From the moment Donald Trump began his Presidential campaign last year, he promised to “Make America Great Again”. I was never all that sure what he meant (and 100 days later it’s increasingly clear that neither did he), but it now apparently involves bluster, bullying, toughness, Tweeting, bombing, golfing, platitudes, wall building, and winning—lots and lots of tiresome winning.
This grand winner’s march toward “national greatness” has been noticeably accompanied by a startling lack of decency, compassion, dignity, or class, which all underscores the painful truth:
Goodness isn’t part of the plan. It’s never been part of the plan. Goodness is not coming.
Sadder still, is that many of Trump’s professed Christians supporters want all of this, while still claiming Christ. They want to steamroll the nation into this supposed greatness—and they want Jesus to endorse it.
The only problem, is Jesus. He apparently had very little interest in such aspirations of winning.
He talked of the last being first,
of becoming servant of all,
of laying down one’s life for one’s friends,
of denying oneself,
of healing the hurting,
of caring for the poor,
of elevating the marginalized,
of freeing the oppressed,
of seeing the overlooked,
of being the peacemakers,
the foot washers,
the cheek turners,
the mercy givers,
He was a refugee, he was homeless, and he allowed himself to be captured and killed. Using Donald Trump’s own criteria, Jesus was a loser—which is why you can’t emulate both of them simultaneously.
In fact, Jesus was openly looking for losers; people who would love sacrificially and live others-centered. His life as described in the Gospels, was and is a beautifully subversive manifesto of smallness and kindness and goodness; continually affirming the sacredness of sacrifice, the dignity in humility, the redemptive nature of forgiveness.
But smallness, kindness, goodness, sacrifice, humility, and forgiveness don’t make for effective campaign slogans do they? They don’t merit boxy red hats.
They don’t poke the tender places of anxiety and hatred.
They don’t stoke the fires of latent racism and homophobia.
They don’t manufacture easy urgency.
They don’t resonate when screamed from behind a podium.
They don’t fire up the anxious, terrified everyman.
They don’t appeal to the lowest common denominator.
And sadly, they don’t rally the Bible Belt, garner the support of popular Evangelists, or reach into the souls of many Christians anymore either—which for a person of faith is the bigger story; the growing irrelevance of Jesus in the faith tradition that bears his name.
Apparently these days it’s simply not politically sound or theologically necessary to elevate character, champion dignity, or celebrate integrity. We’ve grown pretty lousy as a society of lifting up such goodness as something for our children to strive for and as a result, less and less of them seem to have any desire for it.
This is perhaps America’s gravest shared error: whether we’re religious or not, we have all conspired together to sacrifice goodness on the altar of greatness. We have often defined the win as our own prosperity and comfort at any cost to others, which is perhaps why Donald Trump is the perfect President to represent us right now. Maybe he really is the best reflection of what our nation values, desires, and seeks to be anymore. Maybe he is what we want for our children. I’m praying he isn’t. I hoping more matters to us. I’m still betting on Love to pull out an overtime victory.
As a person of faith, I can only strain to keep my eyes fixed on the example of Jesus and allow that to be the measurement of my success; to endeavor as best I can to emulate his life, one lived with an open hand and not a closed fist, one where the true winning is found in wanting for my neighbor all that I desire for myself—and fighting like hell for them to have it.
And this is what America has always been at its very best anyway: a safe harbor for disparate souls who believe they are made better by their differences and stronger in their solidarity. It is in the shared declaration of our interdependence that the great goodness blossoms—in unity, equality, and diversity.
While speaking to a large crowd mixed with the curious, the devoted, and the skeptical, Jesus asked this question:
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
I’m going to keep asking this question of myself, of the global Church I belong to, and of the nation I gratefully call home—because how we answer it will define us.
Our answer will show our children what we value.
It will mark out the life they should seek and the people they should aspire to become.
It will shape our future.
It will be the shared legacy we leave the world.
It will redefine the win for our nation.
I’m not at all interested in making America great. I’d rather see us make Americans good, and hold on to our souls.
Donald Trump said that if he were elected, we would all get really tired of winning. He was surely prophetic, because I am fully exhausted with his brand of winning and that it yields. Give me the givers and the forgivers any day of the week.
If this is what winning looks like—I’d much rather cast my lot with the losers.
Originally Published on John Pavlovitz
Photo: Getty Images