Saturday, August 19, 2017

Reaping the whirlwind

The fracas that took place last week in Charlottesville, Va. brought to light a generally unknown confederation known as Antifa, a contraction of “anti-fascist” and dedicated to fighting the “alternative right,” these days known as the “alt-right.” Of course, supporters of the now-more resurgent white nationalist movement have noted Antifa’s willingness to mix it up as proof of left-wing violence.

There’s a difference here, however.

See, the “alt-right” is inherently violent. Let me say that again — inherently violent — and has been for some time. And it didn’t start with the inauguration of Donald Trump, either; you need to go back to the advent of right-wing talk radio in the late 1980s to determine just where this whole thing started.

And when you bully a group of people, as the “left” has been for decades by the right, eventually they will rise up and fight back. That’s what we’re seeing today.

Moreover, the alt-right has never taken responsibility for its own collective resentment toward “others,” believing that things would be fine if they were somehow eliminated. That attitude is sure to cause alienation and divisiveness — and it has done so.

“Well, can’t people just lower the temperature?” you may ask. I’d like to think so, but the alt-right has no interest in that. None. In a surprising twist, unlike what I thought was most white nationalists, many of its adherents are 20-something and thus have the energy and passion to keep things going for years, if not decades. That’s problematic because they can’t see down the road and take the long view, considering just how much their crusade hurts the nation. And then it will be too late.

Hosea 8:7 reads, “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind,” the context suggesting that they are thus headed for destruction. And that’s why you see “Antifa” now — and it’s not going away.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Some thoughts on leadership, part 2 — how not to lead

If there’s one thing that the administration of Donald Trump has shown me — and it’s shown a lot since he was first inaugurated in January — it’s how not to lead.

Perhaps most books on leadership understand that leadership requires cooperation, not coercion. Standing up saying “Follow me or else” simply doesn’t inspire most people toward trust without reason, nor should it. You have to have a track record because, frankly, you can’t lead where you’ve never been.

Two examples:

A quarter-century ago jazz pianist Bob James called two of his friends, guitarist Lee Ritenour and drummer Harvey Mason, to work on a new album; he asked them for a recommendation for a bass player, and they both suggested Nathan East. That group clicked exceptionally well, so seeing an opportunity, James asked they others if they would be interested in forming a band, and they agreed.

But since he recognized that these were all top-notch musicians and, since at the time Ritenour and Mason had music recorded under their own names, when it came to compositions, arrangements and production James decided to give them equal say in how things were run. The band, dubbed Fourplay, is in fact on tour as I write. (East, at their encouragement, has recorded his first two albums in the last three years, the first up for a Grammy two years ago.)

I also do West Coast Swing, a very versatile but demanding partner dance which takes a lot of work, especially for a lead. It’s unique among such dances in that it allows the “follow” a lot of power to “hijack” a pattern and take it in another direction, which as a lead I do appreciate from time to time. I’m not that great a dancer, truth be told, which is why I still take lessons.

It was thus the height of hubris when President Trump declared upon securing the Republican nomination for president, “I alone can fix it” — hubris because he had never been part of the political scene and especially since he hasn’t leaned on more experienced hands to help him through the process. More to the point, allies are getting tired of his “America First” shtick, his rejection of the idea that “we’re all in this together” not going over at all.

For decades people have complained that “government should be run like a business.” Uh — no, especially in our bottom-up political culture where (at least in theory) the people at the top should answer to the folks at the bottom, and even in business you have to hire good people and let them play to their strengths. But Trump is so power- and attention-hungry that he can’t, or won’t, share the spotlight and — important — he’s not mentoring anyone.

Bottom line, effective leadership takes a lot of humility. We’re not seeing it in the White House right now, nor do I expect to see it over the next couple of years.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How to do it

I’ve heard complaints since the 1980s that mainstream media are biased against ideological conservatives in general and conservative Christians in particular. Frankly, I don’t see that, especially given that I’ve made my living in secular media for two decades and in the process actually written articles pertinent to believers.

I was inspired to write this post by a Facebook memory that one person complained that he was no longer permitted to write a column for the campus newspaper because of his faith (I had once also served in that capacity). Why was he banned but I wasn’t?

One, you have to respect your audience. While it’s commendable to want to write about Christian topics in a secular publication, keep in mind that continually “preaching” to it will cause them to want to turn the page; continuing on with such a mentality might cause the outlet to lose revenue because advertising might not support it.

While I was open about my faith when writing for that campus newspaper, it wasn’t all I wrote about. Among other things, I also tackled race relations and Bill Clinton’s toying with the Republican Party during his first term as president (I graduated the year of his second inaugural); though it was never my goal, I eventually learned that I had become a hero to Christian students for speaking out. When the opinions editor, also graduating, paid tribute to the people who worked for her she wrote about me, “Your unique perspective [I was 36, considerably older] and versatile range added depth to the section.”

Two, and related to this, I never saw the media as an “enemy” to be defeated and understood that reporters and editors didn’t hate me or my faith. As such, I saw teaching moments and an opportunity, down the road, to put a plug in for the Gospel — if not by me, through someone else.

Three, I was able to sell my stories as legitimate. Nine years ago I wrote an enterprise story about the merger of my childhood church, which I never officially joined, with another church. The news hook was that my childhood church had caught fire — it was reported on all the TV stations — and I was curious as to what had happened with it. Since I knew that church’s history (and had lived through some of it myself), I was able to give detail that the average writer might not see. Moreover, I had known for years all but one person I had interviewed.

Bottom line, it’s about respect and the “do unto others” principle. Were more Christians to treat folks in the media with such we might have a better time of it.

Some thoughts on 'leadership,' part 1 — leading, not driving

Many supporters of President Donald Trump became such precisely because of what they consider his take-no-prisoners, no-nonsense, no compromise style of “leadership.”

But given yesterday’s threat he made toward North Korea upon learning about a possible nuclear attack on Guam — he said, off the cuff, that “[it] will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” — I’m wondering if he really understands leadership.

Because there’s quite a difference between “leading” and “driving,” the latter I refer to as exercising existential authority for its own sake — “because I say so.” You can and probably need to do that with children, but above a certain age it gets tiresome.

This becomes dangerous in the spiritual realm as well, with numerous Christian groups basically on his team for similar reasons. Some pastors and other leaders, wrongly in my view, have said that America’s pulpits are being victimized by “weak preaching [against sin]” and need to redouble their efforts for things to turn around morally.

It’s dangerous because approaching things in that way leads to not only legalism but also cultural and social isolation. Nobody wants to deal with people determined to have their way for its own sake, which is why, despite all the religious right’s time and energy in trying to re-impose “Christian” values in the public square in the 1980s, doing so proved ineffective. (And that won’t change, even with redoubled efforts during the Trump Administration — indeed, perhaps even because of such.)

I haven’t seen any recent polls measuring Trump’s effectiveness as a leader; they can’t be too high these days, however. Being a jerk may attract a certain segment of the population but can take you only so far.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

'Lazy evangelism'

Recently a photo of a Bible study with numerous members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet has been making the rounds of the internet. It’s being called “the most evangelical cabinet in history.”

The Bible study, led by the Rev. Ralph Drollinger — the founder of Capital Ministries, dedicated to “[m]aking disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena in the United States of America, and in foreign [capitals] around the world” and also known to sports fans as a basketball center for UCLA in the 1970s — would likely give hope to the uninformed that God is moving in the halls of power to bring righteousness.

Don’t hold your breath. Rather, it’s what I call “lazy evangelism,” the idea that political leadership can stem what might be considered a slide in biblical witness simply by proclaiming “truth” from their lofty perches. Reason: You don’t see what a difference biblical faith makes in their lives. In other words, they haven’t earned the authority to be heard, and it does need to be earned.

As Rod Dreher wrote recently in The New York Times, “Conservative Christians helped elect Republican politicians, but that did not stop the slide toward secularism. True, the church gained some access to power, but it failed to effectively counter popular culture’s catechetical force.” In other words, simply putting up “stop signs,” as many Christians were wont to do especially in the 1980s, wouldn’t suffice to transform society because their goal was to live in it comfortably — something the LORD Himself will never allow.

I wouldn’t argue that people in power don’t need ministry — they do — but if they're studying the Bible to justify their focus on political power and ignoring “the last, the least and the lost” in the process, they’re wasting their time. Awakening can begin only when Christians examine themselves and recognize the ways in which they’ve compromised the truth, not to mention the LORD they supposedly love, and then take steps to rectify their faithlessness. But if these things do take place, evangelism and service will become natural and the churches might not able to hold the folks coming through their doors.

And having political power will have nothing to do with it.