September 30, 2020
As I was trying to make sense of last night’s first presidential debate (to call it a playground brawl would be an insult to playground brawls everywhere), I thought of this article I wrote four years ago as the Trump-Clinton debates were rolling out. God gives us the leaders we deserve, I wrote. Well, it’s four years later, and I can only think of one thing right now.
Or this. Sean Connery, our nation turns its wretched eyes to you.
You be the judge how much of what I wrote back then still applies.
October 4, 2016
“And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” ~ Judges 9:15
In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus had to choose to sail between Scylla – a 6-headed sea monster, and Charybdis – a giant ship-devouring whirlpool. There was no way to navigate safely between them. Whichever path he chose would lead to wreckage and heartache.
Welcome to the American election in 2016. If there wasn’t so much at stake, it would almost be fun to watch. Political theater of the highest order, so unbelievable it would only have been found in a cheap paperback before now.
How is it possible that when the dust has all settled, the only viable choice for who would rule the free world comes down to: 1) a pathological liar whose reckless ambition for office and lust for money supersedes all other considerations including the nation’s secrets, and who was one FBI-soft-pedal-investigation away from being an indicted felon, and 2) a petulant narcissist, serial adulterer and school-yard bully with a third-grade vocabulary and a fragile ego who calls himself a genius for losing a billion dollars and can’t think of a thing to ask forgiveness for from God.
Sorry for beating around the bush – I know I should just tell you how I feel.
Speaking of bushes, the book of Judges is the story of an age from Israel’s distant past when ‘there was no king…everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ Good leaders were hard to come by in those days. In Judges 9 is a parable about trees looking for someone to lead them. They work their way down from an olive tree to a fig to a vine, and when each declines, they ask a bramble bush to lead them. The bramble accepts but warns the people that their choice will have consequences, especially if they have not acted in good faith and integrity. Which of course, they haven’t.
But that’s one of the lessons of the parable. A bramble leader could only be chosen by a bramble people.
I have always contended that God gives us the leaders we deserve. This election is more on the American people than anything else. It’s a plebiscite on our national character. We have finally reached the bread-and-circuses stage in a great power’s decline. We prefer entertainment over integrity. Party over people. Talking points over truth. Short-term gain over looming disaster. Freedom without boundaries. Pleasure without sacrifice.
A bramble leader could only be chosen by a bramble people.
When I think back a year ago to the pool of candidates gearing up to run for office, I was thrilled by what I was seeing. There were some good people in there. With good ideas. And good track records. At a critical time in our country’s history – where our economy was fragile, and our military weakening, and divisiveness between us was growing – it was an opportunity to have a robust, adult national conversation about these matters. Yet this is what emerged.
To now be a month away from the election, and to see that what is occupying our attention most is the waist-line of a former Miss Universe winner rather than the genocide of the Syrian people, or a national debt bringing us to the edge of night, or the ever-present and growing risk of a brand of terrorism we refuse to call by name – why this is madness.
But this is us. This is who we are as a country. The bramble is in us, and we want the bramble to rule over us.
Even now the great debate among Christians is whom to pull the level for. But I think this is the least of our responsibilities now. I hear it said by many Christians that at least with Donald Trump the opportunity exists to sway him and steer him in the right direction – while with Hillary Clinton, you know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s the best argument that can be made for a Trump presidency.
But to those looking to Trump to win the day for religious liberty, or sane immigration laws, or appointing the right Supreme Court justices, I hope you realize that with a man of this temperament and character, he could just as easily show you the door the day after the election and start calling you names. He’s in this for one reason, and it’s what he puts on all his buildings and properties.
We do what we should always be doing, and should never stop doing. Going out into our world…and clearing bramble. In the name of the one who truly holds the name above all names.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.