A Drunk Rhinoceros Always Breaks Things

And other thoughts on boundaries in life.

I was talking with a friend recently about a topic we disagreed on. When we got to the heart of the matter, they said they just “couldn’t ignore their feelings” about this issue. They said, basically, “how could all my feelings be wrong?” I replied that we should follow that train of thought to its logical end. I threw out a number of examples of things that “feel” very good – physically or emotionally – but lead to obviously negative consequences. I asked if these things were, following their definition, the right thing to do? Ultimately this leads to the question, “are there any real boundaries to our behavior that are real and deep and true?”

Despite a popular belief that any kind of personal boundaries or constraints are bad, I believe they are actually critical to our survival and what’s even better, will lead us to a fullness of life and joy.

In my lifetime I have seen a continual assault on anything remotely resembling limits on personal freedom. Along with it we’ve seen an elevation of the individual to the highest place – let’s call it the throne – as people claim they are their own masters and no one can tell them what to do. There are those who believe that any boundary, constraint or limit to their personal freedom to do whatever they want is silly – even evil. But this requires a deeper look.

The problem with this way of thinking is the fruit that it bears in our lives. A mentor of mine is fond of saying, when people are complaining about the things happening in their lives, “you don’t have a fruit problem, you have a root problem.” And so when bad fruit is present, we must ask, what’s the root?

Why do we have boundaries and limits in the first place? And who puts them in place? Who gets that authority over us? I believe in a loving, omnipotent creator God. That’s where it starts for me. So if you don’t share that belief or aren’t at least open to the idea, you can go back to scrolling Facebook or Twitter now, though I’d love it if you stuck around.

So, if there is a loving, all-powerful God that created the universe it follows that He is in charge, not me. He gets to set the parameters for our existence because, well, he made us. He made everything we see and know.

Now before you think this is going down to a long list of do’s and don’t’s from the Bible, that’s not where I’m going. I do believe the Bible is the best possible source of knowing our boundaries. But that’s for another time. No, I want to talk about the inherent value of boundaries. To remind us that instead of limiting us, boundaries are actually incredibly life-giving. They ensure and sustain joy. They lead to fullness of life here on earth.

I’m kind of an expert on boundaries because I’ve charged through most of them at one point or another in my life. I know what boundaries look like from the broken side – the outside looking in. I also know what it’s like to live within them. I can say without any hesitation that life is much, much better inside the boundaries. Far from restricting us, they protect us. They give our lives structure. They allow us to focus on what really matters and ignore what doesn’t. And yes, they keep us from getting into big trouble.

What are some of the boundaries that are helpful and life-giving? What do they look like? Here’s a few, just food for thought:

  • Technology should not be ever-present in your life. You need breaks from it. Complete and total breaks. How many moms and dads out there have heard some form of, “Daddy, put your phone down and listen to me.” I have. It hits me between the eyes every time. Instead, what if you had “no phone zones?” What if you never looked at your phone in bed? Or took an entire day off every week from social media and technology? This will pay off. Trust me.
  • Our bodies, especially sexually, are not “free” to do whatever we want. Many, many sexual choices will lead to bondage, not freedom. Just ask someone who’s divorced, addicted to porn, a victim of sexual abuse or depressed and confused about their sexuality. God gives us boundaries regarding our bodies for our good, not to limit our freedom. Trust me.
  • You cannot “save” that person you love. Stop letting them charge through your boundaries like a drunk rhinoceros. The rhino won’t get where he needs to go and all you’ll be left with are shattered fences and a trampled garden. It’s so, so hard when it’s someone you love – I know. You want to do everything you can to “help” them. Meet every need. Answer every call and text. But you can’t save them – only the loving Father can. Love them. Do what you can. But don’t abandon good boundaries. Trust me.
  • Your boss or client is not your slave-master and you are not their slave. If you answer emails at 11 o’clock at night, they’ll always expect you to. If you ask, “how high” every time they say, “jump,” you will get very tired, very quickly. In contrast, if you set proper boundaries for communication, work-load and expectations you will find that clients and bosses will either respect the heck out of you (because so few do this well) or they’ll pressure you to do more, in which case you know its time to quit or fire that client. It’s not worth it. Trust me.

I could go on. But you get the point. Maybe you need to take a minute to think about boundaries in your life that have fallen apart. Maybe there’s some you’ve never even considered. Or maybe you need to admit you’ve intentionally charged through others and are now reaping the consequences. Whatever it is, there’s great hope for a better future. A fuller life. A deeper peace.

God doesn’t give us boundaries to restrict us. He gives us boundaries because He loves us. If we will carefully discover those boundaries, mark them off, care for them and live within them, we will experience a fullness of life that is something truly special. Trust me.

 

Don’t be pointless, be salty

The daily barrage of culture wars has me thinking recently about the proper role of a Christian family in America in 2017. One common theme I’m seeing in social media really concerns me: threatening to further disengage and entrench.

We live in a socially fractured time. Digital life has inflamed centuries old tribalism driven by economics, geography and human nature to new and uncharted levels. Technology is actively and strategically segregating us based on our “likes,” preferences and internet habits. Many Americans are quite happy living in their bubbles – their news feeds mostly full of people who agree with them. Christians may be the worst offenders. Now people are threatening to take even more steps, in the real, physical world, to detach from organizations and communities of people because they disagree – even when they have far more agreement than disagreement.

By and large, Christians in America in the last 30 years have been inclined to stay in our bubbles. We may have engaged in limited ways, taking culture wars public on abortion and sexuality, for example. And of course there are notable exceptions. But socially we retreat and seek comfort. I can’t help but see the irony in this for those of us whose namesake, Jesus, literally left all comfort and holy security to enter a broken and uncomfortable world, dying a brutal and painful death to give us freedom and life.

I’ve lived the struggle on this. I get it. Let me give you a few examples that may sound familiar.

When our kids were coming to school age my wife and I prayed and talked a lot about the best approach for our family. Should we homeschool? Put them in private school? If so, Christian or not? Put them in public school?

Or how about trying to decide what movies and youtube channels to let our kids watch? Or whether or not to expose them to the news of the day, and when? Conversations about sexuality? Should we have close family friends whose values don’t align with ours and how much time should we spend with them? The list goes on and on when you’re trying to figure out how to live as a Christian family in America.

As we’ve wrestled with these decisions there has been one word that has guided me: salt.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Matthew 5:13

Salt did a lot of things around the time Jesus made this statement. Primarily it flavored and preserved food. One thing about salt really strikes me: it cannot do its work unless it is touching the thing it is supposed to flavor or preserve. In fact, it is most effective when it is worked in really well. As someone who believes the words of Jesus were careful, intentional and divine, I put a lot of weight not only on what He said but how He said it and in what context.

“Losing your saltiness” is a curious phrase for Jesus to use as salt is a very stable chemical and it is very difficult for it to “lose its saltiness.” Instead, it seems what Jesus is saying when you see the full context of his sermon here, is, “don’t be pointless.” Don’t be a lamp hidden under a bowl. Don’t be innocent of murder but guilty of slander. Don’t be innocent of extramarital sex but guilty of unbridled lust. So for this salty business, said another way it might be, “don’t stop being salt and doing what salt does. If so, you might as well be sand, thrown in with the other sand and trampled. You’re no different than ordinary sand.”

Our family has sought to be the salt of the earth in all we do. We have failed on many fronts, no doubt. But we have taken seriously our call to be the salt of the earth and the warning not to lose our saltiness. Being salty for our family has meant staying engaged, mixing in, being fully present in our culture. We must always be aware of the risks. We must be thoughtful and wise about how we engage. Most importantly, we must abide in the Vine every day and be full of the Spirit if we want to bear good fruit – to stay salty.

On school, we decided to put our kids in public school and there were several reasons. We thought to ourselves, “if every Christian family pulls out of public schools, what will that leave? How will that serve the lost in those schools?” And closely behind that was the fact that we wanted to disciple our kids in a way that equipped them to engage the world and make disciples. After all – the very definition of a disciple of Jesus includes being one who makes more disciples (Matthew 28.) If our kids didn’t even know how to interact with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, we thought, how will they be the most effective disciples possible? I have a lot of respect and love for families who choose differently. But this was our thought process.

It didn’t take long for this to be confirmed when, in the first few months of school while driving with a friend of my kids from school in the car with us we were talking about Jesus and he asked, “who is jeebus?” The chance right then and there to not only tell this precious kid about Jesus for the very first time but also to have my kids be a part of it was something I will never forget and am very thankful for. Not more than a few weeks later a weeping mother came out of my daughter’s kindergarten classroom during drop-off and I got a chance to pray with her. The stories go on.

My son is in Cub Scouts. In recent years lots of Christians have pulled out of Scouting because of its relaxation on gay leaders serving. That happened before my son started, so we went in knowing that policy was in place. You know what I’ve found? Many of the families in Scouts are there looking for values and experiences for their boys that reflect about 90% of what Christians believe and yet many, at least in our area, are not Christians. I’m glad they’re there. I love spending time with them. I consider them friends. Our pack is a crazy, fun mix of different types of people from different backgrounds and it’s great.

Within our Christian circles we segregate too. Perhaps even worse. They say, after all, that Sunday is the most segregated day in America. It’s not just race though. Increasingly, Christians are seeking churches that match their political and cultural values instead of trying to find a church that is faithful to the gospel where they can grow as disciples. I’m so thankful to be a part of church that allows room for a lot of complexity and diversity. The small group that meets at our house every week includes not only racial diversity but perhaps even more importantly, political diversity. We have staunch Trump supporters and people who knocked doors for Obama. We have independents, Republicans and Democrats. We have homeschoolers, private schoolers, and public schoolers. We have plumbers and teachers and doctors and consultants. It’s not always neat and tidy. But I wouldn’t want it any other way and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them, united as we are by a larger calling, a bigger purpose, a divine love – united in Christ.

So as you’re wrestling with how to navigate the American cultural waters in 2017 as a Christian family I’d like to make one plea: be salty. Don’t be a pointless pile of religious sand. I’m not sure what this will look like for you and your family, but get out there and get into the mess and brokenness that so badly needs the flavoring, preserving love of Jesus.

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4 Things Bonhoeffer Would Say To Us Today

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young, vibrant, brilliant man imprisoned and killed by the Nazi’s. He was arrested for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and later hanged, just as the Nazi regime was collapsing. He wrote faithfully to his family and friends while imprisoned. He reflected passionately and with great insight on the prevailing culture and the importance of standing up for Truth in the face of confusing, chaotic and difficult times.

I found his “Reckoning made at New Year 1943” haunting and at the same time comforting for the tumultuous days we are in. For now, we face nowhere near the threat Bonhoeffer and his fellow Germans faced. I pray the horrors of the Holocaust never again revisit this Earth. But we are indeed in a time of national crisis. We have a crisis of conscience. A lack of moral and ethical clarity from our political leaders. And cultural upheaval and unease where many are taking sides, few are building bridges and, I daresay, battle lines are being drawn.

Against this backdrop I wanted to share several passages from Bonhoeffer that I think offer needed clarity. Reflect on them, find comfort in them and above all, let them inspire you to grounded, steadfast action for the common good.

1 – On Failing to Speak Against Injustice and Immorality

This passage so concisely critiques the failure of so many Christians and others of moral leadership today that you would think it was written this week. May we not “step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party” but instead stand firm in the Truth – unafraid, not bitter, humble.

The “reasonable” people’s failure is obvious. With the best of intentions and a naive lack of realism, they think that with a little reason they can bend back into position the framework that has got out of joint. In their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved. Disappointed by the world’s unreasonableness, they see themselves condemned to ineffectiveness; they step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party.

Here and there people flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But anyone who does this must shut his mouth and his eyes to the injustice around him. Only at the cost of self-deception can he keep himself pure from the contamination arising from responsible action.

2 – On the Folly of Blind Acceptance

This passage so closely mirrors the reality I see with both Trump supporters and #TheResistance. So many have “given up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves,” instead relying on their chosen media (or social media) outlets to tell them what reality is. In so doing, we become fools. Yet my disposition to those who behave this way should be the same that I would ask from them – loving grace for the ways I fail without compromising truth.

If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted or destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and – more or less unconsciously – give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves. The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him.

The only profitable relationship to others – and especially to our weaker brethren – is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humans but become man for men’s sake.

3 – On the Proper Response to Trump

We will not and must not be either outraged critics or opportunists, but must take our share of responsibility for the moulding of history in every situation and at every moment, whether we are the victors or the vanquished.

How deeply this convicts me! How easy it is to become the outraged critic and how prevalent this is among so many in the United States right now. I confess that I am quick to criticize when I should be quick to listen, slow to speak and abounding in love. I should take my share of the responsibility for what has come to pass and for what lies ahead.

And yet how easy, too, to become the opportunist and rationalize it.  So many Christians in particular have rationalized their way to support for President Trump in ways that shirk their moral responsibility to the most fundamental of commandments, “love your neighbor as yourself,” as they see the President display every manner of sentiment toward others except love.

We must reject both unthinking, shrill criticism and compromising opportunism.

4 – On the Way Forward

Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values. When we forget what is due to ourselves and to others, when the feeling for human quality and the power to exercise reserve cease to exist, chaos is at the door.

What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.

Here Bonhoeffer offers a path forward. Not in “clever tactics” or grand strategy, though they may be necessary in turn. No, we need “plain, honest, straightforward” men and women who will step up and lead. We need a “revival of wholesome reserve” – looking not only to our own interests and agenda but also to the interests and needs of those with whom we share this great nation.

My dear Dietrich, thank you. We honor your sacrifice and pray for the grace and courage to heed your wise counsel in these tumultuous times.

 

 

NOTE: All quotes come from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers from Prison, The Enlarged Edition, Copyright 1971 by SCM Press, LTD.

Prayer for a Long Journey

“It’s a long and rugged road, and we don’t know where it’s headed. But we know it’s gonna get us where we’re going.” – The Wailin’ Jennys

It’s been a hard year. It was almost exactly a year ago when I was in Washington, DC secretly meeting with a very prominent public figure and asking them to run for President. They said no. You can read that story here if you’d like. Over the course of this year I’ve been through a lot of change. And I’ve watched our country go through enormous change. Many say Donald Trump is just a symptom of much deeper, longer-term struggle in our nation. That may be true. But actually electing him was a significant change in our country no matter your feelings about it.

I’m one example of a life dramatically changed simply because of an election. I quit my job as the CEO of a very successful and honorable company so that I could pursue finding an independent candidate to run for president. I put my livelihood and the well-being of my family on the line. I say that not for pity or admiration. I simply point out that there are many stories out there of people who, over the past year (many post-election) are re-thinking how they live, where they put their efforts and energy professionally and politically and asking, “what can I do to advance the good in our nation?”

I’ve never liked the label #NeverTrump. It was never about that for me. I was always opposed to both nominees. And my driving motivations were always about my optimistic belief that our country had so much better to offer. It’s always been about a long-term journey and core convictions. I could not let my fellow citizens and our friends around the world watch our election and see no signs of principled people making principled stands for basic standards of decency, kindness, truth and humility. The 2016 election was completely devoid of these basic human values.

So as I reflect on the past year on this, the National Day of Prayer, I offer this simple prayer, inspired by the Wailin’ Jennys:

Father, We confess our many sins as a nation.

We ask for your mercy.

Father, we confess we cannot get it right on our own.

We ask for your grace.

Father, we need more of your love on earth as it is in heaven.

We ask for your love to be manifest through those who love you, to one another.

Give us the grace to travel on, even as some days we eagerly await our arrival at the destination.

We place our trust in you and have faith that the journey we are on, however rugged it may feel, is worth it.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You cannot serve both God and Trump

There is a strong cultural pressure if you’re a white Christian in America today to feel good about the election of Donald Trump. Like any cultural pressure, it is felt at work, among family and friends, at church, in the media we consume and in an unspoken quasi-biblical “call” to support the president, whomever he may be.

Unfortunately this last call, to support the president, has been abused hypocritically by the church, and white Christians in particular, for the last 30 years. Where was the strong call to support and pray for Clinton? Obama? Now, because “our guy” won, it is used against anyone, and white Christians like me in particular, as a sort of strange manipulation, trying to get me to support Donald Trump blindly and “look past his crazy tweets and to the man himself.” I’ve been asked to do this by people who support him and know him well in recent weeks.

Let me be clear – I DO pray for President Trump and I WILL support him in areas that align with our call as Christians and with the way of the Jesus we follow. I pray for his cabinet and I hope for the best. I pray for President Trump’s soul and for a truly miraculous life-changing encounter with Jesus. But I will NOT blindly support any human authority. Ever.

When Jesus said we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24) he was articulating a much bigger biblical principle. We cannot serve both God and anything, or anyone. That’s one of the ten commandments, if you’ll recall. Of course he’s talking about an ultimate service – a devotion that demands our loyalty at all costs and in all circumstances and deserves our worship and thanks.

I believe a Christian can serve faithfully in the Trump administration. Or serve our country valiantly. Or pray for our president. We should, in fact. But no Christian who reads the words of Jesus and watches the life of Jesus should ever, under any circumstances, condone speech or behavior by anyone that dehumanizes, disrespects or dismisses the image of God in another. Trump does this often in the way he talks about people and it’s never ok.

In fact, personally this is my biggest concern and point of contention with the President. Sure, there are real policy concerns and debates to be had. But what I see as an even bigger concern is the rhetorical and political environment he is actively promoting and creating. It’s one of division, attack of opponents, demeaning of those who dare to speak against him and a complete lack of the fruits of the Spirit. As a refresher, those are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We cannot produce these fruits in ourselves by trying harder. They are only borne out of abiding in the Vine, Jesus, and being filled by the Holy Spirit. But neither can we see the antithesis of these fruits spat out onto fellow humans and remain silent. I have said from the days after the election that I will endeavor only to take Trump at his own words. So I am basing this only on what I have heard or read from his own mouth or tweets. And there is much to be concerned about.

What then? Am I just another anti-Trump voice is a sea of bitter losers? That is not my goal. In fact, I hope to meet with the President soon. To affirm that I love and pray for him. And to work in any way I can toward his success, not his failure.

I repent of all the ways in which I don’t bear the good fruit of the Spirit, I seek growth and change in Jesus and I look for ways to love God and love my neighbor well, each and every day. In short, I try to serve my master well, and Him only. I humbly call my brothers and sisters to do the same.

A Prayer on Inauguration Day

Father and Creator, we recognize you are bigger than we can understand, stronger than our greatest fears, more wonderful than our sweetest dreams.

You have been and will be. You were there when Babylon reigned, when Rome fell, when America was born and when we’ve been torn apart. Through it all, you remain.

Today we pray for our new President and his administration. I ask that you lead them by your mighty hand, for the good of our country and the world. Protect them and their families and let them know, in clear ways, you love them.

We are so divided as a nation. I ask you to raise up leaders who transcend the divides. We humble ourselves before you and repent for our pride and our hatred. Root those things out of our hearts by your Spirit’s good work in us.

Strengthen our resolve for speaking truth and standing up for the weak, the marginalized, the oppressed and the hurting. Let us discern when we must speak against evil and give us the courage to do it boldly and with great clarity.

We do not place our hope in the government of the United States. But we will work however we can to see it be an instrument for the good. I ask that you lead those of us who are laboring in this way – Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Purify our hearts, stir up creativity, and bind us together in unity for the good of all people everywhere.

Amen.

Christians, is your support of Donald Trump compatible with following Jesus?

I love everyone, because that’s the call of Jesus. This includes anyone who voted for or supports Donald Trump. But I don’t understand how anyone could call themselves a follower of Jesus and be ok with Donald Trump’s way of speaking about others. I can get why you’d vote for him over Hillary Clinton. I can get why you’d like his policies better than Obama. I can even understand why you’d pray for him. I will do that too.

But I cannot understand how, if you read the same Bible I read featuring the same Jesus we’ve been following for 2,000 years, you could be ok with the way Donald Trump speaks – and then to not just vote for him but embrace him as a hero. Philip Yancey has spoken eloquently on that part of the unbelievable support from so many Christians.

You may say this is a tired drum to beat again. I don’t think we can beat it often enough. We either stand for goodness and decency in our leaders or we don’t. I cannot stand quietly by and allow us to become desensitized to this kind of behavior.

I’m going to be very careful to only use Trump’s own words, and to be faithful to the context in which they were given. It’s way too easy, it seems, for Trump supporters to dismiss any criticism of him. So I want to try to be fair and balanced (no pun intended, FoxNews) in my treatment of him. To take him only at his own words, in context.

 

We might be tempted to say, “hey, we’ve all said things we regret. Let’s give him grace.” Or we might want to shoot back, “who are you to judge him!? Are you perfect?!?!!!” And of course the answer is that I’m not perfect, I’ve said a lot of things I regret and need the grace of God for, and I am not the judge. But this doesn’t mean I can’t exercise judgment, evaluating a “tree by its fruit” to determine the heart – “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  And it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push back against darkness and unkindness.

Each of these quotes flies directly in the face of long-held, orthodox beliefs about how we should treat one another as humans. They fly in the face of the beliefs held by many of the world’s religions – but we’ll focus on Christianity for now. Let’s take a look.

“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

Are you ok with a man speaking about his daughter in an immodest way and alluding to incest. Even if that’s not what he meant, the words we speak have real power and set tones. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say I don’t think he was alluding to incest. Is this the kind of comment you’d want to hear your neighbor say? Your pastor? Your son’s coach? Why do we so easily accept it in our president?

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”

These quotes condone divorce on the grounds of physical attraction, allude to acceptance of gay marriage and very personally degrade women in a dramatically public way. Jesus hates divorce, even as we are called to love and care for those going through it. God makes very clear his plan for human flourishing through heterosexual marriage, even as we walk lovingly and wisely in the minefield of this issue today. Jesus not only values women but goes out of his way, counter-culturally and scandalously, to love the unloved woman, not once she behaved but precisely in the moment of her deepest depravity.

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”

We’ll take these two together. Are these true? Is wealth where our beauty lies? And is that what makes Donald Trump beautiful? Or in the context of his statement, is that what makes him beautiful compared to others? Is it true that you can never be too greedy?

Any true beauty in Donald Trump or any of us comes from the fact that we’re made in the image of God. More troubling though is his long pattern of equating wealth with human value or lack thereof. Nothing could be more contrary to the gospel of Jesus. Of course wealth is not inherently evil or wrong. But the love of it most certainly is.

“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”

Objectifying women. Exalting youth and beauty as primary values. Dismissing the opinions people have of you so long as you look good and powerful and popular. Do I need to really go into the specifics of why this is wrong? And dangerous for leaders to speak this way?

So what’s the point? What do you want me to do about this, Joel? If you’re a Jesus-follower, no matter who you voted for or how you made that decision, you have a responsibility to speak truth and shine light into darkness. We cannot allow this way of treating people to be ok – not for our kids, not for our communities and certainly not for our president.

Christ-followers, please listen and carefully consider these questions:

Is your support of Donald Trump going beyond the Biblical call to pray for our leaders?

Have you crossed the line into condoning his behavior and speech?

Is your support compromising the integrity of what you say you believe in?

Would Jesus be honored by the way you support Donald Trump?

So as it continues day in and day out, not just from the President-elect but now, because it’s normalized, from all his supporters and surrogates, we must push back in two key ways:

  1. Refuse to speak this way or treat people this way.
  2. Refuse to laugh along and casually accept it when others do.

It’s not just about speaking out or complaining when Trump or his supporters say something outrageous or disrespectful. That will only go so far, and most likely be confined to whatever our Twitter or Facebook reach is. No, our best response is the way we live in real life, the one no one will see on Facebook. It’s in the way we speak. The way we treat others. If you’re in politics, this is a truly urgent task. Even if you aren’t, it’s still a primary call that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

At the end of the day, this isn’t really about Donald Trump at all, is it? In a maximum of 8 years, he’ll be out of office. But the culture he shapes, and the culture we shape, will endure. Will it become increasingly normal, and even celebrated, to demean, to attack, to degrade and to speak ill of others? Or will we, like Jesus, reject the dominant cultural themes and act counter-culturally in ways that change the world for the better, bringing the kingdom of Heaven to earth?

 

 

 

 

Seek first what?

I’ve been pondering a lot lately what it means to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Jesus calls his followers to do this in book of Matthew in the Bible. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus or practice any faith at all, this question is intriguing, so stick with me here. It’s an interesting question for all of us because it’s a basic human question, really. It’s the question of “how should I live my life?”

What does it actually look like, each day and in all things, to seek first the Kingdom?

Part of the answer lies, I believe, in the context of that directive from Jesus. It’s a single line in a much longer passage about not worrying. About provision. About the faithfulness and love of a Father for his children. Why would Jesus wrap up that part of his sermon on the mount with a directive to seek first the Kingdom? I think it has everything to do with focus. With where we fix our eyes. Where do we go first in our minds each day, each hour, each moment as we are faced with challenges and decisions and opportunities?

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If I’m honest, without an effort to do otherwise, my feet hit the floor every morning seeking first my kingdom. My needs and wants and problems and questions for the day. Staring at my own proverbial feet and wondering where they will take me today. It is so easy, indeed natural, to focus on ourselves. It is natural in the sense that it is the ingrained way of us humans. Self preservation. But not all “natural” things are healthy. Would you eat a rubber tree? Drink a gallon of maple syrup? (ok I admit, some of us might do that. But would it be good for us?)

Seeking first the kingdom, then, starts by recognizing that I am not the center of the universe. That there is indeed a “kingdom.” Something much bigger than myself. As soon as we shift our focus from our own problems wants and needs, something happens inside us. Our hearts grow less anxious. We see the needs and wants and pains of others and we gain perspective. Then we can find our place in it all. And we can figure out what to do about it. We can figure out how to live.

For us Christ-followers, we have a framework for a lot of specific things he calls us to do and be in the world. But we won’t even get to that point until we shift our gaze from ourselves and fix it on him – on others – on the world around us.

So in this time where we are encouraged every day by advertisers and politicians and nearly every impulse inside us to look out for ourselves and make decisions based on what is good for the almighty “me”, what would happen if we sought the good of others before ourselves? What would happen if some of us sought first the kingdom every day? Might we see the hurts and needs of the most vulnerable in ways we never have? Might we think differently about our political rhetoric? Might we use our resources differently?

Maybe, just maybe, we’d start a revolution.

 

 

 

 

Words from a depressed politico to a tired nation

I’ve never been much of a runner. I always preferred sports for my exercise. Basketball is my sport of choice and I played throughout my life including in college. I guess I don’t like the idea of anything where you just run and there’s nothing else to it.

Today after a long hiatus from exercise because of this presidential year, I went for a run. But instead of running on a road or a sidewalk, I ran in a beautiful park down trails along a creek. Whenever I wanted to stop and enjoy a squirrel climbing a tree, the meandering Hoggetowne Creek, or just watch the leaves falling here in Florida, I did. This is a different way to run. This is a running that doesn’t lose sight of the journey. This is a running that, when needed, stops and enjoy the scenery. I’ve never run like this before.

That reminded me of something a mentor of mine, Mike Patz told me about a year ago. He said I’m a sprinter not a distance runner. More like Usain Bolt. (I know, Usain, I’m nothing like you.) I’ve pondered this ever since. What does it mean to be a sprinter in life? What does it mean about the things that I do? Or don’t do? What does this say about me? Is it even true?

I’m realizing that it is. Throughout my life I’ve been able to go at speeds and levels of intensity that very few people are able to handle. But I can’t sustain it for too long. If I try I will crash and burn.

So what does a sprinter have to do? He must rest after each race.

Many of you have asked me what I’m up to. The answer is, not much. I have been deliberately quiet and avoiding a lot of activity. Part of this is the simple fact that I’m exhausted and the election is over. Part of this is the natural depression that comes after a period of high intensity in life. Part of it is that I don’t want to jump into opining on matters of such weight for our country and our world.
It has been said that at times, for the good, we pour ourselves out to the point of being completely empty. This has been the case for me. And so being emptied I must refill. Refill from the Source. Refill with goodness and truth and beauty. Be quiet long enough not just to hear but to truly listen. In times of refreshing we must give ourselves space to ensure that we fill up our empty tanks with things that will renew us and give us life, not further drain us or lead to death.

So perhaps you would like to know what I think about Donald Trump. Maybe you’d like to hear my thoughts on building a new political party. Maybe you think I should hang it up and stay out of politics altogether. These are all things I’ve pondered myself. But here’s what I know sitting here today on this park bench looking at this beautiful creek: I’m not ready and that’s OK.

The Most Rejected Man in America

The story of how I asked dozens of people to run for president – and one who finally did.

Some have said I’m the most rejected man in America. Actually, my friend and recent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said it. Why would he say that? Here’s the story.

It all started in February of 2016 when I woke up one morning with a deep conviction that I had to do something in this presidential election and that it was very likely that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. I was deeply convicted that I must act, although on that February morning, I did not understand why or exactly what to do.

I began to explore what it would take to run an independent presidential campaign and to think about who might be a good candidate. I reached out to friends, colleagues and experts on the matter to learn about things like ballot access, the electoral college, funding possibilities, minor parties and all sorts of other things I never knew existed even after working in politics for ten years.

After a week or so I decided to test the waters and wrote a memo outlining a scenario, based on some polling our firm had done, whereby Condoleezza Rice could become president. This was all done without Dr. Rice’s knowledge but I had always liked her and thought she’d make an intriguing and viable pick. To my surprise, the polling showed that she was very, very strong and in fact might be able to mount such a run. I figured I better let her know.

There was only one problem – I’m not influential or connected at that level of politics. I was a small time consultant from Gainesville, Florida who had worked all around the country but mostly for medium-sized political action committees and state and local level candidates.

I’ve never been afraid to cold call anyone. Even the former Secretary of State. So, I looked her up. I found her chief of staff at Stanford, where she now works for the Hoover Institute, and I emailed. No response. So I emailed again. And again. Then I called – a few times. Finally, I got a rather frustrated response from her chief stating in no uncertain terms that Dr. Rice would not be running for president and I should leave them alone. Rejection number one.

The memo I had written on the matter was leaked to Politico who ran a small story on it that was apparently noticed by a few others who were feeling similarly. Long story short, I got connected with a few of them including Bill Kristol, Rick Wilson and others and began discussing other options for candidates. Bill had been floating ideas for a while and felt similarly, that we needed a better option.

Between us, we emailed, cold-called, met with and otherwise courted many well-known people. Former presidential candidates, generals, senators, congressmen, rich people, celebrities, leadership gurus. There were many different conversations and meetings. Rejections number two, three, four and some number higher after that. I lost count.

Eventually one man, David French, decided to seriously consider the idea. It was Memorial Day weekend. With the gracious assistance and leadership of his friend John Kingston, we holed up at John’s beautiful farm in Vermont to consider the possibilities. Extra pressure was added when Bill Kristol, heading to Israel for a week, tweeted that news may be forthcoming on a candidate. But we were ok. We were going to take a deliberative approach.

On the first day in Vermont, David’s phone rang. It was his publicist, or so the number read. In fact, it was a patch-thru from Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News and he asked David if he was going to run for president. When David didn’t deny it, a story was up in an hour and our quiet, deliberative planning turned into a pressurized, intense scramble to spool up a possible presidential campaign in less than a week, still not knowing if our candidate was indeed going to run.

(Side note about the impacts this stuff has on people – that same day my wife called me to inform me that, minutes earlier, the neighbor’s dogs had mauled and killed our family cat of 11 years and she and my young kids came home to the scene. So yeah, my cat died while I was gone and I wasn’t there to bury him or help my kids process their first pet death. A few weeks later our fish died. Garage doors broke. Things stopped working around the rental house. Such are the real costs of giving yourself to something like this.)

What ensued in Vermont was a crazy few days of making lists of possible staff, supporters, financial backers and endorsers. Soul searching. Building a potential platform. Long days of meetings interrupted by periodic walks around the farm to pray, or weep, or just try to make sense of it all.

I learned so much in those few days. I learned that it was indeed possible to spool up a presidential campaign in a few days. (this experience would prove invaluable later on.) I learned that there were quite a few people out there feeling the same way I was. I learned that despite unbelievable odds, many of them were ready to sacrifice greatly to help in any way they could.

I learned that John Kingston is one of the most open-handed and generous men I’ve ever met with a passion for advancing good in the world. I learned that David French is a deep, caring, thoughtful and incredibly intelligent man who loves his country, his family and his God. Others, like Stuart Stevens, came to offer advice. New friendships were formed. And I learned that if we were actually going to do this, it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done and it would probably fail by conventional political standards.

I will never forget the final, agonizing moments of David’s decision-making process. We had talked it out. He had talked to his wife. Now he just had to go talk it out with God. I watched him as he paced, and thought, and prayed. I knew he was wrestling with God in ways that few people ever do.

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David French, wrestling toward his decision.

Then he walked into the kitchen in the colonial house and said, with tears in his eyes, “Guys, no.”

We had already rallied some troops to meet us in New York City the next day because we couldn’t wait too long and drag our feet. They thought they were coming to join up with a presidential campaign. What we didn’t know was that it would form the core of the next phase of this journey.

At the Marmara hotel just off Park Avenue we convened a group of operatives, thinkers and experienced hands to consider the possibilities. There were people with White House experience, presidential campaign experience, well-regarded writers and thinkers, potential funders and young, hungry operatives.

After David shared his decision, we shifted immediately to what was possible and what could be done. Many of us just weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Over the next 24 hours we settled on forming an organization and called it Better for America. Our mission would be to educate the American public on the process of running for President as an independent, to continue recruiting candidates and to get as much ballot access as we could while we waited and hoped for a candidate to step into the fray.

Great patriots and friends like Anne MacDonald, Kahlil Byrd, John Claybrook, Mohammad Jazil, Mike Lehmann, Ashley Pratte and many others joined John Kingston and I in what was, admittedly, a very uncertain journey ahead. The waters weren’t uncharted. Many had gone before us in the challenge of ballot access, running an independent candidate and other difficult tasks. But we learned very quickly that without a candidate, there was very little for anyone to rally around.

We struggled, under tight timelines, to gain ballot access, ultimately getting a newly formed Better for America party on the ballot in Arkansas and New Mexico. We tried to organize like-minded people online and rally them to the cause. We talked and met with many more potential candidates. All of them said no, even after some seriously considered it. I was truly earning that title as the most rejected man in America.

Pretty soon it was July and we still had no candidate, limited ballot access and a beat-down team of fighters uncertain of what to do next. Funding was gone, even after Kingston’s deeply sacrificial efforts. We decided to fold up shop.

In June, I had decided that I could no longer continue as the CEO of the consulting firm I had been leading. I could not serve that role well and pursue what had become a strange but unshakeable passion, even knowing it was almost certain to fail in the conventional sense. So I walked away from an incredibly stable, comfortable income with virtually unlimited prospects for the future and now I was literally unemployed and completely defeated. I had no idea what to do. So I went on vacation.

I took my family to Illinois to the tiny town of Bellflower where my wife grew up. That small town, and my in-laws house, has always been a refuge for me. I was so uncertain of what to do next. For several days I just sat on the porch or took walks or played with my kids. I drank coffee in the morning and beer at night (don’t worry, I believe in moderation so I wasn’t just drowning my sorrows.) I had no idea what the future held. One afternoon, as I sat by the garage, behind the cedar trees and enjoying a great Illinois summer breeze, my phone rang. It was Evan McMullin.

Evan had been asking around among friends and colleagues in Washington, hoping, like me, that someone was going to stand up and run against both Clinton and Trump. He had hoped, like me, that it would be someone of great stature or resources or both. Instead, he learned, we had failed. There was no candidate and not much to show for our efforts of the summer. In his asking around, someone had suggested maybe he should consider running. This was not what he was thinking. He was thinking he’d be willing to quit his job – but to work in the policy shop of this candidate of stature and resources. Now he was seriously considering it himself. Someone had told him if he was interested, he should call me since I was the guy with the plan, or so they thought. Maybe I was just the only one still crazy enough to be considering it.

We talked and I laid out for him all the challenges and the most likely outcome: crash and burn in the first two weeks. But, I told him, I still thought it was important and I thought there was an outside chance someone like him could get traction and make an impact on the race. I told him if he was serious we needed to meet in person. So he flew to Chicago and I drove up to meet him where we spent part of two days talking it all out.

He then went back to DC to consider it all. A few days later I got a phone call that he wanted to do it and wanted to know if I was in. I pondered it for 24 hours, talked to a few folks about it and then I got on a 5:30am flight the next day from Champaign, Illinois to Washington, DC. I told him I’d be with him through the end. Now all we had to do was launch a presidential campaign in three days.

What happened next was nothing short of amazing.

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