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.

Political Husbands, Love Your Wives

Recently, as Representative Jason Chaffetz was under fire and announced that he would not seek re-election he posted a flurry of “I love my wife” communications. I don’t know why, nor am I insinuating anything. But I’ve been troubled by it ever since. I’m not troubled by his love for his wife. I celebrate and encourage that. What troubled me is that this is a pattern I’ve seen play out so many times. Elected married men find themselves under pressure, often because of infidelity, but not always, and they all of a sudden “find religion” as it relates to their marriage.

This is not a phenomenon afflicting only elected officials, of course. All of us married men have probably had some moment (or many if you’re me) in our marriage where, because we’d screwed up in some way, we engage in a flurry of “I love my wife” activity. And of course sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do – we need to regain trust, shower her with love or just plain pay our debts.

Instead of beat up on Chaffetz (plenty have done that already) I thought I’d turn this on its head. I believe deeply that if we are going to turn this country around one of the things we need is elected leaders of character, integrity and kindness. Role models for our children. Men and women who are committed to the simple acts of goodness and kindness that seem to get shouted out of our political discourse. And just because there is so much shouting, I’ll disclaim here and now that I’m not saying women shouldn’t celebrate their husbands, singleness isn’t affirmed and valued or that I’m somehow elbowing out people who don’t share my views about marriage.

Here’s the reality: the majority of our elected leaders are white men  – many of them married – and I think it would do us all a lot of good to pause for a moment, for no reason other than its the right thing to do, and call them to honor their wives as those of us who are married do the same.

Elected married men – love your wives well today. That’s my challenge, should you accept it. Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, all over this country from the White House to the Town Hall – I challenge you to this simple act of goodness and respect that maybe, just maybe will bring a bit of good to this toxic time. Share it, retweet it, hashtag it, but most importantly, do it.

#ILoveMyWife

 

Lessons From A Loser

On Tuesday I lost my second straight election – another crushing defeat by the raw numbers.

David Abroms was unable to get traction in the crowded and ridiculously expensive field of the Georgia 6th congressional special election despite investing a lot of his own money and more importantly being a truly great candidate and fine human being. My last loss was in the presidential election, serving as the campaign manager for Evan McMullin.

I’ve been working in politics long enough to know that you’re going to lose some races. I’ve also won a lot of races over my ten years working in the business. But as a political professional, unless you work in only the most winnable, well-funded campaigns and ignore the principles and deeper motivations for why you’re in this business in the first place, you will almost certainly lose more than you win.

I learned a lot about how to handle losing by playing sports growing up. In both victory and defeat, the key for me has always been to learn. To grow. To get better. You simply can’t guard against losing in elections. It’s a single winner game. But you can control what you do next. In politics, you can also control who you choose to work for.

I’ve been attacked from the left and the right the last 6 months for my work. Those attacks are sure to increase as I keep fighting for what I believe in. The center is a lonely place in professional American politics. I have, of course, made lots of mistakes running campaigns over the years. Some of them contributed to losses. I own those. They have real consequences for people and I take them very personally.

In David and Evan I worked for candidates who were aspiring to VERY difficult change. They were swimming upstream of a powerful current of partisan politics in our nation that works against people like them. People who are open-minded AND principled. Passionate about their causes AND sympathetic to the views of others who disagree. David Abroms and Evan McMullin represent much of what is good and right and true in our country. Men who are willing to make tremendous sacrifices for what they believe in, even knowing the long odds.

I believe we are pioneering a new generation of leaders in this country. I’m proud to be working with the Centrist Project to recruit and elect a new type of independent servant leader from the U.S. Senate down to local offices. Pioneering is always hard. There are always casualties and scars and many difficulties.

But it is in the trials that we learn the most. In fact, it may be the only way we truly learn. Malcom Muggeridge puts it brilliantly:

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo…the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable.”

We are formed in the crucible. Shaped in the potter’s hands by force. Sometimes our misshapen pot gets smashed back into a lump of clay to be necessarily remade altogether. Many have asked me the last 24 hours what I learned from the Georgia special election. I get the same question often about Evan’s campaign. As I reflect on it I am focusing on what I can learn – about voters, about candidates, about the system, about the media and about myself.

The sting of defeat is real. You’ll be mocked and scorned. But the only way defeat becomes permanent, instead of temporary, is if you let it define you and refuse to learn from it – if you give up on the reasons and principles that motivated you to try in the first place.

The list of great figures of history who have failed, numerically, way more than they succeeded is a long one. But in learning from their failures they were shaped, “enhanced and enlightened.” I’m trying to stay humble, open and eager to learn. I believe deeply that our country needs a new way, a new approach, new options in our political system. The time is coming. Don’t give up. I’m not.

 

 

 

Donald Trump is a Disruptor and I’m Loving It?

On Inauguration Day, Donald Trump will cement perhaps the most incredible disruption of a political system in history. Entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley types are fond of talking about disruptors. They even take on their own mythological status sometimes as stories are told in whispers and awe of how some guy came up with an idea, bucked the system and made millions. Uber, e-cigarettes, and the mythological creature known as Steve Jobs are a few of the well-known examples.

Let me be clear, I don’t approve of just about anything Donald Trump does or says. But those in hotspots of disruption in our country like Silicon Valley, Austin, Salt Lake and Archer, Florida (that’s where I live) actually do see the opportunities that are arising out of this time.  We realize that the relative chaos and feather-shedding in so many old, stodgy institutions opens up space for new conversations about what is really working and what isn’t. Conversations about what is worth preserving and fighting for and what should be allowed to die.

I’ve personally been involved in conversations with people I never would have talked to before this year – not because I didn’t like them or wouldn’t work with them – but because nothing has ever forced our paths to cross. Of course this journey started, for me, in seeking an independent presidential candidate alongside Bill Kristol, Rick Wilson, John Kingston and many others, punctuated by the amazing run of Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn that I am so proud to have served. But then there have been these amazing people like Greg Orman, Jackie Salit, Nick Troiano, Sho Baraka, Justin Giboney, Angel Maldonado and so many more who are all working, in their ways, to advance the common good for our country. Even better than that, we are working hard to find common ground even though we may not have seen it before. This is truly valuable and exciting. Stay tuned for lots more of this kind of activity.

Now, I have to point out that I don’t believe Trump actually is a disruptor in the ways that are often seen as so wonderful, ultimately, by so many. Why? True disruption blows up a tried and true (and often stodgy and uncompetitive) product or market precisely because it offers a better alternative that consumers were wanting for a long time. There’s the rub. I don’t believe that what Donald Trump is offering is a better alternative.

Did consumers want him? Well, sort of. Few of us would argue that our broken political system didn’t need a good old fashioned disruption. But what we’re seeing play out as the Trump-ifying of American politics simply isn’t making things better, and I don’t believe it will make America great again.  Sure, some things will get disrupted that need disrupting. Some policies, I hope, that the Trump administration ushers in, will indeed be good for the country and the good of many. But it’s a poison pill.

However, instead of dampening my spirits or holding me back, this disruption is exciting me. Some of history’s most incredible movements and innovations have been born in times of extreme uncertainty and even unrest. Particularly among people of deep principle, these kinds of times offer sharp clarity of mission and provide opportunities to build bridges.

This year has disrupted my life in almost every way. It has forced me out of old ways – stodgy and unproductive ways, many of them – and is birthing new relationships and opening my eyes to blind spots I’ve had for a long time. It is awakening in me a renewed sense of calling and purpose, and a desire to work together with a diverse group of Americans for the common good.  And that’s a disruption I’m glad to endure.

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?

 

 

 

 

Politicos, we need a revival

Kellyanne Conway, Robby Mook, Ron Nielson, Gloria Mattera, Joel Searby. We are the professional politicos who took lead roles with the top presidential campaigns this year. We gave it our all. Some of us probably made a lot of money. Some of us lost a lot. Two of us had a now infamously heated exchanged at Harvard (hint: I wasn’t invited.) We were all trying to beat the other’s team. Only one of us came out victorious.

Such is the nature of political campaigning. It’s a winner-take-most sport, competitive to a level far beyond what I experienced when I played college sports. The stakes, after all, are very high. The professional politicos eat, sleep and breathe this stuff. It consumes our lives in those seasons, for better or for worse. We do and say things that, in the normal course of life, we would never do or say. Some awful things. Some heroic things.

We should call 2016 “the year of the advisors.” There were more stories this year about advisors and consultants, especially in the presidential campaigns, than I can ever remember in the past. Favorite punching bags were the lightning rods for each of the two major campaigns. How many stories did Politico write about Kellyanne, RobbyPaul Manafort, John Podesta, Huma Abedin and all the rest? (hint: a zillion – click their names) Why so much interest in this?

You might say its because of the palace intrigue of Washington, DC insiders – and you would be partially right. You might say it’s the influence of celebrity culture on the election process and a desire for fame by the advisors themselves – and you would be partially right. But I think there’s a deep truth at work here under it all: advisors are incredibly influential. They know it. The media knows it. I’ve lived it. We all know it. And another deep truth: we are influenced by the people we hang out with. How many times did you hear that from your parents?

It stands to reason, then, that the quality, integrity, wisdom and personality of one’s advisors should matter a lot.

Are we, as a professional political class, spending any time developing leaders who reflect timeless values that we all believe in? Who is the “next generation” of professional politicos? Who’s training and mentoring them? What are they being told is important to know? Is anyone even asking about their integrity, character, ethical standards or moral compass? And what about the current leaders in the space? Are we at all concerned about the industry? Is anyone thoughtfully considering how our entire profession is influencing the future of our country? I fear that nearly all of these questions are going unaddressed in any meaningful way. (I know there are some exceptions, but they are just that.)

As a member of the professional political class for 10 years now I’ve had the chance to see and interact with people at all levels all over the country. Just like any profession, the quality of work varies greatly – from people I’d let babysit my daughter and run my presidential campaign all the way to people who should never be allowed within typing distance of a campaign plan and some who should be in jail. None of us are perfect. I’ve made a LOT of mistakes on the professional side of politics. Some of us win more than we lose. Some people lose more than they win and yet stay gainfully employed and even get rich. There are people with master’s degrees in political fields and there are people who never went to college. The variety is really quite entertaining.

What troubles me, though, is what I see in the contrast between two culturally divergent ways of thinking about politics, and how one is dominating the other. The dominant “culture” in the professional political class is defined by proximity to power, making money, who you’ve worked for, your phone’s area code and winning at all costs. The other “culture” is defined by principles, passion, sacrifice and finding good people to work with. Many of us find ourselves with a foot in both camps depending on the day.

In the first “culture” you don’t matter unless you have certain relationships, have worked for certain people and live in a certain place. Most, but not all, of these folks have a 202 area code. Many consultants who live in other places get their google voice account set up with a 202 area code just so it appears they’re calling from DC. You know them. Maybe you are them. In this culture we fight and claw and compromise our values (if we are clear on them to begin with) because what matters is that we get close to power. The powerful will get us our next job and the powerful are closer to the money so I’m more likely to make more money. It’s transactional.

The vast majority of the national political money flows through Washington, DC. So if I want to play in that space, I better live in DC (for the record, I don’t.) The political media is all based in Washington, DC or New York. If I want a media presence, I’ve got to be there. The best parties, where I can meet the powerful, influential people who will help me get to the next step are also there. So it stands to reason that if I’m a professional politico, or want to be one, that I better set up shop in DC.

I’ve watched over the past decade as the rise in the variety of vehicles for political action has grown dramatically. The problem with the rise in the number of ways to engage in politics is that it is WAY outpacing the quality, equipped, passionate men and women it takes to run and staff all these organizations. We put so little time and effort into the quality of our professional political class that it’s no wonder we have a talent gap. More troubling for me though, is that we are “raising” a political class that is neither equipped nor challenged to lead us in ways that will strengthen and unite our country.

We see the impact of this throughout our political discourse. The professional political class has at least as much, and possibly more influence on political discourse than anyone in the nation. We all contribute, for good or for ill, to the way we talk, the way we operate, the standards we keep, the people we promote and ultimately help to get elected.

Before those in the political class on the left cast blame on Trumpism, white America and money – and before those on the right demonize the mainstream media, the liberal activists and academia, maybe we should be introspective, asking questions like:

  • How am I contributing to the toxic political environment in our nation?
  • Should I adjust any of my practices or behaviors or speech?
  • What am I doing to unite our country?
  • Do I care more about money, power and my reputation than I do about others and our country?

Politicos, we need a revival. One of Webster’s definitions of revival is “a restoration of force, validity or effect.” We need a revival of character, integrity, and professionalism in politics that strengthens our system, restores validity and faith in the institutions we serve and gives hope to future generations.

Some will argue it’s never been there, so how could it be revived? I would say there’s always been some who treated their roles as paid advisors, organizers and political service providers as more than just making a buck or winning or defining the other side. Unfortunately, though, we are in an era where these folks are hard to find. I meet very few in DC or otherwise. There are some notable exceptions, but if you’ve spent much time really working in the DC culture, you know this is true.

We need leaders in the professional political class who can both win AND do it with honor, integrity, professionalism and kindness. Before you dismiss this as idealism, don’t confuse kindness for weakness. Real kindness is one of the strongest forces in humanity, especially when coupled with the truth and put into action. We can fight hard battles and be honest about our opponents in creative ways without demonizing them. We can make a great living without being dishonest. We can run incredible campaigns without compromising our most basic values.

As our country is torn apart by partisanship and a tone that I’ve never seen before, what will we do, politicos? Will we run to wherever the next buck is? Or will we choose projects, candidates and words wisely? If you’re a politico and you’re feeling this, join me in committing to a few basic principles. As a political professional:

  • I will be honest and when I fail, I’ll admit it.
  • I won’t demonize others when I or my clients disagree with them.
  • I will do excellent work that is worth the price tag.
  • I won’t compromise my values for a buck.
  • I will intentionally develop friendships with people from the “other side.”
  • I will keep learning and improving on my craft.
  • I will seek to build others up in the business, passing on the lessons of my wins and my losses.

We can’t all be Kellyanne or Robby or John or Paul. But we can all do our part to unite our country, to heal the divide and to contribute positively to a healthy, vibrant political discourse.