Some Reflections on the Election

I know, another blog or post about the election. We all know that emotions and opinions are running high, but I’m not necessarily here to complain. I’m not happy with the way things have turned out, but I’m mainly here to reflect on some aspects of the election from my own personal perspective, some are points more in realizing my own identity and other points are more about the nation as a whole. You can agree or disagree I just ask it be done in a mature manner. I’m also sorry it’s a bit long, but hey you don’t have to read it, this is in many ways just therapy for myself.

  1. 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump. This is a statement that disheartens me quite a bit, but has made me realize I’m not really an evangelical. I’ve never really used the term to identify myself, but I’ve always wondered if I would be considered one. I can say for certain that I would not be after this election.

I do share certain views, but I seem to have some difference in how those views are acted on. It seems to be an evangelical, politics and power are at least equally as important as, if not more important, than our commitment to God and Jesus. To vote for someone who displayed very little trace of any Christian virtue into office so overwhelmingly shows we are willing to sacrifice much to keep power, even if that power in our mind is to keep America following God. I wonder if that sacrifice isn’t a bit too much. Honestly, I think it harms the name and witness of Jesus Christ in the world. It comes off of hypocrisy and a willingness to sacrifice our souls rather than our power.

I find I don’t fit in the political battles very well. I have overlap with conservatives and with liberals, but also have areas of disagreement. It’s a lonely reality and often wish I had a tribe to associate with, but I don’t seem to.

  1. The results of this election surprised me, I expected a close election, but that Hillary would eke out a victory. However, I think that we had a perfect storm on both sides of the aisle that led to this situation.

On the Republican side we had a candidate that tapped into the anger of many middle class people. It is similar to how Bernie Sanders achieved such a huge following, but I’ll talk more about him in a minute. Yes part of this anger is racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and homophobic and Trump played on those. However, we’d be fools to think that is all that it is for everyone.

One of the big ones is the Supreme Court, we’ve seen many decisions that have overturned public votes on issues, and often done so along party lines. I’m not here to say that such decisions were right or wrong, but it feeds the fires of party politics and thus the potential vacancies over the next few years made those who hunger for political power salivate and put that as all that matters. To have justices that vote their way.

We also have the economic status factor. The middle class is shrinking, the disparity of income between the poor and the rich is increasing, and Trump managed to tap into that anger as well. I don’t understand why people believe that Donald Trump of all people will actually do anything about this, but he wasn’t playing by the established rules and that really warmed him up to people. This allowed him to best the establishment in both the Republican and the Democratic parties.

This leads me to talk about the Democratic side of things. Hillary Clinton was just a terrible choice of a candidate in my opinion. First, whether they are legit or not, she has a trail of scandal that follows her from even the days when Bill was a governor. Coming off President Obama with little to no scandal to his name, unless you include the lame birther movement or the equally lame worry that Obama was going to take all guns away, such a choice was baffling.

Secondly, she was practically treated as though she was an heir apparent. That she had everything in the bag in the primary, which went to shambles when a virtually unknown senator named Bernie Sanders almost won the primary despite her status as a sho0-in. That he came as close as he did should have been a huge warning sign, but Clinton’s campaign seemed to do little to try to keep the excitement of those who followed Bernie. Then scandal arose around this when it was learned that the supposedly neutral DNC heavily favored Hillary and tried to help her succeed.

The swirling of scandals, Hillary’s close ties to financial and corporate powerhouses, and the lackluster picking up of the torch that Bernie lit led to a candidate that sucked the excitement right out of the Democratic party. Many of my own friends who are liberal were unhappy with the way Clinton’s primary campaign went, even if they might have still voted for her in the end. The primary harmed the view of Hillary and the Democratic party and it was a vote with a large “meh” attached. We see this in comparing who voted for Obama with who voted for Hillary, a number of major groups; women, African-American, Hispanics, and young people all decreased in support.

Where we are now is in many ways a failure of both parties. It is a failure of a corrupt political process. It’s probably even more complex that what I’ve presented, but everyone has a share of the blame.

  1. We have an issue with pride in this country and as human beings. We are proud to be Republican because we believe that they’re the Godly choice, we’re proud to be Democrats because we’re educated or enlightened. This leads to disdain and an unwillingness to listen to anyone holding a different opinion. I struggle with this as one who doesn’t fit neatly into either side. It’s easy to think that both sides are a bunch of puffed up knuckleheads, but all that does is make me puffed up as well.

The polls believed that Hillary was going to win by 3-5% and they failed to accurately predict the election at all. I’ve read some articles that have wondered if part of the reason was a failure to take into consideration those in rural parts of the country, which saw a swell of participation in this election. Those in the rural areas are just not factored in or are looked down on due to their views.

I think that is part of the pride that we see on the liberal side of things. It’s honestly a flip side of the pride of the conservatives. Conservatives take pride in tradition, personal responsibility, and if they’re religious, particular moral stances that makes them believe they are siding with God and doing his will. For the liberal it is pride in their social stances, their education, and for those who are religious it can be believed that they’re siding with God and doing his will. We embrace our various stances and look down on anyone who disagrees as a heretic, a bigot, corrupt, or as one full of hatred. We both think the other group is worse, although really I think it’s because the other side disagrees with what we think.

  1. For those who voted for Trump, particularly those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ there was real racism, xenophobia, misogyny and many other types of disrespect and even hatred in the words of Trump. Time will tell if they were an act or if they were the real way Trump thinks, but for some of his followers they are all too real (after all the KKK supported Trump).

If you don’t want to be lumped in as a racist or other group like that then stand up against it. Do not just accept that kind of talk just because of his politics, call it out. Don’t write it off as locker room talk or just not being politically correct. Treat people as fellow human beings not stereotypes, caricatures, or things and speak up when that is not being done. There are those with legitimate fear out there over the way Trump talked during this election, don’t write it off as liberals being sore losers. Make a commitment to stand up against it.

For those of us who didn’t vote for Trump, resist the urge to stereotype and be disdainful of those who did. There were many factors in this election. I have no doubt that some were motivated by hatred towards one or many groups, but I also have no doubt that many were not. We can easily be just as prejudice against those who are less cosmopolitan, less educated, or less wealthy than we are. It’s quite possible that this prejudice has not gone unnoticed and is part of the reason for Trump’s victory.

I don’t know what the next four years will bring. There is the possibility for real pain and suffering because of this election, no platitudes can change that. Simply continuing a cycle of fear, pride, mockery and/or violence will do nothing but divide us further. I firmly believe that we’ve all had a hand in creating the mess we’re in. The question is what are we going to do about it?

For Further Reading:

On Evangelical Support of Trump – Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

On The Election Polls Being Wrong – USA Today, The Conversation

On the Democrats Sabotaging Themselves – The Telegraph, CNN

On the KKK and racists supporting Trump – Politico, Washington Post

On Liberal Prejudice – The Spectator, New Republic

The Leadership of Alfred Pennyworth Over Batman

Kristen and I recently watched, or re-watched in my case, the series of Batman movies that started with Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns and ended with Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. While Schumacher’s movies are understandably looked on negatively there was a quote from Batman Forever that struck me and revealed a simple fact that I often overlooked regarding Batman.

alfred-pennyworthThat quote was, “Young men with a mind for revenge need little encouragement. They need guidance.” In the scene Bruce Wayne/Batman is chiding Alfred for encouraging Dick Grayson towards pursuing the path of Batman. It was at this moment that I realized that there would be no Batman without Alfred.

This may not come as a surprise to many. It is rather obvious in many ways, but I never really thought about it too much. It would have been Alfred who raised the young Bruce and guided him towards the path of Batman. In addition, he is often presented as a valuable ally to Batman in the many versions of the Batman story.

As one who went to school to become a pastor and has held some positions of leadership in my life, I think it is easy to want to be like Batman. We want to be the one who appears in headlines, to have the spotlight, the fame, the attention. We would much rather be like Batman in the world of church leadership rather than someone like Alfred, a servant, who is only known by those closest to Bruce Wayne.

The problem with this is that we have had many Batman style leaders rise and fall in the world of church leadership. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Perry Noble, and many others. These guys are front and center in growing, thriving churches and are presented as larger than life figures within their community and for those who listen to them or follow them on social media. This can lead to any number of ego issues that could lead to some sort of moral failure, adultery, an abusive leadership style, uncontrolled pride, manipulation, or other issues.

Even when such moral failures don’t occur, you can have a massive burnout. This is the case with Pete Wilson, who resigned after 14 years of ministry in the megachurch that he founded. He was just tired and running on empty. There are few who can lead these huge churches and do it well. Being Batman may work in the movies, comics, or television shows, but it doesn’t work too well in real life.

Maybe we need a leadership style the focuses less on the leader. Instead having a leader who is there to guide, direct, and care for those within the congregation. He may be a relative unknown, someone who acts more like a servant rather than a superhero. The point of leadership isn’t to build themselves and their brand up, but rather to point others to God and help them in their journey to become more like Jesus.

While I understand that this analogy maybe isn’t perfect, it has certainly made me think about the nature of leadership, particularly leadership in the church. I know that often I want to be more like Batman. To have a significant impact and a certain amount of fame and recognition. The work of a servant like Alfred seems less glamorous. Few in the outside world will see the work of Batman and know that Alfred was a driving force in the development of the hero.

Yet, we claim to follow the one “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” If we are following one who took the very nature of a servant, perhaps this needs to be our dominant position as well. A willingness to be a servant to others no matter what our formal position in life may be. No matter if we may be considered a leader in the church or outside of the walls of a church.

Back into Exodus: The Foreshadowing of Death

Before I took my break from writing we were in the midst of Exodus. In fact we were in the midst of the plagues coming very close to the ending. Specifically we are in Exodus 10 today with the 8th and 9th plagues/signs.

Both of these plagues continue to increase in severity and continue to show God’s power over creation and the Egyptian’s relative helplessness before these events. Both of these plagues also seem to be preparing us for the ultimate finale as the struggle between God and Pharaoh will shortly be coming to a definitive close. So let us take some time and look at little closer at each of these plagues.

Locusts Everywhere

The plague or sign of locusts starts out in an interesting fashion. We have Moses go to Pharaoh and Pharaoh doesn’t listen at first, which is pretty normal, but Moses gets called back before Pharaoh at the request of his officials. This is unique and may make us think that Pharaoh is becoming closer to agreeing to Moses’ demand, but again we see Pharaoh trying to negotiate terms that Moses rejects.

Another aspect that is interesting in this exchange is the fact that at the beginning of this section we’re told that God says, “I have hardened his heart [Pharaoh] and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them.” Yet, despite this hardening we see the officials requesting for Pharaoh to let the people go. Now while it’s unclear if they kept this attitude after Pharaoh’s attempt at negotiating, it is an interesting wrinkle in this whole idea of God hardening the heart of people. It appears that it is not impossible to resist this hardening and still desire the right thing to be done.

Pharaoh, despite all this, ultimately rejects Moses’ demand and the next plague still comes. Locusts come and devour everything that is left after the hail, which probably did a considerable amount of damage itself. As per the pattern we are becoming used to Pharaoh calls Moses before him, admits his sin, and asks Moses to “take this deadly plague away from me.”

Doug Stuart explains this idea of deadly plague, which he holds as an unfortunate translation from the Hebrew, the best. He says this: “Pharaoh’s point was that he saw Egypt dying as a result of the combined effect of the hailstorm and the locust invasion, not merely that the plague was deadly in some sense. His words do not suggest a focus on a plague but rather on death. Pharaoh was beginning to get the point: he realized that the plagues were leading to death, not merely inconvenience or temporary hardships.”

This is one element were I think we see the foreshadowing of what is to come in this plague. Pharaoh is able to see that these plagues are leading toward death, but even so this doesn’t stop Pharaoh from denying the request of Moses. Pharaoh is marching slowly towards death with no intention of changing his path.

Another aspect of this sign that acts as foreshadowing comes when God removes the locusts from Egypt. Terence Fretheim points this out in the passage saying, “They are driven into the Red Sea and ‘not a single locust was left.’ This is precisely what happens to the Egyptians in [Exodus] 14:28. As it was with the locusts, so will it be with the Egyptians.” We are being prepared here for the finale of the conflict. Death is coming.

Back to Day One

The ninth plague/sign is darkness. Now for us today this may not seem like an increase in severity. Darkness isn’t necessarily harmful in itself. It can’t be worse than boils, hail or locusts, can it? I admit that personally darkness doesn’t seem too severe, but reading up on this subject I came across a few reasons why this one may be more severe than we’d think at first.

This first two reasons are theological or religious in nature. The first reason comes from the creation account of the Bible. On the first day of creation God creates light and removes darkness from being the status quo. Complete darkness is a sign of going back to the time of chaos before God even created light. Essentially God is letting chaos reign once more as a response to Egypt’s sin. If Egypt doesn’t want to listen to God and is essentially pitting itself against God, then God will remove the order he has established in his creation. Put within this framework it is a fairly severe thing.

The second theological/religious reason comes from Egyptian religion itself. Ra, the sun God, was a major figure in Egyptian religion. As such a plague of darkness for three days would be seen as an attack on the power of Ra, with Yahweh overpowering him. Darkness was on the land of Egypt with only the land of the Hebrews receiving light. Even a God viewed as the embodiment of the sun, and even the creator by some, was not powerful enough to prevail over the darkness that Yahweh brought upon the land of Egypt. Ra was presented as powerless.

Third, Peter Enns make the connection that darkness has to death within the Bible, and maybe the ancient world in general, but Enns only refers to the Bible to make this point. If this is true than he says, “the ninth plague serves to anticipate the next two acts of destruction, both of which bring death to the Egyptians.” Much like the foreshadowing at the end of the plague of locusts, this darkness could be a picture of what’s to come for Egypt if Israel is not released, Egypt will be covered with literal death and not just a symbol associated with it.

The last reason is a more practical reason presented by Doug Stuart. He says, “To appreciate fully this plague account, one must understand how ominously darkness threatened ancient people. We travel easily at night with the aid of various forms of electric lighting; they were virtually immobilized by the darkness of nighttime unless the night was cloudless and the moon relatively full.” While this is certainly possible, I’m not sure that this is as strong as the other reasons to view darkness as severe. I think it may be helpful for us living in modern times to remember, but may not be the most significant reason why this plague/sign is worse than the others.

Regardless of the severity, Pharaoh winds up summoning Moses before him once more trying to strike a deal. Again Pharaoh tries to have Moses and the Israelites leave something behind, this time their animals, to ensure their return, but Moses says that this wouldn’t be possible. At this point Pharaoh ends all possibility of future negotiations. He tells Moses not to appear before him again or else he will die.

Remembering and Giving Thanks

What do these plagues have to do with us? As always this is the question isn’t it? Are they calls to examine every disaster and point out the sins that caused such disaster or how certain things may foreshadow coming destruction? No, although some do try to do such things, I don’t view this as a proper application for all of us to employ.

I find myself agreeing with a few thoughts from Peter Enns about the application of such a passage. He puts it this way:

“Perhaps the application is, in a word, doxological. We praise, that is, worship God for his fearful might and great love, both of which he has employed for the sake of his beloved children. Praising God is not a lesser form of application. Rather, it is what so much of the Bible is driving us toward. It is the goal of redemption itself–not to feel self-important by being part of God’s club, but to turn ourselves away from our sinful inclination toward self-centeredness and toward God. This, I suggest, is how the ancient Israelites properly ‘applied’ the plagues. They saw what God had done fro them and they fell back in awe–and they remembered.”

I think that so often we’re looking for something to do when looking at a passage of the Bible and such stories like the plagues can frustrate us when we attempt to do so. Learning about God, what He has done, and then praising Him for it is also a proper application, and perhaps one that is more important than just some moralistic action we attribute to ourselves. To look and see what God has done, in history and in our own lives, and to praise him about such things may be all the application we need.

 

Trying to Break the Break

It’s been quiet here for a few months. When I took a break over the summer I wasn’t really sure if I would come back to writing here or not. I enjoy writing, but writing something in public that just gets largely ignored is a frustrating venture. This is especially true when you’re trying to be consistent in your writing.

I took some time off over the summer because I didn’t want the added pressure, that I put on myself, to try to continue to put out at least two posts a week. I’m glad I did this because summer wound up being an enjoyable but busy time and I don’t really know if I could have kept up to my own expectations. I think if I had pushed on I would have frustrated myself quite a bit.

So now I’m trying to break my break. I though the break would happen after school started up, but here we are about a month after the beginning of school and I still haven’t posted anything before now. The transition to school hasn’t been as easy as I thought it might be, and our daughter only goes twice a week for half a day, so it’s not that much time.

However, with this post I am considering my break finished. I may not post with the same regularity I was before my break. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not. It will mean less consistent posts, but it won’t put stress on me that I’m really only putting on myself.

Things have changed a bit over the summer. We’re now with a church that we really enjoy and I’m helping teach Sunday school and a mid-week study there so I want most of my energy in this regard to go there. That will mean less time for writing. So I will continue to write here, just not as much. We’ll have to see what that looks like moving forward, but hopefully it will go well.

On Hiatus

I’ve decided to take a break for the rest of the summer. I’ve been struggling with writing for awhile now. Not so much in coming up with things to write about, but more the act of putting a lot of time and energy into writing with very little interaction with anything I write. It just gets discouraging and makes me wonder if I really need to be doing it in the first place.

However, I also enjoy writing so that’s why I’m just taking a break. Stepping away for the rest of the summer and see what happens. Maybe I’ll love my new found freedom and I’ll just stop writing all together. Maybe I’ll simply be refreshed and desire to come back to writing once again after a couple months off, especially since both of our kids will be in school to some capacity next year.

This could be a prelude to a goodbye or it could simply be a see you after a little while. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.