactly what Trump did – he gave away large percentages of the organizations that filed bankruptcy. Doing this as President would be like handing over much of the country to the people we own $18 trillion. (In one of his bankruptcies he gave away 50% of the organization to reduce the debt.) Who would pay for that Trump “negotiation”? Once again it would not be Trump’s personal fortunes – it would be other people who paid that price. Everyday Americans will bear that burden whether he cuts a deal by actually giving away America or by doing something back door like simply devaluing the currency to make it easier to pay back all this debt.
  • The same people who say President Obama was elected on a slogan (Hope and Change) that was never defined seem fine with supporting a guy who is doing exactly the same thing without ever defining it.
  • The same people who got all over John Kerry for flip flopping on key issues don’t seem to care that Trump has flip flopped on the Iraq war, abortion, drug legalization, tax policy, gun control, universal healthcare, Social Security modernization, how he feels about Hillary Clinton, Syrian refugees, federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and whether he’s even a Republican.
  • It seems like eight years ago most Trump supporters would have said that we should not elect a charismatic candidate that can rally crowds and say things they like to hear without any actual substance behind them. Trump certainly has more life experience than President Obama did as he entered the Presidential race then, but the most common answer for why Trump supporters like him is that he is charismatic and says the things they want to hear.
  • Trump is a regular politician, not some kind of outsider. What was a twice divorced, Christian in name only, rarely even in church guy doing on the campus of Liberty University if not simply pandering like every other politician would do? (BTW – I don’t blame him, I just find it evidence that he’s not as different as he’d like everyone to believe he is.)
  • This might be a pet peeve, but the guy never even finishes a sentence. He starts answering a questions, interrupts himself to say how great his is, then changes the topic. Sounds just like a politician to me.
  • Everything he says is over the top. Everything is great, wonderful, fantastic, better that we every hoped, blah blah blah. It’s so disingenuous. I heard one interview where he was talking about “all the great leaders” who were supporting him. The interviewer asked him to name just one of them and Trump refused. I think he’s basically making things up as he goes.
  • Speaking of making things up as he goes, the guy gives absolutely no specifics on anything. He just says he’s going to make America great again. He says things like “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does.” It’s okay to change positions on things, but when you have done it as much as Trump I think it’s especially important to lay out an actual plan to demonstrate your commitment to the new position(s).

Thanks for reading. I know I won’t change anyone’s mind but it helped me to remind myself that my hope is in Jesus Christ and not in Washington D.C. I do not believe a Christian can only vote for a Christian, but I do think part of being a good steward of what God has entrusted to us is to ask whether we are voting with a God focus or some other focus. The mission of God is to make Jesus’ name great, not to make America great. We need to work hard to protect ourselves from being pressed into the world’s mold in political life and every other facet of life.

Christianity and “Torture” – Part 3

In the prior two posts we looked at whether or not there is a “Christian” position on war and how that impacts our ideas on torture. We concluded that while the believer in the Prince of Peace should never long for or relish war, some wars are necessary and good if they are a means of last resort to prevent greater suffering.

That leaves us with the big question that my friend asked – theories are fine but how should an individual Christian trying to live a life centered on Jesus respond when these reports of Americans torturing detainees come out? I offer the following thoughts which I hope are helpful despite being incomplete.

Consider how Proverbs 18 instructs us. Verses 13, 15 and 17 are very important when considering this topic. To summarize them, the Christian should be very slow to make judgments based on one side of the story regardless of who is telling it. In the political world that is especially true – whether you are someone who leans left or right does not matter. Politicians, by and large, are interested in promoting their political agenda and narrative even when it does not match the truth. In the case of the torture report that came out recently, it was nothing more than a brazen attempt by the party losing power in the US Senate to get their point of view out before losing their bully pulpit.

The facts here revealed a much different story than was presented by the report and generally by the media. Enhanced interrogations were used on a tiny fraction (less than 1%) of detainees in the war on terror. There was a formal process used to determine whether enhanced interrogation would be permitted and there must have been a greater good to be gained. Social and medical scientists did a significant amount of research to ensure that methods did not create any lasting harm. These are the facts.

It is possible to say that using these methods on seven of the more than 2000 possible subjects is still too many, but it is not possible to say that somehow this was a widespread problem led by an out of control spy force seeking to abuse terrorists or find revenge.

Personal response is different than national response. Think about your personal responsibility to love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you. Even though the government does have the freedom and even responsibility to use the sword to stop greater suffering, individual Christians should always pursue mercy where we can because we were pursued with mercy.

Remember that things could be worse than we’d like to believe. It’s important in our love for country to not pretend that no American could cross a line when dealing with terrorists. It is possible that sinners in a sinful world sinned against terrorists they were questioning. It is possible that those guilty of these actions would try to deceive investigators to prevent the real truth from getting out. The facts we currently know don’t support this narrative, but Christians who know that each one of us is so bad it took the death of the King of Glory to save us from our sin should know this is possible.

Read and apply Romans 5:5 – 10. Pray for terrorists, especially those who warrant this kind of enhanced interrogation. The reality is that before God we are all Osama bin Laden. We are vile, evil rebels with no thought of His kingdom except as a place we want to destroy. We must adopt the posture of Jesus who left home and holiness to engage angry rebels with a message of hope and reconciliation. We are much more like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who planned the 9/11 attacks than we are like God, and God’s grace is sufficient to save even the most horrible terrorist.