One reason why it happened…

People who truly know me know that I didn’t vote for either of the duopoly candidates, Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton in November. I proffered one doomed ballot – okay two, since I also get my wife’s vote. Thanks babe! – among a sea of protest votes, content to waste my vote on a “snowflake’s chance in hell…” candidate because it’s the only way I could serve my conscience. I even violated state law and selfie-posted my ballot on Facebook because yeah, I’m a rebel.

But for good friends and important people I love around the country who wonder how Mr. Trump pulled off the unexpected in November, I submit the following piece from Caitlin Flanagan in this month’s issue of the Atlantic. Much of the blame – or credit, depending on your angle – rests squarely at the feet of the entertainment industry.

We inhabit the reality we have created. If we don’t figure out how to bridge the divide between us, our nation will never be reconciled. And both sides have to move.

Please read: How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump

Categories: Highlanders

On “the Lord’s Prayer”

I meet with a group of guys who get together dark and early on Fridays at a local coffee shop to do life together, process the week, and keep each other thinking about things bigger than ourselves. We’ve recently been plodding through the Gospel of Matthew and the conversation recently turned to the section in chapter six commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer.

The “Lord’s prayer” has become very special to me in recent months. I have prayed it consistently during my frequent bouts of insomnia, and I often repeat it a few times as I drift off to sleep. Maybe it’s the Catholicism in my family history, but I have found that in a few short sentences, Yeshua, the rabbi of Nazareth, gives us a pattern that probably says all there is to say in many of our conversations with God. As I struggle to make sense of prayer and develop the habit, I go back to the model Yeshua gave us. Here’s why:

    • It “puts me in my place.” It reminds me that God is the one who holds it all together. And I’m not.
    • It reminds me of my priorities. My #1 objective should be that I be an agent of change to help God’s will and kingdom inhabit Earth, as just as his will is done in heaven.
    • It reminds me of what’s important: My “daily bread” is all I should really want. Anything more than the bare necessities is luxury. (Oh how I need that reminder!)
    • It reminds me not to be judgmental: If I don’t insert the unintended comma in the middle of the phrase and read it as it’s written — “…forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who have wronged us…” (with no pause between “our sins” and “as we forgive…”) — I remember that if I don’t forgive others, I am not worthy of forgiveness. I need this reminder all the time!
    • And it reminds me of my frailty. I need God to lead me away from temptation – because I struggle to lead myself away from it – and that he delivers me from the evil one – because I have an enemy who lies and who wants to alienate me from God.

An old version I can’t find, but that I recall from my youth added, “…for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen.” While this isn’t in my NLT version, I like it because it closes with a reminder that no matter how self important I become, I am once again humbled and again, back in “my place.”

Far from empty phrases or rote recitation, the Lord’s Prayer brings me back to perspective. It reminds me of my place in this world, in God’s plan, for his glory. (Not mine.)

And I need that reminder. Every day.

Categories: Highlanders

The government is best which governs least.

August 26, 2016 Leave a comment

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Recently I’ve been reflecting on these words by Henry David Thoreau in his work, Civil DisobedienceI have generally subscribed to this approach since I first studied it in school, and the more I think about the state of affairs in the U.S., the more I believe it. As the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election looms with what I believe to be the two most corrupt, morally bankrupt candidates we’ve seen in a generation, Thoreau’s philosophy has guided my migration to support the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson.

Right up front I’ll admit that I’m not a perfect Libertarian, nor is Johnson a perfect candidate – by Libertarian or other standards. The biggest thing he has going for him in my book is that he isn’t Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But there’s more to it than that.

Although the President of the United States is often referred to as the “leader of the free world” and the “most powerful person in the world” (dubious claims I’ve never fully bought in to), the President is head of only one of the three branches of government. As powerful as the executive branch is, we recall from our early civics classes that the executive “enforces” the law; it neither legislates nor adjudicates. So long as we have rule of law, the President is not a dictator. He must always consider Congress and the federal judiciary.

I’m not enough of a pollyanna to fully believe that, as we’ve witnessed many Presidents play fast and loose with the executive order pen. President Obama and Presidents G.W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him spilled a lot of ink on executive orders. The President also has the power to appoint many powerful officeholders in the government, so the President’s influence and power is indeed vast.

But even if Governor Johnson could somehow manage to win in November, which I think is an impossible result, I believe a Libertarian President could do little with a Congress controlled by the two major parties. If a non-party President were to play loose with executive orders, I suspect that the President would be jerked back into line faster than you can blink. That safeguard is not as robust with either Trump or Clinton

There are components of the Libertarian platform – most advocated by the radical wing – that I disagree with, and which I think would be bad policy. Such is also true of the Republican and Democratic platforms.

For example, I do not favor legalization of drugs. I think legalization of pot in Colorado has been a mistake. One must only wander the 16th Street Mall in Denver after dusk to witness the growth of the transient population, and new stories emerge at least weekly on the news about crime, overdoses on poorly regulated edibles, and other problems that are the direct result of the increased access of weed. On the whole, has it weakened the cartels? Not likely. They’ve mostly moved to meth, heroin, and fentanyl (and sex trafficking).

Nor do I favor the most isolationist views of the Libertarian party. I do believe that the U.S. must, to a certain extent, serve as the world’s policeman. If we do not, that responsibility will likely be assumed by the incompetent United Nations or by one of our international rivals, weakening our nation’s influence in troubled parts of the world.

Other matters such as abortion, transgender and gay rights, and other issues are even more complex for me. While I have fairly strong personal opinions on each of these, I do not believe that government involvement is the solution. I think that we as a populace have become lazy and complacent and have allowed our government to address things that we as a society have the responsibility to address within smaller segments of society. I do not favor bigotry in any form, nor do I favor anyone to force me to serve an individual with whom I fundamentally disagree.

For example, we’ve seen in recent months that the owner of a popular bakery in Colorado was sued (and lost on a discrimination claim) because he refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. While I may or may not have made the same decision he made, I firmly believe it was his decision to make. The market would tell him whether or not that was a good idea. Instead, he was served with a court order saying that he had to serve people even though doing so violated his moral convictions. This is just one more example of government (in this case, judicial) overreach.

This should have been an issue that society handled by allowing people to decide whether or not to patronize his business. If he was boycotted, the market has spoken. If his business boomed, the market has spoken. There are undoubtedly many more examples I could offer. I don’t see the parallel to racial discrimination that my liberal friends will argue, but maybe my brain is too small.

Americans of all stripes have sucked the government’s tit for so long that we no longer know how to govern ourselves. We let the parties govern us, while time and again they prove that they only truly represent a tiny minority even of their own party. They cajole, make deals, obfuscate their intentions, and interfere with individual rights at every turn. Republicans are no better than Democrats in this regard. They merely serve different masters.

Indeed, I used to be a Republican. But I have either become much more cynical or the party has changed so much that I no longer believe that the Republicans represent “traditional conservative values” of a limited government. They’re in the pocket of big business and billionaire oligarchs, just as much as the Democrats are. Again, they’re the same; just enslaved to different factions.

Voting for a third party candidate is my way of sending a message to the other parties – most significantly to the Republicans – that they have to get their houses in order.

A vote for either Trump or Clinton is a tacit endorsement of the
brokenness that both parties are guilty of.

Donald Trump would be a disaster, just as Hillary Clinton would be. Gary Johnson, even if he could somehow manage to win, would be generally deadlocked at every turn by a Congress controlled by the other parties. Yes, there are Supreme Court Justice nominations in play. Johnson would have to pick nominees who are very much mainstream, otherwise the Court will continue to languish with a shrinking number of Justices as the geezers “retire” in the way Justices do. If Hillary or Trump wins, they can pick nominees far more radical and aligned with a main party’s ideologies and force them through with Republican or Democratic coalitions already in place.

As Thoreau wrote, I believe that the government is best which governs least. I believe that in this election cycle, that would require a third party candidate to slow the pace of regulation, slow the pace of legislation, and bring a new dialogue to Washington. Neither Trump nor Clinton would do that.

Categories: Highlanders

Voting my conscience

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This morning while I was working out I had a bit of a revelation about the looming Presidential election. I can’t claim to have ever heard the “voice of God” but sometimes I get a prompting in my brain that seems to come out of nowhere. When I test that prompting against what I understand about God and what I believe to be true, I try and pay attention.

I’m a conservative guy, but I have grown to greatly mistrust (and frankly, despise) the Republican party. Many of my friends will be stunned to know that I voted Democratic – much to my own disappointment – in the past two Presidential elections. I admit to being  enchanted in 2008 by the “social justice” promises of then-Senator Obama, and was disgusted by the running mate of the Republican nominee. Sarah Palin is an insult to intelligence, and she represents the worst elements of conservatism.

Fast-forward to 2012. In hindsight I really don’t know what I was thinking to vote for another term for President Obama. I think that as much as anything, it was an attempt to keep tension between Congress and the White House; I think it’s generally a bad idea to have one party in control of the whole mess. I believe that the more tension there is between the President and the legislative branch, the less likely there will be sweeping legislation that will interfere with freedom.

Of course as I learned over the past four years, that doesn’t stop an activist President from using the Executive Order pen, or an activist Supreme Court from legislating from the bench.

And so I now sit in the tension of another Presidential election wishing with all that is within me that I had better choices. On the Democratic side we have a former First Lady and former Secretary of State who appears to flaunt her position, violate federal law, lie about it, and get away with it because the extremely liberal nature of popular culture that both deifies the Clintons and vilifies conservative thought.

On the Republican side, we have the emergence of the worst option from a field of terrible choices. I can’t help but think that of all the election years the non-incumbent party had an easy shot at the White House it would have been this year. But instead of finding 2-3 solid options for a true intellect- and conservative value-oriented debate cycle, we found ourselves with more than a dozen pathetic losers who fought their way to the bottom, only to be swallowed up by the most hideous of all the bottom feeders.

(To be clear, when I talk of “conservative values” I don’t mean values around morality. I refer only to values concerning personal liberty, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and government within Constitutional bounds.)

During the Republican debate cycle when I’d had more than a belly full of comparisons about the size of each other’s “hands” and the dehumanizing statements about illegal immigrants (yes, they’re still immigrating illegally so just call it what it is!), I had to burn my Republican voter ID card – this time for good. I re-registered as “unaffiliated” because my home state doesn’t recognize “Independent.”

I have many friends in different areas of my life who have told me that I can’t NOT vote; I HAVE to participate in the election. While I still may do that, I will not be voting for either the Democratic candidate or the Republican. If I choose to vote, I will vote for a fringe candidate that I believe in, or I might just write someone in. If I choose not to vote, I will do so with a clear conscience in protest for what I believe is a terribly corrupt and broken system.

If you’re one of those friends who insists that I vote, please know that I love and deeply respect your opinion, but that I will not be swayed against the weight of my conscience.

All this background gets me to the revelation I had this morning in the gym: I cannot vote for either of the main party candidates and keep a clear conscience. I despise the privilege and contempt with which I believe the Clintons operate. I think Hillary Clinton is dirty, and I don’t trust her. I think she is too deeply entrenched and indebted to Washington power brokers and that a vote for her is a vote to further curtail the freedoms I most deeply believe in.

On the other hand, I find Donald Trump personally and morally reprehensible. I think he is small-minded, bigoted, a hate monger, and the worst kind of entertainer-turned-politician. I don’t believe he has a single serious policy position and there’s enough of a conspiracy theorist in me to think that the Donald Trump thing is just some self-aggrandizing publicity stunt.

I believe that under either candidate as President the U.S. will be a worse place to be. We will be more divided than ever, we will face increasing domestic terror threats, our economy will continue to falter, and we will inevitably face new impediments to the freedoms of law abiding Americans as lawmakers overreach in their futile attempts to rein in “bad guys.”

To vote for a candidate is to attach my own integrity with theirs. To endorse them for the most powerful elected office in the free world is to say that I believe wholeheartedly that they are who they say they are, will act how they say they will act, and that I believe they are the fittest choice to govern us.

My friend, if you can in good conscience vote for one of these candidates, then certainly do so. But before you do, I encourage you to dig deep into your own personal integrity and make sure that you truly, genuinely believe that your candidate will move the country forward. We cannot simply be willing to settle for the “lesser of two evils.” More than ever I feel that my own personal integrity is at risk by supporting either Clinton or Trump. I have wrestled with whether I could support either one and I have lost. I can support neither.

I will not sacrifice my conscience at the altar of pragmatism. I won’t vote for any candidate whom I believe to be morally and ideologically bankrupt. I don’t know where that puts me in November, but it will not put me with either one of them.

Categories: Highlanders

Grace and truth

February 17, 2016 1 comment

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I recognize that there is some inherent danger in writing about stuff like this on the internet. I have no formal theological training; I only know what I think I know. I’m just a lawyer with a curious mind who happens to have a checkered history with Christianity.

As I have mentioned before in previous posts, I think better with my fingers on keys. (Mostly because I can’t read my own handwriting.) To that end this entire site is a peek into my cobwebbed confusion as I try and make sense of what I read in the Bible, what I believe God is revealing to me in my mind, and what I perceive as I look at my religion’s history. I realize that I’m deeply conflicted with my faith, and that my relationship with God is frankly, complicated.

I will also confess that some of my hope is to reveal a side of Christianity that the world doesn’t always see. I hope that some of these thoughts will sow seeds that may someday germinate in a mind that has otherwise not found much use with Jesus.

Balancing “grace” with “truth”

I am fortunate enough to be connected with a great church and some amazing guys I get to explore life with. We meet each week off the highway in Conifer, Colorado and we explore what God seeks to tell his followers though the book we call the Bible. Hopefully we are iron sharpening iron, and not just a bunch of rocks bashing against each other.

On the menu this week is the tension between “demonstrating grace” and “revealing truth.” One of the guys posed the question of balance – How do we balance the demonstration of grace, mercy, and love against the instruction to correct others?

As a starting point, I believe that neither grace nor truth is ours to give. We can only demonstrate and extend the grace and truth that God has first extended to us. As a reinforcing point, all the scripture references I’ve come across deal with Christians correcting each other, not correcting or admonishing others. (See Titus 3:10, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 1 Timothy 1:20, Romans 16:17, several others.)

Like everything in the Bible, these verses must always be read in the broader context in which they’re presented. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest. But read in their proper context these passages and many others speak to the Christian’s duty to correct and admonish other Christians – and only in love and mercy. They do not give Christians license to “lead with truth” and attempt to correct other people who do not first know Christ.

The model of Jesus: different standards for different audiences

If we look to Jesus as our model – and if we dare to call ourselves Christians, we have no other model – Jesus applied different standards to different audiences, depending on what they needed most.

To the Pharisees, the religious insiders, and the politically connected – those who thought they had religion all figured out and had solved God like a theological equation – Jesus led with truth. In fact, Jesus was “all truth, all the time.” We see this in the accounts of Jesus’s interactions with the Sanhedrin and with other Jewish leaders of the day. (See Matthew 12:24-37, calling them a “brood of vipers.” See also, Matthew 23, calling them – among other things – white-washed tombs, blind guides, blind fools, etc.) Jesus always saved his harshest words for the self-righteous who thought they already had it dialed.

But to those who knew they were broken, to those who knew they didn’t have it all figured out, Jesus led with grace. Consider the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). Jesus did not condemn her, but interceded with grace for her and “truth” for those who would cast the first stone. Only after saving her life did he say “…go and sin no more.” This is a consistent pattern through Jesus’s ministry. Look up most accounts of miraculous healing or his intervention. You will find that in almost every circumstance he first gives the tangible thing the person needs before he says anything to admonish them toward truth. (And sometimes he just lets grace do the work anyway.)

This can be reinforced by a macro view of Jesus’s most popular public address, the “Sermon on the Mount.” (Matthew 5) Jesus leads off with

  • God blesses…
  • God blesses…
  • God blesses…

A total of nine times! He talks about letting our good deeds shine. He says that his followers are to be salt to give flavor and preservation to a bland world, and to be light shining in the darkness for all to see. Only after talking a lot of “grace” did he ever start talking much “truth.”

When Jesus spoke with people who would listen, grace was always the hook.

Truth cuts both ways

We must likewise lead with love and grace in all our interactions. We must let others know that we love them and that God has mercy and grace for them before we ever presume to give any dose of “truth.” If we ever allow our relationships to get so far as to genuinely and consistently demonstrate love, only then can we presume to have permission to correct or admonish. And if we dare go that far, any admonition must be bathed in mercy and love, not in fire and brimstone.

Underpinning all this is the sense that any opportunity to admonish must first be rooted in a genuine loving relationship. It can’t be lip service, and it can’t be contrived. And it is only genuine if it is consistently demonstrated time, time, and time again.

We also have to be willing to receive admonition in return. As the Sermon on the Mount continues in Matthew 7, we must first carefully examine our own lives and correct ourselves before we ever presume to point out a flaw in someone else. If we dare to correct another person, not only must we do it in love (see Matthew 15:11 (we are defiled by the words that come out of our mouths); Romans 14), we must also expect that we will be judged by the same standard we use to judge others. (Matthew 7:2)

The trouble is, “truth” is alluring; grace feels too easy. Dosing out truth gives us the ability to take our critical attention away from ourselves and focus it on someone else. By saying, “Well, at least I don’t do THAT!” we turn away from the work God would have us do in our own lives. Not only do we alienate ourselves from the other person, we turn our backs on the improvement God wants to do to us and we drive the wedge even deeper between the other and God.

At this point in my life I have so many flaws to work on that I can’t afford to give anything but grace. That’s what I want for myself, so that’s what I try and give. Perhaps someone who has it more put together can get away with dishing out “truth” and admonition, but I am not there yet.

 

 

The measure of discipleship

February 10, 2016 Leave a comment

I found this today while reading The Signature of Jesus, by the late Brennan Manning. A chastening read throughout, this quote from another author cited by Manning really hit me today:

We need reminders, symbols, stories, exhortations, living models, time-outs for reflection and celebration. These things are indispensable supports. The error is to think these things ARE the Christian life.

Just as Jesus’s practice of prayer was in the service of a whole WAY OF LIFE – a MEANS RATHER THAN AN END – so must ours be. Insofar as prayer, reading, sacraments, and spiritual direction support genuine Christian living, that is, Christian attitudes, relationships, choices, and actions, they are useful. When they become an escape from the more difficult demands of Christian living, they are the corruption of discipleship. The question at the Last Judgment is not, “How religious was your talk?” nor “Was your faith orthodox in every respect?” but “How did you respond to needy brothers and sisters?”

This is the one reliable measure of discipleship.

Quoted from Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper and Row, 1941)

Categories: Highlanders

Ripple effect: reflecting complete love

January 21, 2016 1 comment

Water drop(photo credit: Ashten McClintock)

The more I dig in on Romans the more it digs in on me. For anyone who can stumble through my first few lines as I try and get this post on track, I think it will tie together at the end. But I couldn’t think of any way to get this idea up to cruising altitude but to go full throttle and pull the stick back.

When we only love people who are nice to us and who love us back, we’re only demonstrating half of the love of God. Only when we demonstrate genuine love for those who don’t love us are we able to reflect the kind of love God demonstrated to humanity. THAT kind of love is what is supposed to make Jesus followers different.

The love of God that Paul discusses in Romans 5 is the love that restored humanity to peace with God through one single act – the sacrifice of Jesus. By contrasting the essential sinful nature of us all through the story of Adam (see Genesis 3), Paul shows us the power of a single act, whether that act is bad or good. Not to diminish the salvation story Paul is specifically emphasizing, the contrast also shows the profound, unforeseeable ripple effects our actions can have.

As Paul transitions through the story of God’s love for Israel, the demolition (or more correctly stated, the fulfillment) of the law and newfound salvation through grace, and the extension of his grace to nonJews (see Romans 6-11), Paul now encourages those who want to follow Jesus to reflect God’s love in our relationships with others.

From the New Living Translation:

[9-10] Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

…[13] When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

With a quick read, this seems easy enough. After all, it’s fairly easy to show love to those who are like us. If people are nice to us, generally share our same beliefs, etc. then being hospitable isn’t too tall an order.

But before we read further, we have to consider whether hospitality equals “love.” We can be hospitable to people without really loving them; we can be polite, kind, friendly… But love clearly requires something more. We’re told that the love we should demonstrate is rooted in “genuine affection”, which requires truly caring deeply for the other person. There is also a measure of self-sacrifice required as we honor each other and put the needs of others above our own needs.

A quick side note:

I think that in too many circumstances, we get self-righteous and perhaps misread this section. Note that Paul says to hate WHAT is wrong. He does not say “Hate people who do wrong things.” Perhaps this is the origin of the classic evangelical meme: “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” But that becomes a copout we often use to dehumanize people and see them not for their humanity as a reflection of God’s image. We use that as an excuse to make people’s actions define them, when that is clearly not what Jesus taught nor what Paul writes about.

Paul’s instruction comes on the heels of his teaching that God offered salvation to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous. (Don’t believe me? Go read Romans 11. See previous discussion, linked here.) It’s no accident that Paul first laid the groundwork to demonstrate God’s love before teaching us how we should love. Our love should be a reflection of the kind of love God showed to humanity. God demonstrated love to those who loved him – the Jews – by sending Jesus through the line of Hebrew King David to be raised and trained as a Jew, to become a Jewish rabbi, to challenge the Jewish leadership, and to be crucified as a sacrifice in complete fulfillment of God’s original covenant with Abraham. (It doesn’t get more Jewish than that!)

But God also demonstrated his love to those who did not love him – the Gentiles, who were completely shut off from relationship with God. The Gentiles (used in the Bible to mean everyone who is not a Jew) had never before been entitled to God’s mercy and love. But in demonstrating the fullness of love and mercy, God provided a path of reconciliation for those who previously had been hopeless.

And so as Paul continues in verses 14-21: (Note, I’m cherry-picking a little, but the skipped verses are also relevant.)

[14] Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them…

[16a] Live in harmony with each other…

[17-18] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

On the heels of Paul’s good news that reconciliation with God is a gift for everyone, he teaches us that to demonstrate God’s love fully is to love people who don’t love us at least as much as those who do love us. When we only love people who are nice to us and who love us back, we’re only demonstrating half of the love of God. As Jesus (remember the rabbi?) taught on the Sermon on the Mount,

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good…

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?…

If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?… (From Matthew 5:44)

So only when we demonstrate genuine love for those who don’t love us are we able to reflect the kind of love God demonstrated to humanity. THAT kind of love is what is supposed to make Jesus followers different.

I’ll be the first to confess that I am TERRIBLE at this. Far too often I find myself pretending to sit in judgment over others whom I perceive are different from me and who don’t live up to MY standards. (Oh, the sweet, acrid smell of hypocrisy!) I justify being a jerk to them because I perceived they were a jerk to me. Or I justify hating people from other religions as a means of self-defense. That is not the way of Paul’s teaching. That is not the way of Jesus.

That does not mean that all perspectives are created equally, or that all belief systems are equally valid. What that does mean is that every human that has ever walked the planet is an image-bearer of God, and that as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I should love them all and show mercy to all.