Nikabrik’s populism: A further thought on the appeal of Donald Trump

In her brilliant short essay “Nikabrik’s Candidate,” to which I linked last week, Gina Dalfonzo identifies the core of Nikabrik’s evil as a corrupted virtue.

There is absolutely no room in Nikabrik’s mind for the idea that a Telmarine could be good.  And at first we can sympathize; his people have suffered greatly under the Telmarines, and he is fiercely loyal to his people—a good quality.  But as Lewis frequently warned us, good qualities can be twisted and used for evil purposes. . . .

When his friend Trufflehunter reminds him that the Witch “was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race,” Nikabrik’s retort is telling:  “Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t.”  His own people and their safety are all that matter to him now.  Instead of being an important priority, this has become his only priority—and any attempt to remind him that other considerations exist brings only his contempt and anger.

This is how good people with strong, ingrained values—people who have invested time and money in the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and similarly noble causes—can come to support a man who changes his convictions more often than his shirts.  This is how people concerned about the dignity of the office of President end up flocking to a reality-show star who spends his days on Twitter calling people “dumb” and “loser.”  This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly.  As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals.

It’s important to understand this.  Nikabrik is full of hate, but it’s not because he’s “a hater.”  He’s unalterably and bitterly prejudiced against Telmarines, but it’s not because he’s “a bigot.”  Those are shallow characterizations for what are usually shallow attitudes, even if strongly held.  Nikabrik’s moral ill is far more perilous because far deeper, and rooted in legitimate emotional/spiritual needs.  Read more

God will not be without a witness

. . . no matter how hard the world might try to make it so.

Muslims are coming to Christ in amazing and mysterious ways.  Men and women have met Christ in a dream or vision.  Many others read the Qur’an in their own language for the first time (they memorize the Qur’an in Arabic) and realized they were lost.  When they turned to the New Testament and learned more about Jesus they decided to give their lives to Christ.

In spite of growing persecution against Christians and major challenges converts face, there is a growing movement of Muslims turning to Christ.  Missionary David Garrison stated, “We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history.”

I’ve been hearing these stories for a decade now, more and more frequently as the years have gone on.  There are some astounding stories related to visions of Jesus, including healings and people being raised from the dead.  Where his church cannot go, he still can.


Photo © 2011 by Wikimedia user Orijentolog.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Voting with a compass

I think Joe Carter is a little off to call this a single issue—it’s bigger than that—but aside from that caveat, he nails it:

The single issue that determines my vote—and I believe should determine how all Christians vote—is justice.

As Hunter Baker has explained, justice results from enforcing a moral order, which protects the freedom of human beings from malignant interference. A key component of this moral order is the recognition of human dignity as the foundational principle of freedom and human flourishing. Although the terms are not interchangeable, I believe the term “sanctity of life,” as defined by David Gushee, could serve as the standard definition for human dignity:

The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.



Photo © 2012 by Wikimedia user Shyamal.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

On naming the barbarians at the gates: A response to Mark Sandlin, Part I

In my nine years pastoring in the PC(USA), I never ran across Mark Sandlin.  I don’t just mean that I never met him, which is entirely unsurprising; it’s a big denomination, he pastors down South, and I never did.  I also mean that for all the conversations/debates I got into online across various websites, I never noticed his name.  (As far as I remember, anyway.)  Apparently, though, he’s something of a big wheel in the liberal wing of the American church, and this week my amazing wife called my attention to a column of his which asks a provocative question:

At what point do we get to say parts of Christianity are no longer Christian?

Sandlin opens with a brief YouTube clip of a preacher bragging about leading a teenaged boy to the Lord by punching him in the chest.  I don’t feel any need to repost the video; my own theology is sufficiently expressed by saying that whatever Lord this guy led that kid to, it isn’t one I know.  Sandlin acknowledges that this guy is an outlier, but nevertheless takes him as the jumping-off point for his column.  I think this piece deserves some careful interaction, and so I intend to respond to it in several parts; as you can probably guess, I have some critical things to say, but it seems right and proper to begin with some positive comments.

Read more

Poem of the Week

I love the Metaphysical poets.  Henry Vaughan wasn’t as great a poet as John Donne or George Herbert, but that’s mostly because he didn’t write as many truly great poems as those two men.  At his best, his poetry was among the most brilliant the English language has yet seen.  This is my favorite of his poems, a meditation inspired by the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus in John 3.

The Night

Henry Vaughan

John 3.2
      Through that pure virgin shrine,
That sacred veil drawn o’er Thy glorious noon,
That men might look and live, as glowworms shine,
         And face the moon,
    Wise Nicodemus saw such light
    As made him know his God by night.

      Most blest believer he!
Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes
Thy long-expected healing wings could see,
         When Thou didst rise!
    And, what can never more be done,
    Did at midnight speak with the Sun!

      O who will tell me where
He found Thee at that dead and silent hour?
What hallowed solitary ground did bear
         So rare a flower,
    Within whose sacred leaves did lie
    The fulness of the Deity?

      No mercy-seat of gold,
No dead and dusty cherub, nor carved stone,
But His own living works did my Lord hold
         And lodge alone;
    Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
    And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

      Dear night! this world’s defeat;
The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb;
The day of spirits; my soul’s calm retreat
         Which none disturb!
    Christ’s progress, and His prayer time;
    The hours to which high heaven doth chime;

      God’s silent, searching flight;
When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
         His still, soft call;
    His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch,
    When spirits their fair kindred catch.

      Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent,
Whose peace but by some angel’s wing or voice
         Is seldom rent,
    Then I in heaven all the long year
    Would keep, and never wander here.

      But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
         To every mire,
    And by this world’s ill-guiding light,
    Err more than I can do by night.

      There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
         See not all clear.
    O for that night! where I in Him
    Might live invisible and dim!

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Study for Jesus and Nicodemus, 1898-99.

Song of the Week

Tip of My Tongue

There’s an oasis in the heat of the day,
There’s a fire in the chill of night,
And a turnabout in circumstance
Makes each a hell in its own right.

I’ve been boxed in in the lowlands, in the canyons that think,
Been pushed to the brink of the precipice and dared not to blink.
I’ve been confounded in the whirlwind of what-ifs and dreams,
I’ve been burned by the turning of the wind back upon my own flames.

Knock the scales from my eyes,
Knock the words from my lungs.
I want to cry out,
It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Oh, I’ve seen through the walls of this kingdom of dust,
Felt the crucial revelation;
But the broad streets of the heart and the day-to-day meet
At a blind intersection.

I don’t want to be lonely, I don’t want to feel pain,
I don’t want to draw straws with the sons of Cain.
You can take it as a prayer if you’ll remember my name;
You can take it as the penance of a profane saint.


There’s an oasis in the heat of the day;
There’s fire in the chill of night.
When I know them both I’ll know your love—
I will feel it in the twilight—

As circumstance comes crashing through my walls like a train,
Or like a chorus from the mountains of the ocean floor,
Like the wind burst of bird wings taking flight in a hard rain,
Or like a mad dog on the far side of Dante’s door.

Chorus out

Words and music:  Mark Heard
 © 1992 iDEoLA Records
From the album 
Satellite Sky

Photo:  “Alcoholic Insomnia” ©2007 Kristaps Bergfelds.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Addition to the sidebar

A comment from my friend Kaleb Marshall prompted me to add a new site to the sidebar:  Spiritual Friendship.  I first discovered this group blog some time ago through the work of Wesley Hill, who’s one of the editors.  Here’s how the blog’s other editor, Ron Belgau, summarizes its thematic center:

Reading Aelred of Rievaulx’s little treatise On Spiritual Friendship as an undergraduate was a life-changing experience for me. Aelred, a 12th-century Cistercian abbot, insists that we need to test our beliefs about friendship with Scripture. The treatise is a series of dialogues in which three monks join Aelred to examine their ideas about friendship in light of their Christian faith.

One of Aelred’s insights made a big impact on me. He points out that friendship is based on shared goals, and distinguishes between different kinds of friendship: carnal friendship, based on shared pursuit of pleasure; worldly friendship, based on mutual advantage; and spiritual friendship, grounded in shared discipleship.

The dialogues helped me to see that although Christian discipleship is costly, it need not be lonely. Our culture has become very fixated on sex, but sex and romance are not the same as love. Nor is Christian love the same as the kind of casual friendship that is common in our culture (Facebook informs me that I currently have 554 “friends”).

Aelred insists that, contrary to the transitory nature of so many contemporary friendships, a friend in Christ “loves always” (Proverbs 17:17). He and the other monks discuss how to select and cultivate lasting and Christ-centered friendships.

Growing up as a gay teenager, the only messages I heard from the church were negative. Most in our culture—including many Christians—uphold romantic and sexual love as the most important form of love. But God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I just to be left out in the cold?

Aelred helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance. Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.

As Kaleb noted to me, the question “What should a same-sex attracted Christian do?” is a perfectly fair one to address to those who believe that sexual activity between two people of the same sex is intrinsically against God’s will, but it’s one which tends to be met with blunt-force answers that treat people as abstractions rather than as individuals.  Hill, Belgau, and their co-laborers for the gospel answer that question better than anyone else I’ve seen, from the inside.


Photo of Holyrood Abbey ©2006 Lazlo Ilyes.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Presidential candidate Saruman J. Trump?

From Narnia to Middle Earth with Donald Trump, courtesy of The Federalist:

I’m the best at talking to Sauron, I really am.  Tough guy, tough negotiator but you really just have to have a man-to-man.  Not like the people running Gondor, they’re stupid.  I mean, how stupid are they?  Now, my tower – and let me tell you, it’s the biggest, classiest tower, great views of the whole ring of stone and the forest and the river – I can get him on the line.  Doesn’t answer anybody else, but when I want him, here’s there.  I’ll be so good at dealing with him, it’ll make your head spin.

Read the whole thing—it’s priceless.


Orthanc, tower of Isengard.  Public domain.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice . . .

. . . in practice, however, there is.

Things that should work, don’t.  Things that shouldn’t go wrong, do.  Other people act in ways that make absolutely no sense to us (though if we looked more closely at our own sin and saw it more clearly, their actions would make more sense to us, at any rate; but of course, we don’t want to).  The unlikely happens, spoiling our plans, and always (it seems) at the irredeemable moment.  The world outside our head proves to be a chaotic system filled with influences of which we know nothing, far more complex—and, consequently, far less tractable—than the world as we construct it inside our head.

This is one reason for the temptation Courtney Martin has dubbed “the reductive seduction of other people’s problems.”Read more

Enter the Carnival Sage

The above image is a detail of a painting (oil on wood) by Don Swartzentruber, one of the art teachers at the high school here in town (and also, I believe, an adjunct art professor at Grace College).  Don has an interesting side project going on, to which I’ve been meaning to link.  He calls it the Carnival Sage project, and as best as I can summarize it, the idea is to use visual storytelling to explore various issues and prompt discussion which goes beyond (or around) the reflexive commentary that fills so much of our media.  Check out the Facebook page and see what you think.