What Does the Rise of Donald Trump Say About Us?

September 1, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Seriously. It was great TV.

Seriously. It was great TV.

If you watched the early seasons of The Apprentice, then you saw some amazing television.  It was during the prime of the reality TV show competitions and “The Donald” was hilarious.  The attitude, the hair, the one-liners.  He was a character made for reality TV.  It ran its course after a few years and switched to “Celebrity” Apprentice (I think we are ultimately going to have to redefine that word) and Heiid and I lost interest.  I’m stunned it was still on this year, but he is a great TV character.  But Troy, Bill, Omarosa that was some good TV.

So, a few years ago when The Donald started inserting himself into politics, I knew it was going to be good TV at a minimum.  Then, he did it.  He decided to run for president.  I follow politics closely, and guard my personal politics just as closely.  I knew this was going to be interesting.  He would cause a storm and have some great one-liners.  He would get the publicity that he wanted, have a good time and then the “regular” political race would continue.

But then something happened, he became the front-runner…by a lot…in an overwhelming large pool of candidates.  He was/is getting 25% of the Republican primary in a crowded field of 17 candidates.  This makes a brother stop and wonder, how does such a thing happen? What does this say about us and the current state of American politics?

Disclaimers: If you are planning on voting for him, you will probably think I’m slamming him.   If you think he is a big jerk, you will probably think I’m justifying him.  If both groups are a little upset, then I have set the right tone for this.  Also, for the purpose of this piece, his particular politics are irrelevant.  If he had come out as the polar opposite on the issue of immigration, I am coming to believe that the result would have been the same.  The haters would love. The lovers would hate.  Because his personality and approach to the political stage are tapping something inside of us and are the natural result of where our political culture and culture as a whole has been heading.  Final disclaimer: I am not telling you to vote or not vote for him.  I do not believe that is my place or my particular calling to do that.  My thoughts on that are pretty well-documented.  Click on the politics tag at the bottom and read for yourself, if you’d like.

1. He says what he actually thinks. There is something particularly refreshing about someone who just tells you what he thinks in easy to understand language.  For years politicians have talked in a way to make what they say seem vague enough to send the right message to supporters but confuse other people.  They also give themselves the wiggle room they need to get out of something that they said if it turns out to be unpopular later.  They intentionally obfuscate in order to be able to say later, “You may have thought that’s what I said, but what I meant was…” They can put any number of things at the end of that sentence depending what is expedient.  All sides of the spectrum have grown weary of that and are looking for someone who will just “shoot straight” with them.  If The Donald is anything, he is clear.  This leads to the next one.

2. The end of respectful disagreements is almost dead if not already dead. When is the last time you heard someone in politics or in much of anything say, “Allow me to respectfully disagree,” “I see your point but please allow me to explain why I see it differently,” “Can we agree to disagree?”  Nope, that’s not what you are going to hear.  Instead we get, “Allow me now to show you what an idiot you are,” “I could see your point if I were an idiot, but I’m not so…” “Can we agree that you are an idiot?”  Our thinking has become so polarized that we can no longer believe that there are good-hearted intelligent people who see things differently than me.  Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook wall or any cable news network, not just the one that THEY like, the one you like too.  In a world where people who disagree with me are immoral or stupid, we become attracted to someone who will just “tell it like it is.”  I think they are idiots and I want someone who will say that they are idiots.  Which leads to the third.

3. He is unapologetic. We have decided that we are sick of people who back down when they are pushed.  Say what you mean, say it strong and don’t say your sorry.  The Donald has no problem saying what he thinks, saying it strongly and not backing down if someone is offended.  Whether he is referencing POW’s, female moderators of debates or simply people who disagree with him, he will not back down or apologize.  He has said that he has never sought God’s forgiveness.  If that’s the case, I wouldn’t think that Megyn Kelly or Jorge Ramos should be waiting by the phone.  We have been building toward this for a while as well.  George W. Bush multiple times during his presidency said that he couldn’t think of any mistakes that he had made.  President Obama followed that up by saying his greatest mistake was not doing a good enough job telling people in the right way that what he was doing was right.

We take arrogance and call it strength.  “Well if you admit that you did something wrong, THEY will make an ad slamming you, so you can’t.”  I get it and this is where we are then.  We decide that if THEY won’t back down, WE won’t back down.  I’m not going to give THEM anything.  So humility and honesty are considered vices not virtues.  I want to be led by someone who makes mistakes, knows that and then fixes them.  I don’t want to be spun and told up is down and down is up.  However, that is where we are.  Until that changes, we can expect our candidates to only get more brash and arrogant.  While some of that isn’t all bad, it certainly isn’t all good either.


4. He is giving political speeches in a suit and a baseball cap. Who doesn’t love that?

5. He’s a celebrity. I believe we are just a few years away from exclusively electing celebrities as president.  No further comment here.  A celebrity culture rant may come later.  I’ll just leave you with this.  President Kanye West.

The Morality of Taxation

June 8, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

A friend of mine asked me to weigh in on a question about the morality of taxation from a Christian perspective.  I usually don’t take the bait on such things.  However, I was feeling it, so I wrote him back.  I liked what I wrote (arrogant, no?), so I decided to make a blog post out of it.
Here is an edited version of the original email:

Pastor Charlie,

Its Not like you have a billion (editors note: a billion is slightly exaggerated. Maybe half billion) other things to do but I would like to get your thoughts if I may so I could discuss this a little more intelligently with my friends.

This is a interesting article that basically makes the argument that the IRS steals money from people and gives it to others and makes the case that it is immoral.  I can appreciate the point.


I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on the biblical principals with respect to this article.  Most teachings I have heard on this subject in church refer to scriptures like Luke 20:25 but when you look at it in terms of stealing from one to give to another there seems to be some sort of contradiction.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated and confidential (unless the IRS calls then I will have to give you up. (Editors note: Rick Astley would not approve)

Here is my response.  You can be the judge as to whether or not this will help this guy speak “more intelligently or not.”
Whether or not you should pay your taxes and whether or not taxation for charitable purposes is moral are two different issues.
The Bible says you should pay your taxes, period.  Render to Caesar…  The people that asked the question to Jesus about taxation were trying to get him into the morality of the taxation.  They were two different groups.  Herodians that were loyal to Rome and the Pharisees who were not.  They disagreed on this issue but were united in their frustration with Jesus and so set a trap question.  He didn’t take the bait and didn’t address the morality of the Roman govt or their taxation.  He simply said, do what they say.  Romans 13 backs this up.  So from the perspective of the taxpayer, one must pay his taxes or is out of line with what Jesus commands us.
Now, the second issue that Walter Williams addresses is whether or not it is moral from the govt’s perspective to tax us at all, at least specifically for “charitable” purposes–distributing wealth from richer people to poorer people.  I keep my political cards close to my chest, because I want to be thought of as controversial about what I believe about God and Jesus, not politics and not both.  That frustrates some.  I will speak philosophically and biblically instead.  Walter Williams is really challenging the concept of democracy.  51% of people agreeing or 51% of representative voted in agreeing, doesn’t make something right.  Morality is found elsewhere.  I agree with that basic statement.  However, that is not limited to simply taxation.  So then our duty as American citizens is to vote on issues and representatives that we believe will represent what we believe to be the “most moral” viewpoints, while recognizing that direct democracy or representative democracy does not form the basis for our morality.
Said another way.  Is it moral to tell Muslim children from a Muslim home that they have to listen to Christian prayers at their public school? Or would it be moral for my kids to have to listen to a Mormon prayer in school in Utah?  The Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights and then the Judicial branch are established to limit such things.  You can judge whether or not they are doing a good job or not.  Has the government been overreaching for the last several decades? There are many who would say yes and there are many who are hoping that it will reach out even further.
Finally, people then want to know if it is ever OK to justifiably rebel against the government.  Romans 13 would indicate no.  This was written during the reign of Nero who used Christians as human torches.  So it would seem that rebelling over unjust taxation is not a sufficient reason, especially since Jesus was given the opportunity to say it was, and he said the opposite.  The only example of a just rebellion was when the disciples refused to stop sharing about Jesus.  This is backed up through the history of the martyrs as well.  This should give Americans pause about the Revolutionary War that founded the country.  Not trying to be controversial, but you asked for my thoughts.
There you go.  I guess the comments will determine if I started a flame war or not.

Hope and Politics

November 4, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

As some of you know, I like to needle people who get overly caught up in politics.  The irony of that is that are likely few people that listen to more political talk or read more political websites than me.  I am fascinated by the theater of it and the way that people communicate.  Also, I am interested in the future of the county that I live in and I have a rooting interest in most elections.  I have a pretty eclectic hodgepodge of positions, some of which I don’t think any political party agrees with me on (That got you curious).

However, the way that some of us view our candidates/party/philosophy does trouble me at times. Despite what you may think, I am not that old.  However, I have already seen many “historic” elections that were going to change the foundation of politics, Washington and America for generations to come.

1994: The Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich which prompted one Bill Clinton to declare the era of big government to be over.

2000: Finally, a Republican president and Congress, no more meddling Democrats running around getting in the way.

2006: Huge Democrat sweep, repudiating Republicans forever.

2008: Barack Obama will finally bring hope to the US and the world and reshaping America to a country we can be proud of and a “filibuster proof” majority in the Senate that would allow progressive policies to bring compassion and reason back to the US.

2010: Which leads us to the most recent historic election. Where the people have declared once and for all…You get the point.

Here is my (rhetorical?) question: which one of those reshaped the political landscape (love that phrase. What does it mean?) for generations?  Which of those finally brought America “back”?

A couple of thoughts.  One, does it strike anyone else that maybe most of this is cyclical? The era of big government was not over. It came back, and now some are going to try and end it again.  Then it will come back.

Second, and this is my biggest question, when did Christians start putting their hope for a better future in the hands of people?  When did we believe that a reformed political system was what was going to bring hope and life to people?  I understand atheists, deists, pantheists needing to place their hope in people.  But Christian theists?  America can do better, worse or the same and the hope of the Christ follower should remain steady.  The things that matter the most still remain.

This economy has been challenging.  When you work for an organization that depends on people giving, it is a challenge.  When you have to sell your house because you are moving, it is challenging.  I did not put my hope and trust in Obama in 2008 and I don’t put it in John Boehner now.  I wish (different than hope) that all of them will do what is the best interest of the people and will lead us well.  However, it never surprises me when it doesn’t work out.  I want America to do well and thrive, and to be a responsible and moral country (even though there is not widespread agreement as to what that means).  However, I am neither surprised, angry, or overwhelmingly disappointed when it does not live up to its highest ideals.

Cynical? Maybe. Realist? Maybe. People will disappoint you. Power corrupts even the best of us.  That’s not “OK” in one sense, but in another it is–by that I mean I’m OK, my family is OK.  Why? Because our hope is in God.  Our leaders can and frequently do disappoint me.  God does not.

Romans 5

Peace and Hope

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I’m Right and I Will Not Be Moved

As most people know or are coming to know, I enjoy reading and studying politics.  I keep most of my political opinions and thoughts to myself.  I have been saying more lately, but mostly just general rants about idiocy that spreads over everyone of all political stripes.  I described my current political philosophy to a friend as cynical.  This current philosophy has spanned Republican and Democrat administrations and different Congressional majorities.

Someone asked me based on my cynical comment, if I were a Libertarian.  (I was going to make a legalize marijuana joke here, but it seemed too easy.  Make your own if you like)  While I certainly hold some Libertarian positions, it doesn’t really capture where I am right now.  It doesn’t encapsulate all that is the cranky cynic.  I think what frustrates me more than anything is that it seems that we have lost our ability to have rational, helpful, humble discussions about, well, just about anything.  We all know whose fault that is, don’t we?  That’s right! The other guys.  I can’t stand them either.

Here are a couple of examples of what frustrates me.  A couple of weeks ago, it came out that 1 in 7 people live below the poverty line.  I read a couple of articles (I will not link to them, because you deserve better.  If you want a recommended link, check this out.) on the topic.  One suggested that this new information proved that the Bush tax cuts didn’t work.  The second suggested that this proved that the Obama stimulus plan didn’t work.  Both were riveting, and by riveting, I mean I wish someone would put a rivet through my foot.  I wonder if the poverty news had been good would those same authors have suggested that “Wow, the Bush tax cuts did work” or “Thank goodness for that stimulus package?”  Actually I do not wonder what would have happened.

Similarly, we recently marked the 6 mth anniversary of the Health Care Reform legislation.  Seriously? Are we 14 yr olds in dating relationships that we mark month anniversaries of legislation?  I didn’t have a party. Apparently two columnists did have a party, though one might be better described as a wake.  One article said that it has been so much worse than we could have ever thought.  The other, you guessed it, said that it has gone better than expected.  Would anyone like to wager that both of those articles were written 6 months ago?

(Sudden topic shift) You know, my fear is that this attitude has crept into other areas of our life.  We stake our position, we declare ourselves right, and nothing, NOTHING, will move us off of that position.  I wonder what it would take sometimes to convince us that we are wrong.  How angry and hurt does our spouse have to be before we apologize?  How many times do we have to read what the Bible says before we change?  Is it even possible?

At what point did these political commentators “figure it all out?”  At what point did it no longer matter what happens, it proves them right?  All bad stuff is “their” fault and all good stuff is because of what “we” did.

At what point did we “figure it all out?”  At what point did it no longer matter what the Bible verse says, it proves what I already believe?  At what point in this post did you start thinking, “I know some people that need to read this?”  “They” have some ideas and beliefs that need to change.

My hope, for me (and you as well) is that my heart and mind will always be open.  (I fall short on this often.) What have I missed?  How does God need to change me, soften my heart?  What part of God’s word am I ignoring or minimizing? What part of me is closed off to what God has to say to me? Let’s be open to what God has for us when His Spirit is talking to us, when we are reading the Bible.

You know I’m right.  I always am. (Do I need a JK for stuff like this or have you figured it out by now?  Oh, nevermind.  Sorry.)

I’m Begging You, Say Something Meaningful (A Brief Political Rant)

I know that I have said many times that I don’t like to get into a lot of politics.  It’s not that I shy away from controversial things, it’s just that what the Bible says is controversial enough.  I certainly don’t want anyone to think that my public endorsement of a candidate or party represents the church, or certainly not God.  I know that seems spineless to you activists out there.  If you say something ugly on the comments, I might turn the why of those comments into a full blown blog post.

On the other hand, I am a political junkie.  I have a handful of web sites that I check regularly that are all over the spectrum.  I cross pollinate that with some talk radio and poltical TV that crosses the spectrum as well.  If you looked at what I watch, read, listen to, etc. you still couldn’t guess my affiliation, if there is one.  However, I know that you can guess my poltical affiliation.  I agree with you, because don’t all reasonable, good-hearted, intellectual people agree with you? (Wow, I have already ranted 150+ words and haven’t even gotten to the topic)

I am fed up with the poltical rhetoric.  I hope that we get a small reprieve between now and the campaign this Fall.  People running for office will say some of the stupidest, vaccuous things.  Then we cheer like crazy people as if they have said something valuable.  An example:

Washington is broken.  It is time to tell Washington that the government serves the people.  Lobbyists, Washington insiders and the special interests have taken over.  Now is the time for the people to tell all of them that this is our country.  We have to put petty partisan politics aside.  I will reach across the aisle and set aside partisan bickering to do what is best for the American people.  Let’s send a message to Washington and the special interests that “we the people” are taking our government back.

You know who says that?  Everybody.  That was actually a pretty good political commercial that I wrote there in about 45 seconds (the time it took to type it).  Arent you inspired?  Aren’t you ready to vote for me? 

Does it really matter what my party affiliation is?  Does it matter how I will vote?  No, it doesn’t, because we are taking back Washington from the special inter…blah blah blah, shut up.  I would love to just rant about how politicians should stop talking in empty sound bites, but do you know why they talk that way?  Because people want to hear that.  We let them get away with it. 

Here’s something crazy.  Let’s evaluate candidates based on what they believe and how they will vote, rather than whether or not they say they are going to “stand up to the special interests.”  (Psst.  Let me tell you a secret.  Everything is a special interest.  Every cluster of people or individual has interests that are unique, read special, to them.  When a politician says he is going to stand up to special interests, they mean the people that have interests with which they disagree.  Meanwhile, truckloads of money of the groups that are eSPECIALly INTERESTed in their views will find their way to the campaign.) 

There are certain values that you have.  There are certain issues that are important to you.  Find out which candidate is most closely aligned to those values and vote appropriately.

If not, Big Business, Big Tobacco, Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Momma’s House, Big Lots, Wall Street, Sesame Street, Special Interests, .38 Special will win.  Then who will fix Washington?

(Thanks, I feel better now)

Just Admit It Already. You Lied. On Purpose.

May 19, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Quick show of hands.  Who here has ever said something that wasn’t true?  Good.  How many people here have ever told a lie?  Hopefully, we still have everyone.  Who has ever told a lie on purpose?  Ok.  Here is the big one.  Who has ever told a lie on purpose because we wanted the person/people hearing to believe something that wasn’t true, we wanted to deceive them and make ourselves look better in some way?  Reread that if you said no and try again.  Here is one more.  How many would do it again in a heartbeat if you thought you would get away with it?

I don’t care what you are telling yourself.  All of us on occasion, and on more occasions than we care to admit, say something deceptive on purpose to get away with something, inflate ourselves, hide, etc.  It shouldn’t be that way but it is.  The question for this post is “What do we do when we are caught?”  The way I see it we have two basic approaches that we can take.

1) The “safe” “smart” poltical approach.  You will excuse me if your party affiliation lines up with the most recent example of (nerd alert) political obfuscation.  This is meant by no means to characterize one party as the obfuscating (I will say that word as many times now as I can) and the other party as the party of virtue.  I won’t take the position that “they all do it.”  They don’t all do it, but plenty from every party do.  Disclaimer over.  A politician who served in the guard and was stationed stateside during Vietnam time period has been caught saying he served in Vietnam.  Let’s assume for a second that it was a complete accident.  If that had happened to me I would have said, “Dude, (I always say dude) I meant to say during.  I said in.  My bad.  I’m sorry.”  Here is what we got

“On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service and I regret that. I take full responsibility,”

“But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country,”

Did he say it on purpose?  Did he intentionally blur the truth in the moment?  What is the full responsibility you are taking if no one can hold you accountable for those words?  If it was an accident, say it was.  (Sidebar.  Isn’t it interesting that we only accidentally say hurtful things about other people and helpful things about us.  I have never accidentally told someone to punch me in the face.  Although there are many times, I have tried to convince my wife that some hurtful things I said to her were accidental.)  If it wasn’t, please just say it that it wasn’t.  He won’t.  No politician ever will.  We have created a culture where vulnerability, transparency and humility are vices not virtues.  Which leads to the 2nd approach.

2) The humble, Biblical way.  What if we all decided that we would just be honest when caught in a lie.  What if we decided that we would be humble, admit our weaknesses and confess to each other?  What would happen if we lost this pressure to be perfect and stopped pretending to be perfect to each other?  We could then pray for each other, encourage other, be honest and build real trust with each other.

What if a politician said this?  “I’m sorry.  I exaggerated.  I shouldn’t have.  I served during Vietnam and I thought that was close enough to being true.  Really, though, I was exaggerating for effect to make my point sound better and make me look better.  I shouldn’t have done that.  Forgive me.”

Well, Cloften, that is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard.  Who in their right mind would say that?  His opponents would jump on him and say that he is not trustworthy.  Can you imagine the political ads they would run?  He would lose everything and be done in poltics.  He would lose it all, and what would he gain?


Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #7

February 21, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So you have a franchise that is doing OK, you’ve cranked out a few in the series, it’s losing it’s luster a little, so you decide to retool.  It’s been done before to varying degrees of success.  You can change the actor playing the main character–James Bond, multiple times to varying degrees of success.  You can just wait a long time, change very little and hope that bringing the characters back is enough–Superman Returns, not very successful.  You can do it on the 2nd movie where you essentially remake the first one with minimal changes and leave everyone going “What?”–The Hulk.

But the way it has been done the best in recent years is with the Batman franchise.  They made it a little darker, more serious, more action drama, less comic book campy.  It was risky, but it worked well.  They pushed it further with Dark Knight and it worked.  Where does it go from here?  We’ll see.

Here in this series, let’s keep pushing until someone cries uncle.

Set-up:  You are in a political discussion/debate/argument and you are looking to close the deal on your inevitable victory.  Someone challenges you.

Response:  Jesus was/is a ________ (Insert your political position here)

Boom!  Game over!  You are the winner.  You played the Jesus card and, of course, Jesus agrees with you (why wouldn’t he?) and you win.  All of the complexities of political arguments and issues have been annihilated by claiming that Jesus would and does agree with you.

You will notice that I have not accused one political party or philosophy over another.  That is because Christians of all political stripes do this.  The question of why people do this is pretty evident.  It bolsters their argument.  The question of how they do it is actually a little troubling.  We go to the Bible with our pre-determined political ideas and preconceived notions and find something that we like and declare victory. 

We find a verse that says “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” (2 Thess3:10) Or conversely, we find, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30)  Then through whichever one of those verses we like, we construct “Biblically centered” political policy.  I’m sorry, but that is intellectually dishonest and lazy.

We reduce Jesus, who was the Son of God, into a caricature of our favorite political statesman.  I’m sorry, but the totality of Jesus’s political statements may simply be “pay your taxes.”  I know that you might feel like there are more and I may back down a little if you show them to me.  However, Jesus lived in an oppressive dictatorship and didn’t speak out against the government of his day.  His followers, with their conception of what the Messiah was, expected him to be a leader to overthrow the government and he still chose not to speak out.

He was such a political revolutionary that the Roman governor had no idea who he was.  Jesus spoke to the religious establishment of his day and to individual people.  He was a threat to the religious leaders of his day and individuals that would listen to his message.  The same is true today.  If we are followers of Christ, his words challenge us and need to shape our character.  If we are not, we need to listen to what he says and find life with God through him.

As far as how this shapes our politics, let’s go this way.  Let’s read the Bible, let’s pray.  Let’s be consistently asking God what he values and what he cares about.  Let’s ask him how and when and to what extent we should get involved.  Let God shape us, instead of taking what we want and believe and then cramming God’s Word and Jesus himself into a premade box of 21st century political philosophies and political parties.

His values drive our values, not the other way around.  Or do you somehow think that tops on God’s priority list is whether or not the freedom of speech granted in the Bill of Rights extends to corporations and their ability to influence political campaigns with money?