Everyone likes a winner. We line up behind people who are successful in areas we think are important. So the current political polls showing Donald Trump leading the Republicans reveal a great deal about our values as a country. Trump will be the first to tell you he’s a winner (though he was the first loser in Iowa.). He has made billions, over ten by his estimation, building an empire. (Although Forbes estimates a figure less than half that, only 4.5 billion. The Donald asserts that the Trump name alone is worth far more than they credit.) Regardless, he’s made a lot of money. A HUGE amount. And he’s going to make America great again by excluding a lot of people who are different from him. And this qualifies him to be president… how?
Moderators at the recent debate raised the issue of character. That’s good, if a bit belated. But don’t we already know his character from his many insulting tweets, media sound bites and reality TV appearances? Jerry Springer may have started it, but The Donald is The Donald. The more troubling thing is how many Americans are saying they might support him as Commander in Chief of our country. Even more inexplicable are evangelicals who back him when he exemplifies none of their values.
This talk of character leads to a topic that doesn’t come up in many presidential debates. It’s the one Jesus modeled for us, the one that involves thinking of others more than ourselves, of caring for widows and orphans and those in need of a good Samaritan. It’s more than being a good neighbor, it’s laying down our rights to our lives for the sake of others, even if they may look different from us or practice a different faith. Didn’t we learn this in grade school, if not church? One thing that isn’t taught is that the path to a deeper spirituality is one of downward mobility… of letting go, of learning empathy, of inclusion, of letting our actions match our words when we say we are followers of Christ, who died to show us what God’s love looks like.
One way to practice that love is to “give preference to those in pain, excluded or disabled in any way.” This is one of Richard Rohr’s many suggestions for ways to live out resurrection. Do I practice it? Honestly, I’m just a beginner. But I’m learning. I spent decades going faithfully to church and Bible study and being involved in church leadership without understanding the importance of this one principle. I could boil it down to “practice kindness to those less fortunate.” The point is to have compassion and practice love, especially to those in need. Is it for them? Maybe partly, but the thing I know for sure is that it’s for me. It changes ME when I give time to visit with addicts in a rehab hospital. It changes ME when I sit and talk with my friend in her 90’s who is actively dying. It changes ME when I serve a hot meal to the homeless. Or when I reach out and listen to someone who struggles with depression. On the surface it may sound like sacrifice, but each one of these gives to me much more than I give to them. By being in it with them in a very real way, I learn what love looks like. As I share in their suffering, it becomes the place where the God who is love meets us. It’s an opportunity for transformation, if I choose it. It does not look like success. And not many of us will line up for it. That’s why it’s called the narrow way. Compassion is what makes us most like God. I am still learning.
In his book about St. Francis Rohr says, “Francis told us to identify not with the upper class and the climb toward success, power, and money, but to go to where Jesus went–to where there was pain, to the excluded ones. We were to find our place not in climbing but in descending, not at the top but at the bottom, not among the insiders but with the outsider.”
I’m certainly not saying we need to be Mother Theresa, although that’s another life worth emulating. But if these things aren’t even on our radar, we are missing the message Christ showed us with his life.
I can’t tell anyone how to vote. But I do know character is everything. So whether we are voting Democrat or Republican, let’s choose thoughtfully who we elect to represent us in the coming election. New Hampshire, all eyes on you.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:3-12