As you know, this question — What do you want? — has become very important to us as we struggle with this crazy assignment.
And it has moved us to wonder — if Christianity is the story we are in, and your God is the Great Storyteller, then…
Donald Trump may have been chosen to be a revealer.
What if this Douthat guy is right? …
Among Trump-supporting religious believers, the long odds he overcame to win the presidency are often interpreted as a providential sign: Only God could have put Donald Trump in the White House, which means he must be there for some high and holy purpose.
The trouble with this theory is that it’s way too simplistic about what kind of surprises an interventionist deity might have in mind. Such a God might, for instance, offer political success as a temptation rather than a reward — or use an unexpected presidency not to save Americans but to chastise them.
We’re a long way from any final judgment on God’s purposes in the Trump era. But so far the Trump presidency has clearly been a kind of apocalypse — not (yet) in the “world-historical calamity” sense of the word, but in the original Greek meaning: an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.The Baptist Apocalypse, By Ross Douthat, New York Times, May 30, 2018
Seriously… what if Donald Trump was chosen to be a revealer?
What if your God has chosen Donald Trump as a unique character in the unfolding drama to help reveal things about you?
In the light of Trumpism, many hard truths about American Christianity — its divisions, its failures, its follies, its heresies — stand ruthlessly exposed.
And the truth, we’re told, will set you free.Donald Trump’s Christian Soldiers, by Ross Douthat, New York Times, March 10, 2016
So, really, what if that Douthat guy is right?
Because we are now wondering if Donald Trump was chosen to shine a light on the love crisis you Christians in America are experiencing. Look what Paula showed us…
Perhaps inquirers about God are typically, if unknowingly, too world-bound in their thinking and living to give a fair hearing to the evidence and the reality of God. By “world-bound,” I mean one’s being directed away from God’s morally perfect character to worldly attitudes and behaviors, including selfish, prideful, or despairing decisions, which conflict with God. One result would be human distortion, if unknowing, in the assessment of the evidence and the reality of God. This would include a human tendency to look for the evidence of God in places that may meet human expectations of God, such as worldly power and success, but conflict with God’s actual moral character.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
Look what else Paula showed us …
A crisis doesn’t ‘make a person’; a crisis reveals what a person is made of.Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Prophets
This scene reveals the story’s most important value. If there’s been any doubt about which value is central, as the protagonist makes the Crisis Decision, the primary value comes to the fore.Robert McKee, Story
There it is. The primary value. And you know what that is in your love crisis.
And that so fits with this character in your Bible, who showed such loyal love…
Each scene in the record of Joseph’s life reveals some distinctive trait of character elicited by means of a crisis.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis
And this made us wonder about the possibility that Donald was chosen to reveal what you Christians in America really want, here in the story…
These are three major perils to the church corporately, as well as to Christians individually. Luke warned us of them in Acts. They are major obstacles to Christ building His church in the world: prejudice, personal agendas, and pride.Notes on Acts, Dr. Thomas L. Constable
That puts Donald on stage, doesn’t it? So, look what else Paula showed us…
The author, Byung-Chul Han, is a German academic by way of Seoul billed by the publishers as “one of the most widely read philosophers in Europe today.” I can’t help but wondering who it is who’s reading Han—serious philosophers? University students? Young urban professionals attempting to cultivate an air of erudition?
In any case, it’s easy to see the allure of a writer who treats with such intellectual seriousness the claim—common to think pieces, self-help books, podcasts, and prestige TV sitcoms — that love in our time is in crisis. Conventional wisdom has it that modern love is most endangered by the personal freedom and limitless variety of options that technology have placed at our disposal; Han has a thesis to the contrary. “The crisis of love does not derive from too many others,” he begins, “so much as from the erosion of the Other.”To Love Another, By Tim Markatos, Weekly Standard, August 4, 2017
And, look at the connection with the Donald…
Han relies on highly specific terminology, but his writing is not impenetrable. Central to his philosophy is a concept of the Other, which he, following Levinas and Buber, defines as that which is necessarily outside of the realm of the self. Relatedly, eros is the force that brings us outside to make experience of the Other possible. A threat to eros is therefore a threat to relational love, and Han sees no greater oppositional force arising to challenge the power of eros than depression. Some of Han’s most scintillating thinking happens around this topic. He finds the roots of modern depression in narcissism, the “overwrought, pathologically distorted self-reference” that flourishes in cultures that valorize personal achievement and consequently flatten out our relationships by changing how we think about other people: as mere sources of validation at best, objects to compare ourselves to at worst.To Love Another, By Tim Markatos, Weekly Standard, August 4, 2017
So, we’d like to know whether you believe your God every puts you to a test in order to reveal something abut you?
But we do have another question for you…
Are You Trying to Serve Two Masters as You Occupy the Minimalist Corner?
As we explored those insights related to the idolatry of Donald Trump, Paula Wong showed us this…
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
And that made us wonder about what you are thinking concerning the binary core value in your unfolding drama.
Idol is a strong word. In simple terms, an idol is anything that replaces God. That’s why the Ten Commandments begin with the Lord’s declaration, “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2, NASV). The first two commandments immediately reinforce the Lord’s supremacy by stating, “You shall have no other gods before me,” and, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (20:3-5).
So nothing and no one should ever supplant our reverence of, devotion to, and love for God. Not our work. But also not our families. Not our churches. Not our possessions or our pastimes. Not our devotion to sports teams or alma maters. Not our country or any political party. Not our dreams or memories. Not our failures or sins. We must allow nothing to replace God. We must not make or serve any idol.
Idolatry, then, is what we should not do. But what should we do? Someone, who had spent his entire career studying the Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the Law, asked Jesus the same question. Jesus succinct response left him in awe.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”
Love God. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s it in a nutshell. Those two priorities, which happen to intertwine, sum up God’s job description for His people.Can You Love God and Your Job?, By Bill Hendricks, DTS Voice, February 20th, 2017
And look what one of your famous syndicated op-ed columnists wrote…
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)
The verse refers to money, but in light of today’s debate about the unaccountable devotion many Christian leaders have for President Trump it is not a stretch to apply it to their relationship with him.
Today, “evangelicals” are perceived by many as one more interest group attached to the Republican Party and especially President Trump. Its members need to make a choice as to which one is their true “master.” They can’t serve both.Are today’s Evangelicals following Jesus or following Trump?, By Cal Thomas, Fox News, April 24, 2017
But we also wondered if the Donald was chosen to help reveal your desire for the money.
Because we get that. We want it to.
And we’re getting it — a lot of it from you.
So when we saw this observation by R.R.R., it connected with us…
Europe faced a choice whether it was going to be a pagan society or a Christian society. And I think we face the same choice.
Our paganism is much more modest. It comes inside as a matter of choice, but it’s a paganism of wealth and pleasure. So I see those as our pagan gods.
So I would say that I don’t think millennials are individualistic. Quite the contrary, I see them as pretty conformist but because they more than their parents worship the gods pretty clearly of health, wealth and pleasure.
People who are 30 are far more anxious about their career than people of my generation. Because the gods of health and wealth are very demanding gods.Society Will Break Down Unless There Is Christian Renewal in America, R.R. Reno Says (Interview, Part 1), By Brandon Showalter, Christian Post, August 15, 2016
Wealth and conformism!
Same thing with us.
As our wealth grows, it enables the Party to stay in power…
New consensus or no, what should be acknowledged is that, despite all its obvious shortcomings and defying most predictions, the CCP has managed to create three decades of rapid growth under a relatively stable political system, and it has brought China closer than ever to building the … “moderately well-off society,” to which Deng Xiaoping aspired. This promise has helped many Chinese make a bargain with the party: as long as they are allowed to enjoy growing wealthier and to pursue a better life, and as long as their country is edging ever closer toward wealth, power, and a modicum of greatness in the world, they will not seek to challenge authoritarian rule.Orville Schell, Wealth and Power
So, is that bargain in some way similar to the one you made with Trump?
Our team is now wondering if Donald Trump has helped reveal that if you Christians in America – the richest and most powerful nation in the story of humanity — continue to be seduced by wealth and success, it will play a role in the story of the United States coming to an end.
You see, as your love crisis unfolded and you migrated into the minimalist corner, it appears you became more and more detached and distant from the King of Kings and the Quest he commanded you to pursue, which is to love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
And when that kind of love shift takes place, the ripples can become very powerful in the life of a person or a society…
The desire or intentionality of the human heart is in reality its love. As Augustine noted, love is what moves an individual. A person goes where his love moves him.Robert L. Saucy, “Sinners” Who Are Forgiven or “Saints” Who Sin? BSac 152:608 (Oct 95)
So… is it possible your love crisis is also a reflection of something you came to want more than the Quest your King commanded you to want?
Because we were thinking about how your story unfolded after World War II.
You experienced widespread economic prosperity like no other nation in the history of the world.
And we know something of what that is like, since more than 800 million people have migrated out of poverty in China since the turn in our story in 1978.
That has never happened before in history.
And plenty of us have now become rich.
So we know how powerful that desire for the good life is.
And that desire appears to have played a role in bringing about the massive change in America…
After the American and French Revolutions (the first of which inscribed the pursuit of happiness in its founding document), the right to a decent life and the privileged status of pleasure became the order of the day for progressive movements across Europe. It is true that in the early twentieth century, the Bolsheviks curiously rehabilitated the Christian ideal of sacrifice by exhorting the proletariat to fight and work until the great coming of the Revolution; ironically, asceticism returned within a doctrine that denounced religion as the opiate of the masses and that relentlessly persecuted priests, pastors, and believers wherever it took power. But overall, throughout the twentieth century, hedonism’s claims grew ever stronger under the influence of Freudianism, feminism, and the avant-garde in art and politics.
In the 1960s, two major shifts transformed the right to happiness into the duty of happiness. The first was a shift in the nature of capitalism, which had long revolved around production and the deferral of gratification, but now focused on making us all good consumers. Working no longer sufficed; buying was also necessary for the industrial machine to run at full capacity. To make this shift possible, an ingenious invention had appeared not long before, first in America in the 1930s and then in Europe in the 1950s: credit. In an earlier time, anyone who wanted to buy a car, some furniture, or a house followed a rule that now seems almost unknown: he waited, setting aside his nickels and dimes. But credit changed everything; frustration became intolerable and satisfaction normal; to do without seemed absurd. We would live well in the present and pay back later. Today, we’re all aware of the excesses that resulted from this system, since the financial meltdown in the United States was the direct consequence of too many people living on credit, to the point of borrowing hundreds of times the real value of their possessions.
The second shift was the rise of individualism. Since nothing opposed our fulfillment any longer—neither church nor party nor social class— we became solely responsible for what happened to us. It proved an awesome burden: if I don’t feel happy, I can blame no one but myself. So it was no surprise that a vast number of fulfillment industries arose, ranging from cosmetic surgery to diet pills to innumerable styles of therapy, all promising reconciliation with ourselves and full realization of our potential. “Become your own best friend, learn self-esteem, think positive, dare to live in harmony,” we were told by so many self-help books, though their very number suggested that these were not such easy tasks. The idea of fulfillment, though the successor to a more demanding ethic, became a demand itself. The dominant order no longer condemns us to privation; it offers us paths to self-realization with a kind of maternal solicitude.Condemned to Joy, by Pascal Bruckner, City Journal, Winter, 2011
To summarize, the sins of the Israelites were excessive preoccupation with relaxation (possibly sexual relaxation), food, music, drinking, and cosmetics. Does this not sound like modern life in America?Notes on Amos, By Dr. Thomas L. Constable
But if you come to desire the good life more than you desire the Quest which your King of Kings commands you to want, aren’t you creating a dangerous substitute archplot here in the middle of your story?
Because, it caught the attention of our team that, if Christianity is the story we are in, then your God makes a connection between prosperity, pride, and the danger of forgetting him. Here’s an illustration from the Old Testament book of Hosea:
When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.
And Paula showed us a similar warning from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, which goes into further detail about how this works…
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.
See the sequence? Prosperity →Pride → Forgetting God
It looks like you may be in a very dangerous situation.
And Paula showed us that Abraham Lincoln understood this sequence. Look at this proclamation he made in 1863:
Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day Washington, D.C.
March 30, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Lincoln is trying there to help the Americans remember God. And to give you a sense of his sincerity about the subject, consider this excerpt from his Thanksgiving Proclamation a few months later, on October 3:
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
So after thinking about these warnings and that sequence, our team began to wonder about Americans. What if this sequence describes something which boatloads of Americans experienced in the last half century or so? They certainly experienced prosperity on a level no other nation in history has matched. (But we’re on our way!)
Wouldn’t the Americans, then, of all people, have been tempted to forget God in this manner?
We think there’s something to that. And our team has an additional question. What if the famous “American Dream” had shifted in your minds from simply being an opportunity to achieve and advance to a deeper vision of the good life you believed prosperity would bring? And what if the dream had become the American idol?
If it did, that’s good news for us. One of our team members wonders if perhaps you could learn something from a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited America in the early part of the 19th century and wrote a book titled Democracy in America – which is still regarded by some as the best book ever written about America.
In a chapter titled “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,” he laid out a striking description of what could come from the American dream turned American idol…
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
That’s a beautiful picture of America being destroyed from within. If America becomes filled with “an innumerable multitude of men” of which it can be said, that each of them has “lost his country”, then we can continue to win without fighting.
Does the Story of Solomon Have Your Attention?
We are so grateful to Donald Trump. He has oriented us to speculate and explore in such a wider way.
So, the story of the Israelite King Solomon caught our attention. Because seeing this introduction to Donald Trump helped Paula connect some dots…
Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment. He is the archetypal businessman – a deal maker without peer.Donald J. Trump Biography, The Trump Organization
In the story in your Bible, wouldn’t King Solomon be the equivalent of that description – at least in terms of success?
Look at these markers of success…
The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.
All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days. The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.
King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.
You can’t get more successful than that!
Donald Trump doesn’t even match it.
And just think of all the books, seminars, videos Solomon would inspire today…
Learn the secrets of Solomon’s success!
Be like him!
Be men of success!
But the story turns in a massive manner the very next chapter: 1 Kings 11
Solomon shows you how very fragile such success can be.
Solomon ends up loving his thousand women more than he loves God, and they turn his heart towards idolatry.
As a result, when Solomon dies, you get his foolish son Rehoboam — and the Black Swan breakup of Israel.
Some success, right?
It’s a classic case of the gap…
It is not a gap between what a character wants and what a character expects to happen. It’s the gap between what a character does at a specific moment in life in an effort to achieve what they want. And they take an action expecting that this action will cause a helpful enabling positive reaction in their world. But a gap opens up when the world reacts more powerfully than they expected, reacts differently than they expected and the world certainly does not cooperate with them. The world in fact is antagonistic and thwarts or blocks their desire for what they want. So it’s a gap between action and result, between what a character expects to happen when they take an action and what really does when they do. That is the gap that we’re talking about.Robert McKee’s Storylogue Q&A: Opening Up The Gap Between Expectation and Result
“The story lies in the gap between expectation and reality.”Robert McKee @McKeeStory, May 18 2016
So, what if Solomon’s story is the classic story in your Bible of how far you believers can fall when you turn away from the Quest which your King of Kings has commanded you to pursue?
That story of Solomon really does have our attention.
And as we thought about the role which change plays in the story of Solomon, we realized how the story begins one way and ends with massive change…
The Lord loved Solomon from the day of his birth (2 Sam. 12:24, 25), and He showered wealth, wisdom, honor, and authority on him — beyond any kind of Israel before or since. From early in his reign, however, Solomon violated God’s commands, including marrying foreign wives who worshiped other gods. In the end, Solomon himself turned to those other gods and “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (11:6).Dr. David Jeremiah, The Jeremiah Study Bible
That was what you Christians call idolatry.
And Solomon shows that it is driven by a turning away of the heart…
The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
And that’s just what King David warned Solomon about…
“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.”
… and also prayed for Solomon about…
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”
But Solomon ended up changing in the story. And look how what he experienced is so relevant to your unfolding drama in America…
Disappointment and disillusionment in the crucible of life has been the theme of some of the most critically acclaimed movies in recent decades.
Take American Beauty (1999), The Hours (2002), and Revolutionary Road (2008), which depict a world devoid of ultimate meaning, populated by characters whose highest aspiration is to be true to self (whatever that means) through unfettered self-expression. Casualties accumulated along the way—be they infidelity, divorce, or even suicide—are neither wrong nor tragic but, rather, the consequences of choices made by the courageous hero, or heroine, to avoid the real tragedy: the “counterfeit” life.
It is an old storyline that goes back to a man who anguished over the meaning of human existence.
Three thousand years ago, Solomon began a journey of self-discovery with an endless stream of variegated experiences. In an effort to tease out the mystery of meaning, Solomon pursued wisdom, pleasure, partying, possessions, grand projects, and even folly. In all those endeavors, Solomon accomplished more, acquired more and enjoyed more than any person before or since; yet despaired over the meaninglessness of it all.Why Are We So Unhappy?, By REGIS NICOLL, Crisis Magazine, JUNE 18, 2018
That story of Solomon continues to sit out there for our team because we’re beginning to see that this issue of idolatry is deeply connected to that question we’re asking you…
What do you really want, here in your story?
And our team discovered this idolatry issue is serious stuff in your version of the story we are in…
The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry.Tertullian, On Idolatry
The sense of Scripture was to destroy idolatry or be destroyed by it.Idol, Idolatry, by Robert D. Spender, in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter Elwell, Baker Book House, 1996
We are obliged to accept death rather than commit idolatry, murder, or sexual outrage.L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality? by Leon R. Kass, First Things, May 2001
Jews have always held that idolatry is the greatest of all sins.The Episcopalian Preference, by Philip Turner, First Things (November 2003)
But it appears to our team that you Christians in America don’t think that way about it.
And maybe that’s because you don’t see your God as the Great Storyteller, who has given you a classic loyal love/betrayal story.
When you look at the story in the Bible that way, it gets very personal, since, if Christianity is the story we are in, this really is Jesus talking to you…
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
So, as the song says… “Who do you love?”
Because it looks like you might want to pay closer attention to that question…
The story of gold has a deeper message, one that has none of the transitory qualities of what we choose to use as money. Seen in this broader sense, the story of gold has no ending.
The most striking feature of this long history is that gold led most of the protagonists of the drama into the ditch. Over and over again, the characters have been like Ruskin’s passenger who drowned while clutching his gold and discovered, all too late, that the gold possessed him instead of the other way around. Midas, Jason, Croesus, the emperors of Byzantium, the survivors of the Black Death, Pizarro and his Emperor Charles V, MacArthur the chemist, Montagu Norman and Benjamin Strong, Charles de Gaulle, and the gold bugs of the 1980s — all were fools for gold, chasing an illusion. None ended up where they had hoped.
Those who believed that gold was a hedge against the uncertainties of life failed to understand that the pursuit of eternity is not to be satisfied by gold, or by anything else we choose to replace gold-dollars, euros, whatever. Gold as an end in itself is meaningless. Hoarding does not create wealth. Gold and its surrogates make sense only as a means to an end: to beautify, to adorn, to exchange for what we need and really want.Peter L. Bernstein, The Power of Gold
Perhaps the wisest heroes of our story were the simple natives of Jenne and Timbuktu who silently swapped gold for the precious salt that would keep them alive.
The story of gold is as much the story of our own time as it is a tale out of the past. From poor King Midas who was overwhelmed by it to the Aly Khan who gave away his weight in gold every year, from the dank mines of South Africa to the antiseptic cellars at Fort Knox, from the gorgeous artworks of the Scythians to the Corichancha of the Incas, from the street markets of Bengal to the financial markets in the City of London, gold reflects the universal quest for eternal life – the ultimate certainty and escape from risk.
The key to the whole tale is the irony that even gold cannot fulfill that quest. Like Ruskin’s traveler jumping off the boat, people take the symbolism of gold too seriously. Blinded by its light, they cashier themselves for an illusion.Peter L. Bernstein, The Power of Gold
And is it possible then, that in the midst of your American Dream, your desire for money and success diverted your attention from what you had to do to keep your freedom?
Today the wealthiest nations in human history build cruise ships rather than battleships, vast floating palaces dedicated to the good life — to the proposition that, in the plump and complacent West, life itself is a cruise, sailing (as the Concordia’s name suggests) on a placid lake of peace and harmony.The Sinking of the West, By Mark Steyn, National Review, January 21, 2012
We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism.Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, By President Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926
In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”Making China Great Again, By Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 8, 2018 Issue
And could that be why you didn’t pay enough attention to this warning from the Frenchman who wrote that famous book about your nation?
Thus the prosperity of the United States is the source of the most serious dangers that threaten them, since it tends to create in some of the confederate States that over-excitement which accompanies a rapid increase of fortune; and to awaken in others those feelings of envy, mistrust, and regret which usually attend upon the loss of it. The Americans contemplate this extraordinary and hasty progress with exultation; but they would be wiser to consider it with sorrow and alarm. The Americans of the United States must inevitably become one of the greatest nations in the world; their offset will cover almost the whole of North America; the continent which they inhabit is their dominion, and it cannot escape them. What urges them to take possession of it so soon? Riches, power, and renown cannot fail to be theirs at some future time, but they rush upon their fortune as if but a moment remained for them to make it their own.Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America
And consider this…
In his famous book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), P. Rieff argued that secular psychotherapy is replacing Christianity as the organizing principle of American society. He implied that this is a disaster. In order to exist, a culture needs central symbols that inspire individuals to curtail their self-interest, and to make sacrifices for the common good. In the past, when Christianity was more central to America, people sought to follow Christ’s lifestyle. But today, when psychotherapy is the central way of understanding the soul in America, everyone is out for his or her own self-interest, and there is rampant narcissism. American society is unraveling because the goals of “growth” and “self-fulfillment” do not motivate people to make sacrifices for the common good.An Insider’s Effort to Blow Up Psychiatry, By Jeffrey H. Boyd, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 1997
And one of our team members showed us the following two insights – and pointed out how the combination of these two should be a red flag for you right now…
Pagans worship their own image in the person of gods who are like them, only better. Pagan faith is everywhere and always fragile, according to Spengler’s Universal Law #15: When we worship ourselves, eventually we become the god that failed. The function of pagan gods is not to redeem us from death, but to bring us success.David Goldman, How Civilizations Die
No society has ever survived success — the terminal disease for the Roman empire and all the rest, was narcissism. American society is about to join the rest.Aaron Stern, Me: The Narcissistic American
Remind you of someone?
And look at this…
Amos charged Israel with injustice, avarice, oppression, immorality, profanity, blasphemy, and sacrilege: seven deadly sins. These same sins characterize believers today. We are in danger of doing what the Israelites in Amos’ day of material prosperity did. We can wrongly conclude that our prosperity is a reward from God: that He is blessing us for our goodness. All the while we may be preparing ourselves for judgment. It is only as we turn from our sins, in profound repentance, that we can live. Yet if judgment comes, its purpose is not to destroy us, but to restore us to the Lord.Notes on Amos, By Dr. Thomas L. Constable
Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13). This is the essence of sin.The Life-Changing Discovery of Christian Hedonism, by Sam Storms, Desiring God, NOVEMBER 17, 2011
If seeing the face of God, and becoming Christ-like in the process, is our greatest desire, then we must stay focused on that ultimate goal. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the pilgrim protagonist (also named Dante) learns that sin is disordered love. The source of all disorder is loving finite things more than the infinite God. Even loving good things, like family and country, can be a source of damnation if one loves them more than one loves God and seeks fulfillment in those things rather than in the Creator of those things.Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option
And this surprised us – but also seriously caught our attention…
To attribute recognizably human emotions to Allah is unimaginable within Islam. The Judeo-Christian belief that the Maker of Heaven has a personality that in some way can interact with human personalities, including through prayer, is deeply repugnant to Islam. Muslims do not seek the love of a personal God. The muezzin who summons them to prayer makes clear why Muslims pray. He calls, “Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to success! Come to success! Allah is Great!” Allah is a remote sovereign who loves those who faithfully serve him and hates the slacker; he may have pity on the weak and powerless but is under no obligation to do so. He rewards the faithful with success.
Allah is a god who offers not succor, but success.David P. Goldman, How Civilizations Die
So… what do you really want, here in the story?
In us is not only self-deception, but also inner truth, and truth is stronger. That’s why we are ultimately dissatisfied with all the monkey food, all the successes and diversions of the world. The issue is not whether worldly success will make us lastingly happy–it won’t–but whether we are honest enough to question this unhappiness, to utter the word of power, the word “why”, the word that moves mountains. If we are unfortunate enough to conquer the world, like Alexander the Great, we weep like him because we have no more worlds to conquer. Why? If we are as pitiable as Ecclesiastes, who says “I have seen everything under the sun”, we despair, like him, at life under the sun as “vanity of vanities”. Why? What more do we want? There is great beauty and value and goodness and meaning in life under the sun–why do we want more? Why do we keep asking: is that all there is? We are like children opening a thousand beautiful Christmas presents and asking after each one: Is that all there is? It sounds so greedy and ungrateful, and so we pretend to be satisfied. But the pretense can’t last. Eventually we must face our inner truth, our nightingale, and ask, What do you want?Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing
And look what else Paula showed us…
Elise Machiele, a thoughtful young woman from Michigan I met at Palo Alto Reformed, sees a frustrating aimlessness in much of the tech world, a lack of purpose in the products that blurs into a lack of purpose in the lives of the young men and women who spend their days and nights building them.
“Their goals are not our goals, and we don’t even have a common vocabulary with them to talk about how their goals are different from ours,” says Machiele, who works at a tech giant she asked me not to name.
She has a friend who has done well building apps, but has no foundation or sense of greater meaning. He’s never been exposed to hardship or loss, and serves no master but his own entertainment. “He sees that Silicon Valley’s religion is really success,” she says. “All their lives, these people have been successful and they don’t need a savior.”
Machiele embodies the struggle of Christians who want to lead their friends to Jesus, yet are daunted by the obstacles—cultural, social, and even educational—that it would require. Instead, she hopes her example may lead them to come to her with questions, she says. “It’s not always my job to be evangelizing, but maybe it is my job to live in a way that people can see what God has done for me.”
Burns, the pastor, sees a search for meaning throughout Silicon Valley. There is “Icarus-like” ambition in the tech world, in many cases untethered from morality or humility, he says.
“We imagine ourselves the pinnacle of civilization and at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, but we’re also worried that there isn’t anything greater than us, and we’re afraid we’re going to blow it, and blow ourselves, up,” Burns says.How to talk about God in Silicon Valley, By Oliver Staley, Quartz, June 7, 2018
Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.Americans are depressed and suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, By Kirsten Powers, USA Today, June 9, 2018
And maybe our secular story ally Ayn Rand can help you see something…
The critical tension between Rand and Christian theology is on human worth. Christians affirm the inherent and very high value of individuals because of their creation in the image of God. Rand values human beings only for their achievements. A person who does not offer value is a leech, a “second rater.”Atlas Shrugged on Film, By Dr. Terry Hunter Baker Jr., ISI, May 5, 2011
So, maybe at this point in your unfolding drama you might want to listen to our enemy, Solzhenitsyn…
Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
And consider this too…
We need to get rid of this implicit prosperity gospel that we have, where we really believe that what it means to thrive is to meet the economic standards of American life. This prosperity gospel is unfortunately not limited to the heretical television evangelists – it extends in a discount-rate sort of way among almost all American evangelicals. Instead of this short-sighted idea of prosperity, we need to have a trillion-year view of our lives, which then enables us to have lives of generosity and hospitality with one another in a more communal way.Russell Moore, Onward
And look at this…
The Prosperity LieLife’s Tough. What Did You Expect?, By Buck Jacobs, September 7, 2016
The perverted message in today’s culture tells us if we do everything just right, i.e. commit our lives to Jesus, read the Bible daily, pray, tithe, attend every service, go on short term mission trips, and maybe teach Sunday school; God will make our lives perfect! It is a dangerous lie. God’s purpose for us is not a life filled with an ever increasing bunch of “stuff,” perfect health, perfect relationships…not in this world. His Will is a life of joy and dependence in Him in the midst of a never ending cycle of trial and respite, challenge, and rest.
And what if you are experiencing a prosperity gap?…
If you are the sort of person who needs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to inform you that Americans are miserable, it’s now official. According to the nation’s top public health agency, the rate at which we are killing ourselves is higher than it has been in half a century. Fifty years of relentless technological advances, social liberalization, optimization, and GDP growth, five decades that brought about the end of Soviet communism and the birth of a new global order based on free trade and open communication and an infinite array of goods and services and what have we got to show for it? Suicide.Suicide and the chimera of American prosperity, Matthew Walther, The Week, November 30, 2018
So, is there a different way of seeing, which you have forgotten?
Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness.
The entire ethical-legal principle on which the Hebrew Bible is based is that we own nothing. Everything the land, its produce, power, sovereignty, children and life itself belongs to God. We are mere trustees, guardians, on his behalf. We possess but we do not own. That is the basis of the infrastructure of social justice that made the Bible unique in its time and still transformative today.Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence
And what if your desire for prosperity has blinded you to a crisis which may come your way suddenly?
The Congressional Budget Office last week released its annual budget and economic outlook report, and although the news was gruesome, the report was greeted in Washington with a giant yawn. The assumption among Republicans and Democrats is that the political rewards for curbing runaway budget deficits are too meager to justify the risks. There’s a consensus to do nothing — and to hope that nothing goes disastrously wrong.
If we are to discuss these choices sensibly, we must know what the choices are. But the vague generalities offered by both the Republican and Democratic economists seem more intended to burnish their partisan credentials than to inform the public. The longer this continues, the riskier it becomes.
On this, the conservatives and liberals probably agree. Say the conservative economists: “There is no current evidence … that a crisis is on the horizon. But a debt crisis does not come slowly and visibly like a rising tide. It comes without warning, like an earthquake, as short-term bondholders attempt to escape the fiscal carnage.” We have been forewarned.Avoiding a Debt Crisis, By Robert Samuelson, Real Clear Politics, April 16, 2018
Legendary investor Jim Rogers sat down with Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget on this week’s episode of “The Bottom Line.” Rogers predicts a market crash in the next few years, one that he says will rival anything he has seen in his lifetime. Following is a transcript of the video.
Blodget: And what will trigger it?
Rogers: Well, it’s interesting because these things always start where we’re not looking. In 2007, Iceland went broke. People said, ‘Iceland? Is that a country? They have a market?’ And then Ireland went broke. And then Bear Stearns went broke. And Lehman Brothers went broke. They spiral like that. Always happens where we’re not looking.
I don’t know. It could be an American pension plan that goes broke, and many of them are broke, as you know. It could be some country we’re not watching. It could be all sorts of things. It could be war — unlikely to be war, but it’s going to be something. When you’re watching Business Insider and you see, “That’s so interesting. I didn’t know that company could go broke.” It goes broke. Send me an email, and then I’ll start watching.
Blodget: And how big a crash could we be looking at?
Rogers: It’s going to be the worst in your lifetime.
Blodget: I’ve had some pretty big ones in my lifetime.
Rogers: It’s going to be the biggest in my lifetime, and I’m older than you. No, it’s going to be serious stuff.
We’ve had financial problems in America — let’s use America — every four to seven years, since the beginning of the republic. Well, it’s been over eight since the last one.
This is the longest or second-longest in recorded history, so it’s coming.
Blodget: And we are in a situation where Western civilization already seems to be possibly collapsing, even with the market going up all the time. Often when you do have a financial calamity, you get huge turmoil in the political system. What happens politically if that happens?
Rogers: …. You’re going to see governments fail. You’re going to see countries fail, this time around. Iceland failed last time. Other countries fail. You’re going to see more of that.JIM ROGERS: The worst crash in our lifetime is coming, By Jacqui Frank and Kara Chin, Business Insider, June 9, 2017
Get ready. Because Paula showed us this – and look at the gap which the rich man gets to experience in the story…
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’
20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
We’re curious, then, if you take this verse seriously, because it brings the binary core value of loyal love/betrayal to the surface…
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Please let us know what you really want, here in the
Are the Cats Revealers?
By the way, one of the more interesting indicators of what you really care about… is cats…
Nearly half of American households are home to one or more cats, and we treat our 86 million felid companions remarkably, even extravagantly, well. Driven by their fussy palates, we spend $7 billion a year to feed them, to try comically elaborate medleys like “tuna in crab surimi consommé” or “Pumpkin Jack Splash.” We invest another few billion dollars annually in cat veterinary care, cat toys, cat litter, catnip, a little witch’s hat for Halloween.The Killer Cats Are Winning!, By Natalie Angier, New York Review of Books, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016 ISSUE
And those cats are killers…
In 2013, Marra and his colleagues decided to calculate a grand, nationwide estimate of just how much havoc free-ranging cats wreak on wildlife each year. They reviewed thousands of smaller reports: academic research, field counts, animal welfare data, pet owner surveys, kitty cam studies, cat regurgitation studies. They multiplied together variables like the number of owned and unowned cats in the US, the percentage of owned cats allowed to spend time outdoors, the percentage of those cats known to have hunted. They tried to be conservative, to lowball their numbers at every stage. Still, the final tallies were shocking: up to 4 billion birds, 22 billion small mammals, 822 million reptiles, and 299 million amphibians are killed by free-ranging cats each year—and that’s just in this country.The Killer Cats Are Winning!, By Natalie Angier, New York Review of Books, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016 ISSUE
And this news story from Hector Klumpp’s time in Kansas caught our attention…
Kansas Law Enforcement Officials Fear Potential Violence in Dispute Between Cat and Bird Advocates
(Bird City, KS) – It could be a long, hot summer in
this small northwestern Kansas town. Sources inside the top law enforcement
agencies in Kansas say they are bracing for a potential outbreak of violence in
the ongoing dispute between cat and bird advocates. “It looks like they’re
going to get caught in the middle of a national struggle,” said one highly
placed anonymous source.
According to secret documents uncovered in the past month, thousands of radical animal rights activists plan to descend on Bird City during the 4th of July holiday. Both the Bird Liberation Front (BLA) and Cats Are People Too (CAPTIVE) plan demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on day.
Bird City residents aren’t sure what to make of it.
“The mayor’s office received a letter the other day from the Animal Civil Liberties Union telling us we had to issue parade permits to these groups or face a federal civil rights investigation,” said one local politician, slowly shaking his head. “So I guess we’ll have to since they say it’s a free speech question. But what those folks don’t realize is Bird City was named after a fellow named Benjamin Bird who lived way back in the late 1800’s.”
That doesn’t matter, say advocates on both sides. “Bird City has come to symbolize something very important,” said BLA head Robin Aviary, when contacted via the BLA’s pigeon communication network.
“It’s the perfect setting for us to take our message to America. There is a horrible genocide going on in America and cats are the perpetrators. Millions of birds are being murdered every year by these domestic terrorists….and most pet owners aren’t even aware they’re subsidizing these killers.”
What’s especially troubling to some law enforcement officials is that the radical pro-cat advocates are laying low.
“It’s kind of eerie,” said one undercover agent who’s been investigating the cat groups for the past six months. “These people behind the cat groups have almost become like the cats themselves. You just can’t read their minds. They’re very secretive, always prowling about quietly. But we have been able to learn the Black Cat Party plans to set off a massive amount of fireworks on the 4th to try and disrupt the BLA’s march and pick off some of their allies in the air.”
This tension was inevitable, says noted Ivy League ethicist Peter Tenor.
“Animal rights advocates have been so successful in raising the consciousness of Americans that it was only a matter of time before people would start choosing sides and acting on their convictions.”
And for now, the bird lovers are the most outspoken. “And why not?” said Falcon Peregrine, author of Birds of Pray and Why Cats Are Atheists. “No national political, religious or cultural figure has spoken up for birds….with the exception of Alfred Hitchcock. But it’s not without reason our national symbol is a bird, not a cat.”
Bird lovers are also on the move on Capitol Hill.
“We want legislation passed to have the killing of birds by cats declared a federal hate crime punishable by house arrest. Let’s lock ’em up. Cats envy the ability of birds to fly and they’ve picked on them specifically because of their special characteristic,” said BLA leader Aviary. He also said the group is trying to recruit former Boston Celtic great Larry Bird to become their national goodwill ambassador.
Meanwhile, some law enforcement officials think it’s no surprise Kansas should become the national flashpoint in this controversy.
“Think about it,” said one insider, “there’s been constant tension in this state between the supporters of the Wildcats and the Jayhawks. Now you may think those are only mascot names. But as the people who’ve led the charge against discriminatory mascots have proven, mascots have far deeper meaning than we imagined.”
In a press conference held in the intersection of Grackle Boulevard and Lovebird Lane, Hector Klumpp, Director of the Division of Small Business Failure, called for peace.
“Think of what it will do to the business climate of Kansas if these animal instincts are unleashed. Pet stores will become civil war battlefields. Zoos will go berserk. Hunters will become the hunted. Pet owners will be assassinated in their sleep. Come on, let’s do some systems thinking here!”
But Julianne Newmarket, who lives with 137 cats on a ranch outside of Bird City, issued a subtle warning to Klumpp.
“Nature is all there is, and nature should be allowed to take its course. If I were Klumpp, I’d find somewhere else to celebrate the 4th of July. Otherwise, he could find himself in the midst of a cat-tastrophe.”