A Sermon to Myself on this Primary Season

Everyone’s weighing in on the primaries today, and honestly, I have no particular credentials as an expert on this, but I’m trying to sort it out for myself, and writing (along with a glass of milk and a pastry) helps me sort, so here goes. If it helps you, too, feel free to join me. I’m not saying anything new here, but it’s helping me to put these things together. (And it’s not really a sermon except for maybe the place where it winds up, but before that, it’s only a little bit churchy…)

Since I do know something about church leadership, that’s where I’ll start. There’s this funny thing about how churches function: when they are searching for a new pastor, intentionally or under the surface, they will often look for a subsequent pastor who is different than the predecessor. For instance, the classic stereotype is “Reverend Smith was such a wonderful people person. But we need someone this time around who can really dig into the administrative tasks of leadership.” Sometimes this is a way to make sure the congregation can work on some things that went uncared for previously. But other times it’s a reaction to something that made the congregation uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s a legitimate discomfort: “Reverend Smith never kept a close eye on the budget and we really need someone who will pay attention to that.” Other times, it’s a discomfort of the “disturbing the comfortable” variety: “Reverend Smith really pushed us to work on our relationships with each other, to the point of reconciliation. And that was hard work, and we really don’t want to do that anymore.”)

In recent article, William Saletan puts forth the the idea that while Obama has led as an “adult”, Trump’s leadership style is akin to that of a “child.”

Trump validates the maxim that in presidential primaries, the opposition party tends to choose a candidate who differs temperamentally from the incumbent. Obama is an adult. Therefore, Republicans are nominating a child.

Another way of putting this: Obama, as a leader, has the ability (not always, but often) to make decisions that don’t make everyone happy, that don’t have to follow the lead of the crowd, and that aren’t made just to help him feel “together” with the crowd he’s talking to. He stays calm and deliberate under pressure (to the point that people get annoyed with him for being too calm).

Meanwhile, Trump as a candidate seems to be willing to say whatever makes the crowd happy (or, well, worked up, but not against Trump). My five year old (who listens to more NPR in the car than I care to admit), put it pretty well the other day, “I don’t like the Trump. He’s always angry.” (The kid is wise. Maybe it is all the NPR.)

This is what Systems Theorists call “differentiation of self.” Here are descriptions of of what that looks like from The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family:

People with a poorly differentiated “self” depend so heavily on the acceptance and approval of others that either they quickly adjust what they think, say, and do to please others or they dogmatically proclaim what others should be like and pressure them to conform.

Trump, right?

A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality.

Obama, I think. (I know some people disagree with me on this, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)

In addition to the pendulum shift in leadership styles, we’re also seeing a pendulum shift related to what Jim Wallis calls “America’s original sin.”Racism, and more specifically, White Supremacy, are the big lie that our country has been telling itself from the very beginning. For all the good things about this country, that’s the rotten, unseemly thing deep down in our collective heart. And it’s going to take a very long time to weed it out.

(By the way, I’m not immune to misstep of quoting a white guy on this. I wonder if there’s a person of color who has made this observation before Wallis? Probably. And, yes, you should call me out on that. As I said before, I’m not an expert in politics nor am I in race relations, but I figure it’s more important to talk about race and make mistakes than it is to just not talk about it at all.)

I remember, a little over seven years ago, sitting in bed, watching the Obamas the night of the election. I could have gotten in the car and been there in about 45 minutes, but I had a toddler and we opted to stay put. So I cried at home, because it seemed like, finally, finally, things were getting a little better in a country that is so very scarred by racism. We had a black president. Things were changing.

The last eight years have, though, seemed pretty awful in terms of race relations. (I don’t need to list it off. You know the story.) I don’t know if I’d say we haven’t made progress as a country, though. Maybe having a black president has brought racism and white supremacy up to the surface again. And, while painful, if it’s at the surface, it’s easier to see, and to point out. (I’m not saying, by any means, that makes racism OK. What I am saying is that this task of rooting it out of America’s soul is going to take a TON of work.)

This helps me understand that we’re looking at a long arc of history. Slavery is a bigger part of our history than emancipation. The relative freedom won in the civil rights era is a tiny piece of the big picture.

The pushback against Obama, I have no doubt, is at least partly (and probably more than partly) grounded in racism. Sometimes unconsciously, and often well above the surface. And so the politics of the last eight years have gotten more and more entrenched in “us and them” language, with “us” usually being white people and “them” being people of color who are threatening “the America we knew.”

Trump rips the veil right off of the “us versus them” dynamic. And white people who feel threatened by the change join in the pushback against Obama because they like that Trump “says what he thinks.”   Trump, and the racist crap that comes out of his mouth, or is implied by his actions, is the perfect pushback candidate to Obama.

I keep scanning article after article analyzing the primaries and the political state of the country for The Big Answer, because I feel like if I can make sense of this mess, I’ll feel better about it, or at least see a clear path that does not lead to President Trump. (And, honestly, I don’t care if his policies are the most moderate of any of the Republican candidates. I don’t care if he’s going to backtrack on that hateful stuff he’s pushing once he hits the general election. For one thing, a huge turn around signals to me that he’s a terribly undifferentiated leader, and he’s going to be a disaster. But the biggest thing? In as much as his hateful spew is a reflection of the state of America? Oh, no. We have got to be better than this as a nation.)

All those articles are starting to feel like a very crazy-making rabbit hole, though, and I probably won’t find an article that makes sense of this mess, so I might need to follow the example of those like my friend Liv, who says that today she’s backing away and going for a walk in the woods today, before I go completely crazy. (This might mean folding laundry for me.)

Meanwhile, I also notice that I’m thinking a good bit about American history, too. I notice that we’ve gone through some pretty awful stuff as a country, and I’m pinning my hopes, as an American, on things like the fact that the nation survived (with scarring, but still) a civil war, and the Teapot Dome Scandal, and the Great Depression. The Constitution is a pretty amazing document and I think we can get through a mess. I hope, that is.

And in an even broader sense, as a Christian, I’m thinking along the lines of Psalm 146, especially verse 3:

Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortals, in whom there is no help.

God willing, we aren’t going to wind up with President Trump. But even so, God will still be the one in charge. Regarding that walk in the woods, the third verse of “This Is My Father’s World,” for all the male God-language, seems pretty appropriate:

This is my Father’s world:

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the Ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let earth be glad!

And then, I when I get back from the woods (or the laundry)? Well, I’m not giving up. Trusting that this is God’s world doesn’t let Christians off the hook when it comes to action.

I have friends who are are good Christians, and sincere Republicans. And I hope they’re just as convinced in the meantime that the hate and divisiveness which are so out in the open in Trump’s campaign are just unacceptable ways to lead, the type of leadership that, no matter the policy platforms behind it, is no where near leadership as God intended. I know I do have conservative friends who see that already, and I am praying, hard, that you all are able to move your party around. I’m committing to deep and pretty much unceasing prayer for all of you in the next few months because you have an important job and some big decisions right now, and I don’t want your party to disappear (it takes a right wing and left wing to fly a plane, correct?).

For me, an avowed Democrat, it will be relatively easy to vote Democrat in the presidential election. I was going to anyway, no matter if it was Bernie or Hillary. But this might well be the first election when I do something like participate in phone banks. Until then, I’ll keep pointing to the stuff that Trump is doing that’s absolute crap, even if I’m preaching to the choir. And, bigger picture, it doesn’t hurt to keep poking and probing at the horrible, horrible rot of racism and white supremacy, both in the national heart and wherever it’s buried in my own.

If I am certain of one thing, reflecting on this election season, it’s this: I’m convinced that the healing of the soul of our nation could be very much up for grabs this time around.