In the Way of the Wise How

joys of homeworkI have been thinking lately about “goals,” probably due to the sense of accomplishment I recently felt with the publication of a new book – one that had been a goal of mine for forty years!

I’ve also been thinking that we live in a time when the setting of goals has become a big thing. A career change. A post-grad degree. A wife. A husband. Two children. An adoption. A new car. Acquire three new clients. Start my own business. Publish an article or a book. Lose forty pounds. Create a website. Run for public office. Make that Olympic team (well, maybe just the college team). You get the picture. Any list of things to get or places to be would run as long and as varied as the people asked.

Leaving aside a discussion of whether a goal is dubious, or whether such and such a person ought to have set such and such a goal, I’m going to assume, here, that the goal is a good one, and doable, for the person in question. Even so, the question of how to reach the goal then becomes is crucial for anyone, especially for Christians, who serve a God who is certainly interested in the end result!

The ways we travel
The God of the end, however, is also the God of the way. God is keen not only about the omegas we seek but also with the ways we travel to get there. This is a huge theme of the book of Proverbs, especially in 3:17, which speaks of the “ways” and “paths” of wisdom. The decisive use of the plural must not be missed. Wisdom, here, is being presented not just as one way but as having many ways (paths). This use of the plural may seem counterintuitive because we Christians follow “the way” (John 14:6), Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Doesn’t Proverbs 3:17 contradict that? How can there be many paths of wisdom?

the better angels of our natureUnlike John 14:6, Proverbs 3:17 is not a soteriological passage. To put it another way, whereas John 14:6 is about God’s way of salvation, Proverbs 3:17 is about God’s ways for directing our travels through life’s daily grinds, which are many and varied. For different goals in this world are, and must be, reached via different methods. When three people have three different goals, or even if one person has several goals, they are reached via different methods. You don’t hunt for a house to rent, or to buy, in the same way you plant your garden or run for an elected office. You don’t use the same method to get your post-grad degree as you would to court your future spouse (I hope not!).

The book of Proverbs admonishes us to come under the discipline of the yoke of the wise how, to let wise ways, not foolish ways, direct our steps.

The first nine chapters of Proverbs, for instance, may be summarized as a test of wills between those who will choose to follow the wise ways of Lady Wisdom, which lead to life (Proverbs 3:18), or the foolish ways of Lady Folly, which lead to death: “Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths…. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:25-27).

So that is the first thing: choosing and then traveling a way, a path, of godly wisdom for reaching a particular goal we have set. The question then becomes: What is a way, a path, of godly wisdom toward a particular goal? How do we come under the discipline of the wise how?

I pose this question because a huge industry, populated with self-help gurus and ultra-achievers, among others,  has arisen devoted to offering many and varied methods for reaching goals.

When following a method, how do we discern if anything is biblically unacceptable in its ideas, values, means, strategies, and steps to fulfilment?

The answer will depend on how much time, effort, and resources we put into thinking biblically about how we will get to a goal and what is taking place along the way. Admittedly, discrimination of this kind – between the biblical and the unbiblical – can be a tricky business for any Christian. After all, how does one think biblically about choosing a PhD program or running for election or buying a new car? If the teaching arm of our church has not given us the tools for learning to think biblically about the importance of our methodologies, well then…. Non-biblical ideas, attitudes, and values will fill the vacuum.

I want to draw attention to what I call two inconspicuous essentials of God’s wisdom, which can help us recognize if our travels toward a goal has the feel of a wise how.

Peaceableness
One of these essentials is peaceableness. To return to Proverbs 3:17: The ways of wisdom are pleasant and her paths are paths of peace. The word “ways,” here, is about the means taken or the procedures followed to an end. In short, it is about method. The word “peace” is the venerable Hebrew word shalom (well-being; flourishing). And in the New Testament, the epistle of James (also at 3:17) indicates that the wisdom that comes from above is peace-loving, as well as considerate, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. That kind of wisdom is contrasted to the kind that is bitter, envious, and filled with selfish ambition, strife, and disorder (3:14-16).

I think the message, here, is that if God’s peace is setting the spirit and tone of whatever method we are applying to reach a goal, then patience, sympathy, mercy, good fruit, even-handedness, and sincerity are traveling with us along the way.

It would be a good practical exercise, then, to spend time answering questions about whether those qualities, or the ones James calls envy, selfish ambition, and strife, are refereeing a particular method we are relying on. It’s not that we will be perfectly consistent epistles of the qualities of a godly wisdom, but surely we ought to be making progress with them. Is their influence pretty strongly felt as we work toward fulfilling a goal?

It’s a personal thing
The other inconspicuous essential of God’s wisdom is its personal-relational quality. In Proverbs 8:25-31, wisdom is described as having some sort of personal, or personal-like, relationship with God, with the creation, and with human beings. Note also that this triune relationship is described as one of delight, of rejoicing, and of pulling together:

“I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. . . . I was there when he [God] set the heavens in place . . . when he gave the sea its boundaries . . . when he marked out the foundations of the earth. . . . I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8:25-31).

Due to its ontological difficulties, this may be the most debated passage by scholars in all of the wisdom literature. We’re not going to enter that debate here. I just want to underline the fact that wisdom is being presented here as having some sort of personal relational presence with God, with creation, and with human beings. (This is assumed repeatedly throughout the biblical wisdom literature in a wealth of images and contexts.)

skill in wisdomIn other words, wisdom is not presented in Scripture as any sort of abstract edifice of thought, such as an ideology or an -ism but, rather, as personal and relational. I like the way Hebrew scholar Alan Lenzi puts it. When discussing Proverbs 8, Lenzi writes that wisdom is a personality; she is a “me” (Proverbs 8:22) who speaks at length in her own name, about having been created by God before the beginning of the world, about her primacy in nature, and about her delight in all human life. Lenzi concludes that wisdom is no “intellectual tool or abstract instrument.” She is, instead, a “personal presence” in the world. (Lenzi, “Proverbs 8:22-31: Three Perspectives on Its Composition,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125, no. 4, 2006: 687-714.)

Since our relationships with others give us a big clue as to whether the peace of God is present in them, the relationships we have with those who are assisting us toward our goals can help us discern if we are in the path of a wise how.

If the triune relationship that Lady Wisdom has with God, creation, and human beings is enjoyable, delightful, and pleasant, are those qualities present within biblical boundaries in our pursuit of a goal?

This is not to suggest that struggles, disappointments, setbacks, failures, and suchlike will not befall us. It is to suggest being conscious of what kind of fruit we are bearing through our relationships with those with whom we are traveling to reach a goal.

If your children are suffering due to your training schedule for running the marathon; if your marriage is falling apart because of the way you are pursuing that PhD; if your bull-in-a-china-shop method for getting a promotion is making enemies of fellow employees; if you’re running out of patience with your guitar instructor; if you have become chronically unhappy with your fiancé … You get the picture. Is it time to hit Pause and admit that a course correction is necessary?

This short article on a complicated topic probably evoked more questions than solutions. But maybe it’s a start.

When we mis-prioritize “goal” as being the main thing, it is easy to de-prioritze the essentiality of learning and applying a godly wisdom for getting there.

It is a governing theme of Scripture that God is particularly concerned with wisdom, and wisdom is to a large degree about method, about how we get somewhere. For the follower of Jesus – the supreme example of the peaceable, the personal, and relational – the way of wise how must be recognized and prioritized when traveling to get somewhere or something.

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Images by permission of Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I post a new article. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell a friend! Thank you.

When Our Wisdom Amounts to Nothing

human eyeA long time ago through the prophet Jeremiah, God gave a word to the people of Jerusalem about the condition of their social life. Even though that word was the result of a divine finding, it didn’t sit well for a people who had concluded that their social life was pretty darn good. But in the eyes of Yahweh, according to the prophet, the people’s social life had become generationally organized around deceit, dishonesty, and greed; from the top down they were a shameless, wayward community, a false witness to the law of the Lord:

“Why is this people–Jerusalem–rebellious
With a persistent rebellion?
They cling to deceit.
They refuse to return.
I have listened and heard;
They do not speak honestly.
No one regrets his wickedness
And says, ‘What have I done!’
They all persist in their wayward course
Like a steed dashing forward in the fray….
My people pay no heed
To the law of the Lord….
From the smallest to the greatest,
They are all greedy for gain;
Priest and prophet alike,
They all act falsely.”
(Jer. 8:4-10; JSB, Tanakh translation)

From the top down, the people had created and followed huge edifices of religious and political thought that justified sins that were not only tearing their social fabric apart but also making them so delirious that they could not see that they were about to face the death of their culture. The human capacity for self-deception being without limit, the people are not conscious of their movement toward the cliff. Instead, relying on edifices of thought based on distortions of the law of the Lord, they have a different way of seeing their social life. They believe all is well. But Yahweh sees things quite another way. And you would have to be pretty numb indeed not to hear the breaking heart of God for the people in a very intimate moment Yahweh has with Jeremiah:

“They dress the wound of my people
As though it were not serious.
‘Shalom, shalom,’ they say, where there is no shalom.
Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
They do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
They will be brought down when they are punished.”
(Jeremiah 8:11-12, NIV)

As one season of the year surely follows another, the word “wisdom” in Scripture is meant to put us in mind of the strong influence that our ideas and beliefs exert over our behaviors and our actions. In other words, “wisdom” in Scripture, among other things, denotes a way of seeing life and living in it. And of course St. Paul and St. James remind us that there are different kinds of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:9; James 3:13-18). Jeremiah is saying that at the heart of a culture’s social sins lies a bogus way of seeing life and living in it, a bankrupt wisdom. It becomes a way of life for the people, and it has been spread by both the writings and the speeches of religious authorities and political leaders in particular, as the following words of Jeremiah indicate.

In an age when our social life is so often associated with deceit, dishonesty, greed, and a lack of shame, from leadership right the way through the citizenry, maybe we ought to take to heart these words of Jeremiah about wisdom, that God may have mercy on us, that our social policies may be those of a godly wisdom, that we may be spared the death of our culture:

“How can you say, ‘We are wise,’
And we possess Instruction from the Lord?’
Assuredly, for naught has the pen labored,
For naught the scribes!
The wise shall be put to shame,
Shall be dismayed and caught;
See, they reject the word of the Lord,
So their wisdom amounts to nothing.”
(Jeremiah 8:8-9, JSB, Tanakh translation)

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Cesar R, permission via Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I post a new article. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell a friend! Thank you.

“There Are No Ordinary People”

refugee tent city [Klaus Reisinger]These are demanding times for Christians who are committed to loving neighbor as they love themselves. It is becoming increasingly easy to slip into less exacting paths. I am glad that our pastor has been addressing this theme in various ways in a number of sermons in recent months. C. S. Lewis, a highly regarded Christian thinker and writer, also took it on. In a sermon titled “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis offered a stunning insight about loving neighbor, which he delivered during a period of world history when division, conflict, and war offered a steady diet of hate for the soul.

A similar diet is being dished out to our generation – and you know that what you eat you are. Having eaten enough to hate our enemy, we are now being fattened to ignore another of Jesus’ commands: love of neighbor. Why bother loving our neighbor and loving our enemy? Indeed, if we are not being loved I return, why bother? Lewis grappled with this during World War Two. Here, in that inimitable way he had, are his concluding remarks in “The Weight of Glory”:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

“All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Image of Tent City by Klaus Reisinger via Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I post a new article. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell a friend! Thank you.

Now That Trump Has Been Elected: Three Difficult Tasks Facing American Christians

the better angels of our nature

Three Difficult Tasks Facing Christians

And just to be clear, I would have written the following even if Hillary had won.

(1) Drop the mocking spirit; instead, turn away anger.
Rising anger across in America – left and right, Democrat and Republican – has contributed to our country’s uncivil, graceless, and derisive political rhetoric. This has been normative during 2016 in the blogosphere and social media, on talk radio, in campaign ads, and even from our presidential candidates and many of their leading supporters.

Sadly, many Christians – to call out those in my own faith – have taken their rhetorical cues from these sources. I was on the receiving end of this earlier this year, when a Christian looked me in the face and said, “If you don’t vote for Trump, it’s a vote for the enemy,” after I told her I couldn’t vote for Trump. Well. I did not vote for Hillary Clinton either, but not because I saw her as my enemy (I abhor some of her political positions, as I do some of Trump’s). More recently, I heard the malicious ill will from a Christian woman who asked me in a Facebook comment if I had heard the latest news about “Killery.”

These are just private examples. Public examples abound in the above-mentioned sources, so well known that they need no mention here.

I don’t know why the Bible comes down so hard on mockers. Maybe it’s because mockers are said to have attitudes and actions that smack of pride and discord (Proverbs 21:24; 14:9). Maybe it’s because they get marque billing alongside fools, who hate knowledge, and even alongside the wicked  (Proverbs 1:22; Psalm 1:1). Maybe it’s because they have become so angry that they “stir up a city,” rather than being like the wise, who “turn away anger” (Proverbs 29:8). But that’s not all:

“Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools” (Proverbs 19:29; see also Proverbs 9:11 and Isaiah 29:20).

The Lord “mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).

“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery?” (Proverbs 1:22). Yes. How long? How long will the poison of a mocking spirit continue to corrupt the political community our country?

Right or left, Republican or Democrat, from sea to shining sea, Christians, of all citizens, should be leading the way to stop this decay of our national body. What way is that? The answer is also in the Bible.

“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6)

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

In other words, let us no longer take our cues (or our cures) from the political rhetoric; instead, let us speak wisely: stop stirring up the city; instead be wise and start turning away the anger (Proverbs 29:8). There will be no flourishing political community in America if we do not repent of our mocking spirt and humbly seek God, praying to become vessels of civility, grace, and hope – to everyone.

(2) Recognize that America is not exceptional or indispensable.
The 2016 campaign season was also a time when the question of America’s greatness gave rise to all sorts of punditry surrounding the assertion that “America is an exceptional nation.” For some, this is a cruel joke; others tout it as a valued and trusted trope. The general impression I get is that you couldn’t even get elected dog catcher in this country if you didn’t believe it.

So it surprised me when Donald Trump said he dislikes the term. But if you read between the lines of what he said, he seems to be saying that if America were truly exceptional – if so many nations weren’t “eating our lunch” – he wouldn’t mind applauding the phrase. On the other hand, at the end of August, Hillary Clinton was in Cincinnati at the American Legion’s national convention giving a speech that lauded America exceptionalism and attacked Trump’s dislike of the term.

hourglassPersonally, I think America is a great nation that has in recent decades gone down some roads that aren’t great. But is America “exceptional?” In other words, is America “inherently different” than other nations and does it have a “unique” role to transform the world. This is the question we must answer truthfully. Words have to mean things. And the words “American exceptionalism” mean that America is inherently different than other nations, unique among nations.

But that fact is that America is like other nations. If it were not, it would not be a nation. It would be some other kind of entity and unsuited to be numbered among 194 other nations of the world. What kind of entity that might be, I don’t know. But if America were unique, it would be a stand-alone something. And it’s not that. It certainly is not, for instance, a school, or a church, or a business. It is a nation among nations.

There has been only one unique nation in the history of the world, exceptional because its founding began with the revelation of God – beginning with the call of Abram:

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing’” (Genesis 12:1-2),

and continuing with the mission of Moses:

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

America had no revelatory founding.

In 1776 (not 1620), the nation certainly began unlike other nations extant in the eighteenth century in that it was not birthed as a monarchy or as an extension of some other kind of dynastic line of rulers. The nation galvanized around what we could call a synthesis of three very big ideas from salient elements of Puritan Calvinism, Enlightenment rationalism, and Virginia deism (to be brief about it). But this beginning was not a revelatory founding.

This ought to make us not only humble but also fearful and prayerful about the future of America as a nation. Every time I hear a politician claim that America is “indispensable,” I cringe. This descriptive for our nation began with President Bill Clinton, as far as I can determine, and it was afterward noised about by his secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Hillary Clinton affirmed it, at length, as an essential feature of America’s role in the world in her speech to the American Legion.

This political hubris (see Clinton’s speech) ought to frighten us. If ancient Israel was uniquely and exceptionally founded, let us remember that, except for its prophets, it also believed it was indispensable. But it wasn’t. Brothers and sisters, where do we get off believing that we are? Let us stop falling prey to this lie and start looking more biblically at our nation. As the theologian John Peck taught many of us: “If you start from an unbiblical position in your analysis of a problem, you’re not going to come up with a biblical way ahead.”

(3) Admit that America is under judgment.
As an American who is also a Christian, this has been the hardest one for me to swallow. It’s put me in a place of great dislocation. Well, no, that’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that it is the only explanation that has, at least for me, sufficiently explained the dislocation, and its attendant confusion and the famine of answers, that has become the American reality. We used to call it a collective worldview crisis. Call it what you will.

SunsetI had been thinking for some time that perhaps this may indeed the case with our country, although I quickly add that when this was on my mind I trotted out theological arguments to counter it. But after the number of presidential candidates dropped to two in 2016, I suddenly found myself without any theological defenses against the “judgment” narrative. As a professor once said, “If the facts don’t fit your theology, change your theology.” This is why I have plucked up my nerve to say I now believe that: (1) America has been under some kind of strange judgment for many years; (2) we ended up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our presidential candidates as part of that judgment (evidence: the unprecedented large number of people who concluded that both were horrible candidates); (3) it did not matter who got elected; the judgment continues. The off-the-great-road path that our country is traveling is going to get more perilous as we head to January 29, inauguration day, and into the new year.

I hope I am wrong, but it seems to me that this is the real crisis our nation faces. I have been in grief over this and haven’t a clue about how we get out from under it. Let us seek the Lord. And as much as possible let us strive to be vessels of civility, grace, and hope along the way. May God have mercy on us during this time of disorientation and incoming, yet unknown, reorientation. Who do we think we are, anyway? Who do we think God is?

“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path to understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust… Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing” (Isaiah 40:13-17).

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

All images, permission via creative commons.

A note from Charles: For more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Who Lost the First Presidential Debate?

Hilary Clinton & Donlad TrumpPolitical pundits today want to know “who won the debate?” It’s the wrong question. Who lost the debate? That is the question. And the answer is? The American people lost the debate.

For this first of three debates, moderator Lester Holt framed the debate in three broad categories: “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.” It sounded promising to me. In more normal times, the event would have entailed a rousing debate between two presidential candidates in which they contrasted their policy plans for those three areas so that the American people could have some clearer ideas by which to help them decide who to vote for on November 8.

But not between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Oh no. In more normal times, a little sniping at each other between candidates is to be expected, and often couched in a little humor. But not this time. Oh no. Instead, Clinton and Trump spent most of the 90 minutes getting under each other’s skin, poking at raw, sensitive areas in each other’s lives, and then replying with cutting retorts to try to save the moment.

Both candidates have said so many horrible things about each other in the past and are implicated in so many very questionable activities, that this first debate became all about that stuff – i.e., about their personal lives – instead of about the America people – the very people they say they say want to represent and help when they set up shop in the Oval Office.

That’s all I want to say, really. We the people lost. That is the story of the first debate. It is the outcome of having the two most unpopular presidential candidates in modern history. It is sad, very sad. And sadder still is that it is a reflection of us, the American people. May God have mercy on us.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Image courtesy of scienceblogs.com

For other posts on this blog about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Out [June 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump of Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”? [Sept 16]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23].

Predicting the U.S. Presidential Debates

It has been said that only novelists know the future. Even so, I don’t think it’s much of a risk for us to to predict what the debates between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton devolve into. The first of the three scheduled debates begins in a few days, on Monday evening, September 26. For one thing, they will be anything but presidential. Instead, they will be…, well, why wait for Monday? Here’s a sneak peek from the never predictable John Cleese and Michael Palin. This short video from a 1972 Month Python skit tells us what the debates will be like.

A segment from Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic.” Standard YouTube license.

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”? [Sept. 16]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”?

Donald Trump & White HouseHaving recently returned from three weeks in England, I can tell you it was a relief not to be Trump-blitzed everyday by the media. But I’ll also tell you this. When conversation in my home-away-from-home turned to American politics, as it frequently did, not one person I spoke to – and I was with many different kinds of people in varied contexts and cities – was a fan of the Trumpster.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that most had concluded that Hillary Clinton was no great catch either. And among some that I met, I heard a wryly spoken running joke: “Until June, we used to take pride in not being as divided as America. But now we have Brexit.” Welcome to the club, I’d reply. You guys import too much stuff from America! Misery loves company.

Anyway, I’m back home and again running for cover. But I did happen to catch a most enlightening piece of television journalism the other day about Donald Trump’s so-called business acumen that made me take notice. It speaks for itself, so I’m not going to comment on it. I’m just going to quote the speakers. All I want to say, first, is that it left me with the title of this article: “Is Trump Merely Lending His Name to ‘America’”?

During the September 8, 2016 PBS-TV NewsHour program, correspondent William Brangham talked with Mark Fisher and Tim O’Brien. Fisher is senior editor of The Washington Post and co-author of Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power. O’Brien is executive director of the international news agency “Bloomberg View” and author of Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald. Both have extensive knowledge of Donald Trump and his business dealings over many decades, and O’Brien is one of the few journalists who has actually seen some of Trump’s tax returns.

O’Brien doesn’t think Trump will release his tax returns “because I think they will go towards offering substantiation around a bunch of things that Trump has made central to his political campaign: his track record as a business person, how charitable he is as a philanthropist, his operations overseas, and the kinds of business and financial conflicts that could potentially come to bear on him should he end up in the oval office.”

Specifically, however, Brangham pressed the two journalists for some understanding about what we should conclude from Trump’s decades’-long roller coaster ride with his many and varied businesses, for Trump talks about his successes but he’s also had terrible failures, including many bankruptcies. It was Fisher’s and O’Brien’s replies that made me take notice; after all, what did I know, really, about Trump’s business history?

We know a lot about Hillary Clinton’s long, diverse political history – the good, bad, and ugly – so we can therefore make an informed conclusion about what that might mean for America if she were elected President. But about Trump’s long, diverse business history, what do most of us really know? On this question, I found Fisher and O’Brien offering a major piece of of the picture. And what might that mean if he were elected President?

Fisher and O’Brien both pointed out that in recent decades Trump has changed his business model. Instead of organizing and running businesses, which were many and varied and included taking on a lot of debt, and which had both successes and terrible failures, including many bankruptcies, Trump, said Fisher, has been “taking on less debt and less risk. [Now] he essentially rents out his name and uses others to take the risk – investors and others – so he merely rents out his name and gets a guaranteed income stream from that.”

O’Brien confirmed that. “The Donald Trump of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said, “was essentially a creature of debt. The last time he really operated a large business that involved complex financial and management decisions was when he was running his Atlantic City casinos, which he essentially ended up running into the ground. He put those through four separate corporate bankruptcies. And he almost went personally bankrupt in the early 1990s. And the Trump who emerged from that is essentially a Trump who is now a human shingle, as Mark said. He oversees a licensing operation where he puts his name on everything from mattresses to men’s underwear to vodka and buildings. And he’s got his golf course development operation, and then essentially a self-promotion publicity machine that made itself most visible during the ‘Apprentice’ years.”

To me, this was enlightening. It’s certainly not an unlawful business practice – what he’s doing lending his name to products. And it’s making the billionaire tycoon more money. Fair enough. But it said to me: “Donald J. Trump businessman” is certainly nothing like the image of a Henry Ford or a Steve Jobs or a Nelson Rockefeller (41st U.S. Vice-President). Instead, I was left wondering: is Trump going after the U.S. presidency to lend his name to “America,” like he has done to other products he wants to hawk for personal profit? Is he letting “America” take all the risk? Why not? That is his business. I want to see him asked these questions during one of the presidential debates, which start September 26.

For more than 100 years, U.S. presidents – Democrats and Republicans – have been increasingly running the United States like a business enterprise rather than a political community. Like them, Trump as president of “America” would amplify this fundamental problem of our nation, big time. During an ABC-TV 20/20 interview (Friday night, Nov 20, 2015), before he won the Republican nomination, Trump was asked what he would do should he lose in November. He admitted it was possible, noting that he was up against many “not stupid people.” He then quickly added, “What’s next? I go back to what I was doing.” It’s an answer that speaks volumes.

Image via VAZVorpal Creative Commons

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

The Kindness of Strangers in a World of Pain

Twin Towers laser memorialIt began this way, 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, flying from London to Atlanta:

“The Boeing 777 droned on. Five hours to go before touchdown in Atlanta. Suddenly everyone’s attention locked on to the Texas drawl coming from the intercom. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. May I have your attention. Your serious attention.’ The dreaded words. Worst nightmares sprung from the fuselage, the overhead compartment, the unconscious –  wherever you had stowed them before boarding. A kind of holy moment spread through cabin. No one spoke. No one dared. It seemed much longer than the millisecond it took before Captain William’s steady but troubled Texas drawl continued: ‘There’s been a major incident in the United States and all air space throughout the nation has been closed….’”

With all the reporting of criminal behavior, hate, violence, and terrorist acts that get dished out to us by the media everyday, I thought it would be good to take a break today, on September 11, and reflect on what is possible when we rely on the better angels of our nature to rule our actions. I was blessed to experience this in a hugely moving and inspiring way fifteen years ago over a five-day period that began the morning of another September 11. An essay I wrote about it was later published in magazines in the US and the UK for the one year anniversary of 9/11.

The above quote is from the beginning of that essay, which soon moves from the shocking and frightful to what is redemptively possible from the milk of human kindness in the face of great evil. For five days, I and hundreds of other “strandeds” were cared for by strangers where “selfish interest and alienation were transformed into opportunities for self-denial, cooperation among the different, unity in our diversity. A depth of compassion and caring had been awakened in us that I don’t think we knew we carried within, amid our wood, hay, and stubble. Heaven broke in and walls broke down between races, professions, classes, nationalities. Human suffering tasted something sweet of the saving grace of God as strangers became neighbors.”

If pain and murder is just a click away, why not grace and healing? Just click here to read the full essay.

Image courtesy Creative Commons.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer