A Lenten Reflection For The Politically, Psychologically, or Religiously Inclined

[Author’s introduction: I find myself pulled in three directions these days, each of them a form of service and caring: As a therapist, I care deeply about my clients. As an American, I care deeply about my country and its politics – especially regarding the lives of those very same clients in the area around Springfield, Massachusetts. Underneath it all, or over-riding it all, is my faith in Jesus of Nazareth and his expression of God’s will for us in the world. I treat my clients in the ways I think Jesus would want me to. I treat my country in the ways I think Jesus would want me to. I treat Jesus in the way I think he would want and deserves. Since I don’t have a church right now, I write this as an expression of my belief in that Jesus of Nazareth and the faith which he inspires in me.]

The Christian church has two periods of year specifically for reflection, in preparation for a biblically Big Event – The Birth of Jesus (called “Advent”) and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (The events of Good Friday through Easter, called Lent)

On this day where Donald Trump has been impeached twice and not convicted either time, it seems like a good time to reflect on the first text often used in Lent:

Matthew 4: 8 -11

“…The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

The text is about knowing who seems to run the world, who inevitably does run the world, and the choices I think we all have to make in our lives about the two.

To be clear: Donald J. Trump is not a bad person because he is a Republican. He is a bad person because he is a bad person. One can make the case that is the logical extension of Republican politics in the same way that murder is the logical extension of anger. While Republicans traditionally have stood for Conservative Values, Trump stands for Fascist values.

He embodies everything that is wrong in the world and he is loved by parts of the world for it, including people in my own beloved faith. Trump’s brand is about saying hateful things to people who live in fear and hate. Trump’s brand is about raping women, because he believes he is in a position of power. Trump’s brand is about running the country not “just like a business”, as many churches do, but with the worst that Capitalism has to offer. Trump’s brand is about saying he’s a Christian, but never acting like it. It’s about holding up the Bible as a symbol of force and authority, but never having the good sense to open it up and read it. Trump’s brand is about oppressing anyone not exactly like him… and everyone is not exactly like him. Racism? Trump loves it. Sexism? Trump loves it. Wealth, especially at the cost of others? Trump loves it.

Contrast this with Jesus: He embodies everything that is right in the world and he was hated by parts of the world for it, including people in his own beloved faith. Jesus is about saying kind things to people who live in fear and hate, and challenging those who do the hating without fear. Jesus never raped anyone, though he knows he is in a position of power. Jesus didn’t run anything “just like a business”, and in fact owned nothing. Jesus is Christianity incarnate, but never acting like he’s above anyone. Jesus is the Bible as a symbol of authority, but not as a symbol of oppression. Jesus is about caring for anyone not exactly like him… and everyone is not exactly like him. Racism? Not Jesus.  Sexism? Not Jesus. (Jesus argues with a woman of another nationality, and loses the argument, and gives to the woman anyway. Trump, is, notoriously never wrong.). Trump’s wealth at the cost of others? Nope, not Jesus, not even. They are opposite sides of the same coin: power and authority.  Jesus uses his for justice and healing. Trump uses his for injustice and hurt.

At the end of Lent, just before Jesus is crucified, the people of Jerusalem will be offered a choice between Jesus, the Son of the Father/God and Barabbas, literally, “the son of the father” in Hebrew. The people of that day chose the lesser version of the two – the criminal Barabbas. We are offered the same choice. Kindness, justice, caring, truth, and love for all or the “earthly” values of power over others, injustice, indifference to pain, lies, and hatred.

The choice is about who we think is running things here. If we think that Trump runs the world, we accept the offer to bow down to him and hope he will give us what is his because that is what he promised. If we think that God runs the world, like Jesus, we won’t take that bet. Jesus knows who he is, and who ultimately will have the final say on everything.

So what does this have to do with my clients? Everything. I see so many people who are victims of trauma and oppression. Some have come to oppress themselves through addiction, and forget the truth that lies within them. But all of them are oppressed. It is my job to show them who they really are, where their power is, and what they can do in the world. If they know how incredibly and wonderfully made they are, they experience that love can rule their lives. Survivors of all forms of oppression — physical, mental, sexual, and spiritual — come to realize that they are more powerful than their oppressors, whether that is a single person, a group of bullies, or a system. They ultimately outlast their oppressors and they ultimately see themselves as worthy of a rich life. And, I believe, at the next life, they experience all of the beauty and potential that they were born with and deserving of, seeing where they ultimately fit.

In political systems, it is our job to do the same – to value, and not disparage, all of God’s people, to let them experience and speak the Truth as they know it. A fully functioning democracy is a place where all people are free to (in the words of Virginia Satir) “see and hear what is here, instead of what society says should be, was, or will be, to say what they feel and think instead of what the system says they should, to feel what one feels, instead of what others say they ought to, to ask for what they wants, instead of always waiting for permission, to take risks in their own behalf, instead of choosing to be only ‘secure’ and not rocking the boat”.

From those freedoms, we can make democracy or society all it can be. Those freedoms, that mental and physical health, that spiritual ability all come from believing that we (because we are worthy of God’s love and mercy) can take charge of our lives and be more powerful than The Oppressor, who convinces us that they have it all and that we should bow down before them.

That caring, because of The Powers That Be, will insure our suffering at times, much as those who told the truth suffered Trump’s wrath. The more oppressive the systems created by people are, the more goodness looks radical. At times, it may look like the Trumps, or Mussolinis or Hitlers of the world will win. January 6th was one of those days. Maybe today’s acquittal seems like one of those days, but – like all days – we have a choice. We can feel our worth and tell the truth, or we can forget our value and give in to cynicism, racism, sexism, phobias of all sorts and believe they won. Certainly, the temptation has been there, but we can also experience the calm and joy of a more diverse system that attempts to care for more people. Let us know who is really in charge of our lives, and let us choose wisely. Amen.

Resisting with Peace,

John

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