Trump: Keeping Hope Alive

trumpvvsWatching Trump’s speech to the Values Voters today (Friday), it seemed to me the cornerstone of the address was the word “hope.” America is great because America is filled with hope.

“Hope” was a word utilized by Barack Obama. Now we see Trump appropriating the word.

Make America Great Again, as I noted yesterday, is a compelling message for both liberals and conservatives. I referred to two messengers appealing to two different audiences:

Messenger 1: Jeff Daniels

Jeff Daniels’ depiction of jaded TV Journalist Will McAvoy in the HBO series “The Newsroom, with a message appealing to the college educated left. Daniels really nails his part in this clip, so much so it belongs to Daniels more than it does McAvoy, so with apologies I will refer to Daniels as the man behind the message going forward. This clip was widely shared in social media in the years running up to the 2016 election, before Trump was even a candidate. So, although it’s been used by presidential candidates before (we have Reagan on tape using it, for one example), I maintain the idea in its present iteration came first from the Jeff Daniels character.

Here, Daniels first asserts America is not the greatest country (without offering an alternative) and laments that America was once great, and that wanted America to be great again, but leaves us with the feeling he doesn’t know how that is possible. No hope is offered here, except that the diagnosis is that maybe America is no longer great because America is no longer very smart. Now, this is odd, because it suggests that despite an educational system more extensive, staffed, and funded than anytime in America’s past, America is becoming more stupid. So, there is no hope, except to maybe find a few brilliant people to put in control and have them “Just Do It” – make America Great Again somehow – perhaps with nobler characteristics brought about by maybe better test scores. This kind of solution, offered by liberals who adore secular, public education (for other people’s children anyway, if not for themselves and their children) usually gets translated into a new batch of DC directed initiatives and programs. Thus “Hope” is placed in government and better education – managed by smart, college educated people, who happen to be virtuous due to their superior liberal morality that will keep them out of immoral wars. The only real undeniable problem here is that with all these smart people now educating America in greater numbers and with ever increasing resources, the results show, according to Daniels, that America somehow is getting dumber and dumber (no pun intended)

The Jeff Daniels character is thus exhausted and disillusioned. The complaint kind of boils down to “The elite can’t educate people out of stupidity and wars apparently, aren’t ‘good’ anymore (even the most ardent lover of this clip can drive a Mac truck through that complaint). And of course, this confused lament is dished out with oodles and oodles of smarmy mockery for those who can’t see it.

Messenger 2: Donald Trump

Donald Trump, playing himself, took this disillusionment of America’s fading standing and made “Make America Great Again” his very own brand. To do so, he bypasses the college educated left who Daniels appealed to (based on the number of left leaning friends of mine who enthusiastically shared this clip as a meme), and brought his appeal straight to the Working Class right. Trump the populist politician and master brander – as the MAGA brand shouts out – offers hope. And Trump the builder of yuge, beautiful buildings, offers a blueprint on how to do it.  Trump is a bundle of energy and contradictions, but he’s painting a vision in very broad strokes and has a history of knowing how to read and bring a blueprint to life. And so, the way forward to Making America Great Again looks roughly something like this (there may be a more formal blueprint on his website somewhere, but here is how I, now like you a veteran Trump observer, sees it:

  • Put America first. Everyone else comes second. If private Americans want to help citizens of the world, we’ll enrich them so they can do it, by unleashing them to build great products and services the world will want. But the government’s priority is to take care of Americans. All other citizens of the world who need help in the form of government aid are encouraged to address their issues with their own respective governments. And so, for example, if North Korea starves, it’s the fault of North Korea’s leadership. Thus what is lacking is compassion “out there” as a government virtue: but compassion is a private matter and best served by people with means anyway.
  • To restore our collective faith in God and love of our Country as our great help in this endeavor. Trump said in today’s speech we’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again this year. With his success in jawboning the NFL to make their players stand for the national anthem, don’t be surprised if he’s right.
  • As great patriots who love our country, we unleash the power of the free market to empower the people of the nation to prosper. Regulations and tax structures that unduly hinder economic success are ripped from the laws. From here, government will use the unleashed creativity and power of the renewed America to rebuild the infrastructure, adding to our economic power and well-being as a nation.

This is a message of hope, hope, and more hope.

Obama’s Message of Hope: the contrast

Former President Barack Obama himself utilized the language of hope, earlier and more often than Trump, and was quite eloquent in doing so. But what was missing from Obama was the idea of “restoration.” Obama did not appeal to a golden age. His own wife Michelle admitted that she never had pride in America until Barack Obama was on the verge of winning the White House. By this, one can surmise that for them, the great American Century of Greatness began Day One on Inauguration Day January 20, 2009. You may be underwhelmed by this – Jeff Daniels and Donald Trump definitely were. But, being left leaning, his go-to machine for future greatness tended to be the unleashing of a strong central government as the instrument to a better America. Money for centralized healthcare, money for alternative energies for a greener world, money to take clunkers off the street so Americans could buy shiny new alternative energy cars.

Obama used the word “hope” a lot. It was the key word in one of his two autobiographies: The Audacity of Hope. The other, interestingly, used a word that implies hope: Dreams of My Father. Obama often invited people to join him in “hoping” and to “dream” – even naming illegal aliens “dreamers”. Thus Obama became the President of Hopes and Dreams.

Diversity as foundation: we’re gonna need a bigger government

But as Obama did not point to a lost golden era, he had to invent a vision using strange, untested foundations that leaned upon an appeal to strength in diversity. Now diversity has its strengths, but it is shaky if it is meant to be the foundation. Unity, not diversity, is where a society finds strength. And so, because diversity is in its very definition disunited, it calls for a strong central government controlling more of the people. For a nation of people who from its very founding have a healthy distrust of central power, government made strong in the service of diversity had a strange aroma. And because of this, Obama found himself appealing to hope for hope’s sake. For a nation tired of war in nations that didn’t threaten it any longer, but which bled its best young men, and was now facing an enemy of economic uncertainty, hope undefined was good enough in 2008.

Evidence of America’s past greatness

But if America is or was great, the historical central truth of America’s position and role in the world as the greatest nation is located in its contrast to the alternative: the enemies of freedom who derived and utilized their challenging power from strong, collective government. In ending fascist Germany, fascist Japan, Communist Russia and prying China away from its own communist designs, America’s greatness is seen in the epochal struggle between Fascism (Communist and otherwise) and Freedom.  Even Daniels said America was great back when it fought good wars for moral rather than economic reasons.

The problem however was this: The enemy of freedom in the 20th century – strong collective government – was now, in Obama’s eyes, the solution of all our ills in the 21st. If the era of big government was now over, as Bill Clinton said in 1995, Obama’s administration somehow missed getting that memo. And thus, the Tea Party was born, a threat to Obama and all good liberals – so much so Obama mobilized the IRS against the citizens who formed its platoons in the political battle over the size and scope of the federal government.

The communists that created the Soviet Union and became our adversaries in the long, cold war similarly had hope – Hope in their vision for the new reality they wished to create. They had faith in an ideology that said this new reality was inevitable and implied it was also moral.  But it too was a faulty and false cornerstone and it filled the world with unspeakable miseries. The foundation was false so hope was betrayed, until it collapsed upon the evil it unknowingly promoted in order to exist – a parasite rather than a champion of the working class, who became slaves to the keepers of the vision. It fell, and great was the destruction. Today, the two great former champion nations of Communism, Russia and China, are placing their hopes in capitalism (sans a free market, corruption being so difficult to uproot when men try to control markets).  The capitalism they embraced was the warped version, identical to the straw man they lampooned that was based on the Marxist doctrine animating the struggle for the worldwide liberation of the working class. Cronyism is rampant. Orwell, in his totalitarian fable Animal Farm said the oppressed animal workers in the end could not tell the communist leader Pigs and the capitalist Farmers apart. The Pigs became the farmers, the formerly oppressive capitalists who in the end rejected useless ideology and embraced the only tried and true method for increasing the means and ends of production. Rejecting the communist faith and adopting capitalism, the leadership and bureaucratic cronies leveraged their political power to place themselves firmly on top of the economic pyramid.

The seeds of American greatness: a merger of two viewpoints

America struggles with its own captialist/bureaucratic cronies, more so now than ever (hence the cry to “drain the swamp”). But, in contrast, it placed such eschatological dreams of an earthly workers paradise (best exemplified by John Lennon’s beautiful song Imagine) strictly into the afterlife. Capital and the moneyed class who deal in it is here to stay, it will not be replaced. But it offered the average man not merely a life of oppression but also one of opportunity and thus hope in this world.  America was thus built by men and women filled with hope for now and eternity, with minds both in the clouds but also grounded in practicality. This hope for a better life now and, if played by the rules, a better life in eternity developed into a working faith in a beneficent God who watched over their affairs, and offered blessings but also a stern warning against oppression and overall bad behavior.

Those average and god fearing Americans who found blessings and warnings in their concept of God as an active agent, also found common cause with the men of the enlightenment, who were seeking more rational and less faith based solutions. The men of the enlightenment focused on the great advantages unleashed in this world by the testable, provable scientific knowledge it brought forth.  God fearing Americans couldn’t help but find utility in such study. This study even spilled into political discourse as Americans, finding themselves a little more removed and independent from King and Country, better discerned and discovered their own natural rights.  The religious American easily understood these rights as coming from their beneficent creator, while the enlightenment man certainly reasoned for a creator who developed the laws they now uncovered through said reason. As enlightened man and religious man came to common understandings, religious man brought aspects of the ancient law the enlightened man of reason could find agreement with as well. These included principles such as the golden rule, and government accountability to a higher power, and the lurking dangers when a king rules through oppression. Now, if that higher power is not to be some sectarian version among many sectarian versions of God, then at least a study of the reasonable principles expounded in those scriptures could locate vital areas of agreement. After all, these scriptures were well understood by Europeans who came to the New World, whatever the motivation. Limited government, spelled out, offered solutions to all European immigrants, including a sober understanding that within the heart of man were weaknesses that if unchecked could lead to many evil and destructive inclinations. Hence the seeds of American greatness began to germinate, and bear fruit.

Tested in great trials, Time and again both religious and enlightened men found time to seek God and His help whenever destruction for their great shared experiment threatened its existence. In doing so, like believers sharing foxholes with atheists who lived to tell about it, they could look back and agree that perhaps they were steadied and aided by a greater power – in times when reason could offer no help, they shared a providential reliance on God. A healthy respect for both reason and faith were born in both camps.

Thus hope for a great nation was tempered, yet built on a greater foundation. That foundation included a respect for God and his providence. It included an insistence upon an understanding of man’s fallen nature as taught in the ancient texts yet affirmed through the study of man and his nature. It empowers people with their God given rights, while empowering society by continually reminding them through the gospel and the Bible to use those rights responsibly (hence the end the slavery through a bloody civil war). An evil people who abused their rights, would be thus be chastened, as was the South following their succession over slavery rights.

In this partnership, the American people offered the world a contrasting new vision for the future. Enlightened, but also relying upon an ancient faith of a providential, lawgiving creator, hope was placed on a solid foundation, and the Americans went about the work of making America great through individual self-realization and hard work in building lives in freedom and opportunity.  Looking over the Atlantic, the Americans saw their cousins the French try to follow their example of freedom and the exaltation of the rights of man – minus God, only to descend into a barbarity followed by dictatorial rule by a new militaristic Emperor. The differences between the American experiment and where Europe stood following the French revolution were profoundly discerned and expounded by the observant writer Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America, who sought to glean an understanding of the new American mind in order to help shape the future of French democracy.

In short:

Make America Great Again is aspirational. But it is restorative: a call to return to an understanding of our greatness, but with a sober understanding of our limitations.  In it, we recognize our great victory in world events: by holding firm and defending our nation we outlasted the communist and fascistic threats of our previous century. But we also note that with greatness comes a prudential understanding of the dangers of hubris. We have been too careless with our greatest treasures: the men of the great American working class who we send off to fight our wars. In 1972, Democratic Presidential Nominee George McGovern accepted the nomination with a call for America to “come home.” Come home from Vietnam and take care of yourself, he put it.

In “America First” and Trump’s aversion to questionable military excursions, he has married that call to “come home” with Reagan’s doctrine of Peace through Strength. We take care of America’s needs first, and its foremost need in the world is to make it clear to friend and foe alike that we will not be threatened. America is first in our priorities, and first in the world. The Jeff Daniels character would no doubt be aghast, and launch into a speech about how Trump has misapplied the meaning of “greatness.” But then, Jeff Daniels’ character did not offer a source for greatness, nor a tangible alternative.

Collective central government to address the hurts and struggles of our people is very appealing to voters –  many who hurt and are struggling. Politicians trade in hope or they peddle in fear. Trump understood this, and tailored his message to let the American people know he understood their fears of disappearing jobs, economic insecurity, and lax border control. Following that, he pivoted by offering hope in an appeal to principles that once made America great and would thus Make America Great Again. In his inaugural address, he made clear his administration would have their back in the endeavor. Government would assist, beginning with help for the Veterans by cleaning up the VA. But their own hard work, in a country and economic system made of free men and women investing the money the government had its own designs on, would be the engine to prosperity and greatness. And in tough times, it would be God we place our hope in, and a Federal Government with proper priorities toward its own people assisting in that effort, having the workers’ backs.

Is Trump the right CEO for the task?

Trump appeals are to a segment of America that is deeply religious and deeply patriotic. And, surprise, Trump himself – a New York billionaire- shares those feelings. And it connects. The shared connection, based on love of country, is producing a love between messenger and receiver.

More importantly, Trump knows these voters of his are the very people the elite, the educated, and popular media/political apparatus that make up perhaps 90 percent of film/TV/Print media most despise. Yet he courts them with genuine affection, and that respect and affection gets reciprocated.

Does Trump share the love of God the great middle class America has? I think that is less clear. I can’t look into a man’s heart, but it is a language he has trouble articulating. And with his past, is it any surprise? I would say he has a deepening respect for the basic godly faith these unwashed share, and has a faint memory, as a young man raised to attend church, of his own leanings upon it.

Trump, the celebrity millionaire, Emmy Winning Neilson ratings killer, and star of Celebrity Apprentice, spent a lifetime courting those who look down and condescendingly upon the great unwashed bumpkins of middle America. A man of great ambitions, he sought the Presidency, and determined somewhere along the way that these bumpkins would be his political base and pathway to the top of the ego pyramid any person today with great ambition will entertain climbing, if not actually aspiring to: The White House. We tell our children confidently that anyone can grow up to be President. But in turning his attention from celebrity culture to the heartland, Trump appears to have connected a dormant American spirit within himself as he wooed those people for whom it burns bright, and saw it in danger of being extinguished.

A return to the Garden of Eden: nine things Jesus believed about marriage

We are stardust, we are golden

Caught in the devil’s bargain

And we’ve got to get ourselves, back to the Garden

– Joni Mitchell

Since my high school days, Joni was my go-to when it came to understanding women.  But when it comes to understanding God, I rely mostly on Jesus. Whenever Jesus talks about God and His intents and purposes, it is a good idea to listen, ponder, and expect at least a bit of it to make one uneasy. God is incomprehensible, the wise say. But Jesus has an inside track on His ways.

Continue reading “A return to the Garden of Eden: nine things Jesus believed about marriage”

Coach Patton addresses his troops

The difference between “fun” and joy

Saturday begins a new baseball season for me. For about the 15th season, I will lead a group of young boys, this season aged 7-8, into the glorious national pastime as a coach in the Northwest Christian Sports League.  Every season a group of parents put their young man in my charge for a few hours every week. It is a honor I do not take lightly, being a parent of six myself, I know how easy it is to have your child overlooked, and how an experience that was supposed to be fun for the child can instead become a real drag.

I always joke that I am best suited to coach young boys in baseball, because I have intimate knowledge of what it is like to be the worst player on the team.  Partly it was because I was low on the age and experience scale, as most players were into their second season in our division. And partly it is because I am, well, a pretty bad ballplayer. So I have special insight on what it is like to underachieve on the play fields of America. I was so bad in Little League(TM), I quit in mid-season. I didn’t mind so much being bad, I just didn’t understand the purpose of having me on the team. One day walking to school, a group of my former teammates came up to me, angry, and ready to rough me up.

Continue reading “Coach Patton addresses his troops”

Stefan Molyneux and Cultural Self Hatred

Self hatred is not a useful response when attacked. Self examination is useful when reflection is called for, but dangerous when demanded by others in the political, cultural or military realm. Especially dangerous when demanded by opponents who are incapable of reciprocation. It won’t end well to capitulate under such circumstances.

I stumbled upon Stefan as a YouTube philosophy teacher while refreshing my own knowledge of our great pre-Christian tradition of philosophy. He didn’t appear to me to be very sympathetic or appreciative of the Christian use and (dare I say) “appropriation” of Aristotle. But he knew his stuff. This full throated defense of European culture in its proper perspective really surprised me. And he is right.

Our ability to self reflect in order to pursue peace and the higher good is good. But European civilization deserves a full throated defense against those in academia and politics who cannot seem to practice it, even as they insist others do so that their opponents disarm to appease them and their list of demands.

And, I am tired of ideological academics to the Marxist dialectics of power and oppression in matters of race and gender. It is ignorant and therefore foolish to do so. The Marxist dialectic was overly simplistic, dogmatic, and wrong in the discussion of economics in the days of the cold war. History is now repeating itself as farce in the use of it to fight the current wars over race, gender and culture.

 

Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles

Godspeed, then and now

All day Monday we watched the news of Superstorm Stella. My son has a three day training session scheduled for Chicago he needs to run and I am coming along to assist. The media attention was on the Northeast, mostly Boston and New York, but off to the side, there is talk that Chicago was scheduled to get a few inches as well. We checked the web, called the airlines, and wondered whether or not to get on standby that night for a red eye flight, or just take our chances with the morning flight reservations we had for today, Tuesday. We didn’t want to scramble to do the red eye standby thing, and pay the extra money for the hassle, but with some of our trainees coming in on international flights,  and already  quite likely en route, we definitely didn’t want to cancel the training.

Continue reading “Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles”

Jesus’s big homecoming

I thought I’d offer a chapter on a little book I’m working on about the life of Jesus. I’ve read a couple little books about Jesus, and both profoundly affected my life. It has been a dream of mine to write a similar book in hopes it would bless others like these two blessed me.

The Kingdom of God comes to Galilee

Jesus’s public ministry really took hold in Galilee, a region of Israel 100 or so kilometers from Jerusalem. Following his first miraculous sign, the turning of water to wine, things really pick up, and the ministry of Jesus becomes the biggest thing going on in Israel since the days of Moses, David and the other heroes of the sacred history of the Jews. The Jewish people were used to reading and hearing about the great feats of Israel’s heroes: the collapse of the walls of Jericho, the feats of strength by Samson, the wonders and miracles of Elijah as he confronted the false prophets of Baal, calling down fire from heaven.

But for hundreds of years, since the original great temple was destroyed as a chastisement by an angry God, and then rebuilt by a chastened people, the great golden age of Yahweh’s people was pretty much a thing of the past. Determined to do better and remain faithful to Yahweh, the people of God dutifully studied their Torah and Prophets in the local meeting rooms called synagogues, and performed their temple rites with three yearly gatherings in Jerusalem to worship and sacrifice. Working hard to keep false gods out of their land, they doubled down their focus on obeying the laws Moses handed down from Mount Sinai, and studied the prophets. But it was hard to discern the hand of God on their land, as they watched the Greeks and then the Romans subdue their nation. They waited, as many Christians, Jews, and even Muslims do today, for the coming of their Messiah.  They also took matters into their own hands, as seen in the Maccabean Revolt roughly 200 years earlier, when a movement known as “Hellenization” took hold among the more well-to-do of Judea. Hellenization, or the process of adopting Greek culture, practices and religious mindsets, threatened to destroy the uniqueness of the Jewish people, culture, and devotion to Yahweh. A largely rural, pious lower class uprising against the post-Alexander the Great Seleucid Empire bravely resisted the occupying forces and the compromising element within Judaism.  Hopes that the Maccabean uprising would bring about the Messianic kingdom were dashed as the Roman Empire followed and established control over Judea.

When Messiah appeared, it was well understood he would be a great and mighty king, one who would put the Caesars and Alexander the Great to shame –  defeating the enemies of Yahweh, and thus ushering in an amazing period and Empire of their own. This would be an empire in which Israel would be the great nation over all the world, and the gentile nations would see the greatness of their one true God, and paying homage to Him through them. They were looking for this mighty political and military leader, and counting down the days as written in the book of Daniel, which prophesied 490 years earlier to expect the coming of the Messiah in 490 years.

It had indeed been roughly 490 years since the prophecy of Daniel began the timeclock, and thus an anticipation of something big happening.  John the Baptist’s message to repent and prepare lest you fall into the hands of an angry Messiah had people everywhere coming to be baptized to be made worthy of his appearance. Pharisees, scribes and priests were looking at their station in society and wondering whether and where they fit into God’s great plan. Did they look the part? They followed the laws of Moses scrupulously. Of that, no one watching them could doubt.

Herod the Great left three sons in charge of Israeli regions. No doubt they wondered about the Messiah and whether, like Herod, they would be replaced, or perhaps even fit the bill.  Zealots roamed the streets, perhaps like Islamic extremists of our day, discerning the times, believing they may have a role in a great apocalyptic end-times event, and wondering what their role might be in throwing off the unclean yoke of the Roman rulers and ushering in the Messianic Kingdom. In short, the Jewish world needed a hero. And however they believed this hero would come, and behave, and rule, it would be nothing like the Messiah would actually do.  Rather, those who were not fascinated, smitten and hooked were scandalized by this Jesus of Nazareth.

He created a buzz throughout Galilee with his works, signs, and teachings, and now came back to Nazareth. Local boy made good. Perhaps a parade would be in order.  There was to be a parade all right.

Like the Presidential candidate who goes to his home town of his humble beginnings to announce his candidacy, it was in Jesus’s own coming into Nazareth that the Kingdom of God was announced to the world. The townsfolk was pretty excited to see him, a prophet of God whom they heard was doing some pretty remarkable things.  Perhaps they would see something from him as well. They gave him the seat of honor in their synagogue, and handed him a scroll to read and teach from. This should be good, they thought. Still, they were a cynical lot.  We might even want to name Nazareth the “Show Me” town.

For Jesus, Son of the Living God, now clearing his throat to give his announcement address, it was probably as if this was some sort of talent audition, but that the judges for this Israel’s God Talent episode were replaced with Larry, Curly and Moe.

Jesus unrolled the scroll, search for and then read a Messianic verse from the great prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  With all eyes fashioned on him, Jesus made the announcement – the Messiah had indeed come. To Nazareth of all places:

“Today,” he said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Cognitive dissonance swept in. For while all were impressed at the local boy, even amazed by his presentation. But this was a little much. A little like the neighborhood kid, a talented boy, played Yesterday and Hard Day’s Night for you, had done it quite well, and then suddenly announced he was better than the Beatles.

“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. It was going to take a lot more than a powerfully done reading on a Saturday at church to get buy in. Jesus sensed this, and found their faith lacking. Hands crossed against their breasts, people were looking for that miraculous sign. No one brought forward a sick child, or a blind man, which would have been the proper response after a reading and interpretation like this one. Rather, like the incident at the Temple, they wanted to see something. Show me. It was the big show temptation again (Jesus at the pinnacle of the Temple with the Devil during his 40 day fast).

For some reason, to this author at least, having his natural family around like this just seemed to bring out the worst in Jesus. The little town blues was getting to him here. He snapped back hard:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”

Jesus then let them off easy, in a way: you are unworthy of me, but it’s not your fault. Rather, it’s a bit in your DNA. The bible study continued  – to illustrate:

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

Here Jesus was challenging the hometown: You want to see the miracles of your scriptures, in this here scroll, don’t you? You gotta bring a little faith to the game. And the bible study continued, as Jesus explained that even unbelieving Gentiles in their blessed scriptures brought a little more faith to the table, citing 1) a widow from Lebanon and 2) a ruler from Syria.

The first story was likely in the forefront of Jesus’s mind. Elijah was chased out of his home country. Jesus was about to be chased out of his home town.

For Israel at that time was ruled by an evil and idol worshipping king and queen of Israel. Ahab and Jezebel refused Elijah’s command to end worship of Baal, even though obedience to the prophet might end the famine.  Elijah became a man marked by the king for death, and was sent by God out of Judea to the Sidon widow to be cared for until the time came to challenge the Baal prophets. When he met the widow, she had enough flour and oil to bake one small cake for her and her son. They would eat it and die, she told him. Elijah responded that she should bake the cake for him, and let him, the prophet of God, to eat it. If she did so, God would provide her with flour and oil for as long as he lived with them. The widow did so, and the flour and oil vats did not run out. Jesus would himself perform a similar miracle soon using a few loaves and fishes.

In the Namaan episode, the Syrian ruler was dying of leprosy, and his aide convinced him there was a great prophet in Israel named Elisha who could cure him of the incurable disease. Naaman was quite skeptical, but went along. When they came to Elisha, the prophet didn’t even meet Naaman, but merely sent word to tell him to bathe in the river Jordan. Naaman was furious, and replied to his aide that had he wanted a bath, he could have found a better spot in Syria than the Jordan. His aide replied that he might want to show a little humility here, and do what the prophet said. Had Elisha told him to perform some extravagant task, he said in a challenge to his boss, Naaman would have done so, sufficiently impressed. Obedience, not degree of difficulty, was the issue here. Naaman agreed with his aide’s logic, bathed in the Jordan, and was cleansed.

Jesus not only announced the arrival of the Messiah, but indicated here that if Israel would not show sufficient deference and respect for him, the Gentile world would.

The local townfolk were not impressed with the reply from this too-big-for-his-britches Jesus, who suddenly went from speaking well to insulting them. With Joseph no longer around, they had seen and heard enough and began the hometown hero parade, which was actually a mob, pushing Jesus to a cliff to throw him off.

But, as Jesus told his mother Mary earlier, his time had not yet come, and he passed through their midst, and went on his way – back to Capernaum. From that point forward, Jesus would bring the Kingdom of God to the region. But he was much more careful in letting people know who they were dealing with.

He would find that whereas the typical Galilean would have trouble discerning the man and the times, the spirit world had no confusion as to who Jesus was.

Have you still not found what you’re looking for?

In my last post, I ruminated on the incredible power to die, not to kill, but to die for one’s beliefs. I imagine much of it comes from being a walking dead man. When I read the letter from Paul to the Romans (I am currently working on a book on the letter), it occurs to me that this is exactly what Paul encourages his flock of fellow believers to do: become walking dead men.

I am reminded of the soldier in the HBO series Band of Brothers, who is suffering from battle shock. Overcome by fear, he is shaking and useless on the battle field. At the end of a firefight in which he acquitted himself terribly, a brave fellow soldier comes up to him. He doesn’t slap him like a General Patton as he stands there shaking. Rather, he encourages him in the most strange and unreal way.

Paraphrasing from memory here: Your problem, he says, is that you are trying to save your life. What you need to realize is that you are dead. You are a walking dead man, and once you accept this, you will be able to fight. Then he walks away, ephemerally, the soldier looks at him like he just witnessed a ghost.

Easy to say, I suppose. Easy to understand intellectually. Harder, and maybe even impossible for most of us, to incorporate it as a truth in our lives.

But incorporate it the young man does. In the next episode or two, he takes the message to heart, and becomes the most valuable soldier in the unit. He fearlessly takes on every task.

Now, Paul is not telling his fellow believers to go out there and die, the deadly persecution has not taken place yet. Nero hasn’t yet blamed the Christians for the great fire. But what he explains is the key to overcoming the sin that entangles each reader is to recognize that, as a believer, you are dead to it. When a Christian is baptized, he is baptized into Jesus’s death.

A Christian is dead to sin. That is what Paul says. He was once a slave to sin. Now he is dead to sin. We can understand that intellectually, receive it by faith. But incorporating it into our lives? That is a totally different story. How do we actually live this truth?

Jesus put it this way:

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

The book I am working on is an attempt to help the Christian who has been baptized, follows Jesus, yet continues to fall again and again into temptation, and unable to be released from that damned thing. We are all walking around with a dead carcass, and like a zombie, the sin nature refuses to die, no matter how many bullets and incantations we throw at it.

Anyway, if that is something you are dealing with, allow me to suggest a key I learned. This is, as Jesus said, a daily thing – to pick up your cross.  The soldier probably faced his fears daily, and overcame them daily. Perhaps even in the moment of truth, when it was time to charge that bunker, his life he was saving was staring right back at him again. He had to remind himself he was a dead man walking.

Here’s my suggestion when you face that temptation directly, be it a whiskey bottle, a lovely garment at the mall, a web site, or an illicit lover. When that temptation comes, vocalize the truth hidden in your heart and in your bible. Say it out loud:

“I am crucified with Christ. I am dead to sin. Sin has no hold over me.”

Say it every morning if you wish. But the key, I think, is to say it when that temptation is hitting you square in the face. And don’t just think it in your heart. Say it. I think it is important to vocalize those things you believe, as a witness to distinguish between a good thought and a truth.

Tell me what happens.