It’s Not So Shocking that Rome Would Do Roman Things. It’s Shocking that Christians Would.

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We’re two days out from Thanksgiving, and I’m filled with dread. It sits there, like a knot in the pit of my stomach. I can only avoid dealing with it for so long. The holidays can always be a stressful time, but they feel even more so this year, after this exceedingly contentious election season. I’ve long known that some of my in-laws, for example, do not share the political and sadly even the faith related views that Kirsten and I do, but this year it feels different. Of course it’s always work to really love anyone, especially those you have fundamental disagreements with, but again that’s more clear than ever now.
As I’ve told Kirsten of late, I feel truly “stuck.” I just can’t get over the fact that anyone who claims to be trying to follow Jesus could think they were doing so as they voted for Trump, and yet I know several such people. I get that someone could make the same assertion about voting for Hillary as I did. Yet I am ready with my many defenses, the arguments I’ve already made on this blog of late. I’m armed with facts about the declining abortion rate and the “smoke, but no fire” logic of the Clinton scandal(s) and false equivalence between them and Trump’s many scandals. I could talk about the bona fide good the Clinton Foundation has done despite the political influence its contributors gained by “paying” in order to “play,” versus the utter lack of good the alleged Trump “foundation” ever did for anyone anywhere and the many actual scandals attached to it. I could talk about how different this election would feel, how I would feel, if we were all sitting here in the wake of a McCain or Romney or, God help us, even a Bush win. I could talk about the peculiar evil that Trump represents, how he distinguishes himself in the worst possible way with his blatant racism and misogyny, with his unhinged rhetoric and unpredictability. I could talk about how he’s known by the company he seems to keep, by the coalition of supporters he’s gathered. I could point to his Cabinet appointments so far and say you need look no further than that to know how frightening his rise to power is.
I could talk too about how disturbing his “election” is with an ever-growing popular vote deficit via a system that was in fact “rigged,” but for Trump, not against him, due to widespread voter suppression by Republicans generally and especially in the wake of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by an “activist” Supreme Court. It’s disturbing not only for those reasons, but especially since it comes on the heels of the Obama presidency. I was an enthusiastic Obama supporter in ’08 and a reluctant one in ’12. His legacy, such as it is, is in grave peril now, but I echo the many voices now saying that however one voted even in this election, I suspect the day will soon come when we all miss him.
It’s disturbing to know that after the historic tenure of the nation’s first Black president, the nation follows it up not by electing its first female president, but by turning instead to a man who traffics in racial tropes and blatant misogyny. How ironic, too, that a substantial minority of voters (again, he lost the popular vote by a wide margin) would choose a leader, in spite of all the above, in the hope that he would resuscitate their waning economic fortunes while this very same leader made his own fortune by oppressing and denying payment to people just like them. Trump’s habit of denying payment to vendors of his businesses for suspect reasons is well-known, or should have been. Think too about the optics of a man elected to save “working class folk” giving his first post-election television interview with he and his children literally seated on a matching set of gold thrones.
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He’s not even pretending to be anything other than an avaricious, narcissistic strongman, and enough people are so desperate to be just like him that they don’t seem to care. And some of those people say they’re following Jesus. It makes me sick….and angry.
Thus, it is with much dread that I face Thanksgiving.
Speaking of them, let’s go ahead and talk about my feelings. I wrote in my last post of my gratitude for Mill City Church’s service of lament after the election. It was a welcome, needed exercise, and as I wrote I even experienced some (emotional) healing in the midst of it of wounds that had little to do with the election. Knowing that the next Sunday, this past one, we as Mill City Church would follow-up our work of lamenting with a service of thanksgiving, I wrote that I would indeed approach this past Sunday with a thankful heart. I can tell you that I tried, but as Sunday morning approached, I “just wasn’t feeling it,” for all the reasons I’ve just described. I find it difficult not to repeatedly cycle back in to shock and disbelief. And again, I’m not so angry that the U.S. “elected” Trump. As I said in my last post, it’s not so shocking that “Rome” would do “Roman” things. It’s shocking that “Christians” would do “Roman” things.
Nonetheless, I showed up on Sunday, and did my best to participate.
And I’m so very glad that I did.
I would have come just for the visuals. What I saw on Sunday in the auditorium of the elementary school that my church remains committed to loving and serving is that the laments we had written down last week had been nailed to the cross, there to die along with Jesus, begging the question then if also along with Jesus something is to be resurrected in their place.
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I’d like to think that indeed something was resurrected along with Jesus, as just as we had done last week with the lament psalms, this week we were invited to follow a simplified pattern of the thanksgiving psalms, which is:

todah

So we corporately worked through each part of the traditional psalm of Thanksgiving, punctuating each part with worship through song, as we had done with the Lament psalms the week before. As we did so, we considered the turn we were making, what the move from lament to todah represented:
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Thus, we were led to consider that moving from lament to todah is a move from complaints to thanksgiving, from disorientation to reorientation, and from longing to hope. It’s notable that moving from lament to todah is first a move from disorientation to reorientation. As I’ve said, I’ve felt quite “stuck” of late. Part of that feeling is an acknowledgment that I’ve been feeling disoriented. The world I woke up in on the morning after the election did not appear to be the same world I fell asleep in the night before. Maybe this should not have been the case. Certainly, there was evidence of just how ungodly the world can be leading up to election night, and of course by “world” I don’t mean God’s good created order but rather the “world” inasmuch as the term can refer to the systems of oppression and domination that are set up in opposition to God’s kingdom.
Trump’s rallies were marked not only by divisive, hateful speech, but by the actions that usually follow from such speech. Moreover, even under the last 7+ years of the Obama presidency many civilians were killed by U.S. drones around the world and many in the world remained mired in abject poverty. So it is debatable whether or not I should have felt so newly disoriented after the election. Nonetheless, I did, and this is why I am so grateful that we were led to make the move, together, from lament to todah. Giving thanks, together, for the goodness of God’s kingdom in all the places where it is evident in the world despite the darkness constantly pushing against it forces us to remember that such goodness, such light, exists! In doing so, we are reoriented. We are reminded of who and whose we are. I felt “stuck” in part because I had lost my way. I literally could not see a path forward. Moving from lament to todah and so moving from disorientation to reorientation literally helps me find my way again. It helps me see how to get un-stuck and get moving along the path again, along the path of discipleship. Giving thanks reminds me of who Jesus is, and that it is Jesus that I am following, not any U.S. leader.
Moving then from lament to todah and so from disorientation to reorientation is also a move from longing to hope. Pastor Steph, leading us this past Sunday as she had the Sunday before, said something like “longing is what hope looks like on a bad day,” though I might not be remembering this exactly right. If, however, longing is what hope looks like on a bad day, I would argue then that hope is longing spurred to prophetic action. It seems to me that even the most sincere longing, the most sincere yearning for that which might seem so far away, does not require any movement on one’s part. You can wallow in your longing. You can’t wallow in hope, however. You can be immersed in hope; you can be sustained by it, but at some point hope requires you to move. Reorientation helps you see the path. Hope helps you put one foot in front of the other and get moving down it. This was especially important for me this week, given as I’ve said above how “stuck” I’ve felt. My longing for the love and justice of God’s kingdom had been stifled by how it seems so far away. It seems so clearly to be “not yet” fully realized.
When, as the church, we are nonetheless led to move from lament to todah, from disorientation to reorientation and so from longing to hope, I find that suddenly I have hope, when before there had been none. I’m reminded that my feelings are a great clue to what’s going on inside me; they are not a reliable guide, however, to external reality, and are certainly not a necessarily reliable guide to any sort of transcendent or eternal reality. I “wasn’t feelin’ it” when I walked in to the worship service on Sunday. In many ways I’m still not. But the truth is I don’t need to “feel” it in order for it to be true. The old adage that you can act yourself into a new way of feeling much more quickly than you can feel yourself into a new way of acting remains as apt as ever.
I’m reminded of the Pierce Pettis song, “You Move Me.” I’m a big fan of his; so it pains me that some may know this song because Susan Ashton and, I think later, Garth Brooks (God help me) sang it. Nonetheless, it comes to mind. Give it a listen.

Here are the lyrics:
Here’s how life seems to me
Life is like therapy
Real expensive with
No guarantees
And as I lay on the couch
With my heart hangin’ out
I was frozen in fear
Like a rock in the groundFirst Chorus
Oh, you move me
You give me courage I didn’t know I had
You move me
I can’t go with you and stay where I am
So you move meHere’s how love was to me
I could look and not see
Going through the emotions
Not knowing what they mean
And it scared me so much
That I just wouldn’t budge
I might have stayed there forever
If not for your touchSecond Chorus
Oh, you moved me
Out of myself and into the fire
You move me
Burning with love and hope and desire
And you move me

See how you move me

You go whistling in the dark
Making light of it, making light of it
I follow with my heart
Laughing all the way

Third Chorus
You move we
You got me dancin’ and you make me sing
You move we
Now I’m taking delight in every little thing
‘Cause you moved me

Oh-oh-oh you move me…

Of course I like especially the line “I can’t go with you and stay where I’m at.” In other words, I can’t follow Jesus and stay stuck. I can’t remain mired in my longing. If I am to follow Jesus, I must make the turn from longing to hope. I must act, prophetically living as if God’s kingdom is “already” upon us, though it seems so obviously to be “not yet” fully realized. Though I wasn’t “feeling it” Sunday morning, I’m part of the church that gathered in that auditorium, and as the church, we gave thanks for God’s goodness. I was buoyed by my brothers and sisters as together we did what I alone could not. This is among the many reasons why it is so important that we continue working to be the church. The specter of a Trump presidency is rightly frightening, but when the Church acts hopefully out of the goodness of God’s kingdom already come, we make light of the darkness in all the ways that phrase connotes. This is, after all, not “Trump’s America” any more than it was “Obama’s America.” All nations are subject to God’s sovereignty. There may be many days ahead in which we are called to act prophetically, to do together what none of us could do alone. Inasmuch as we do so, I will be thankful indeed.
Anticipating that faithful, prophetic action of the church of which I am a part, it was indeed with a thankful heart that I responded to the invitation on Sunday to join my brothers and sisters in recording what we were thankful for on canvas. I think that gratitude deserves the last word:
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