Grace in the Trump Era

I’m about to get real about my sinful nature, so please be kind.

The election of Donald J. Trump has thrust me into a battle of flesh versus grace like I have never experienced before. At no time in my life have I felt more convicted yet less prepared to live out the message of Jesus, to love our enemies.

“…I say to you, love your enemy…respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. What reward do you deserve if you only love the loveable? How are you any different from others if you limit your kindness only to your friends?” Matthew 5:43-47

I’ve read this scripture, and the many like it countless times, but it’s never called out to me like it does now. I’ve always considered myself a loving, forgiving, and tolerant person, but the emotions that have risen up in me the past 18 months have been remarkably ugly and uncharacteristic. I loathe the shadow that seems to be rising within me, the bitterness swelling inside. I fear a dangerous reunion with depression and anxiety lurking for me every night, and I realize that this way of living…this swimming in an ocean of toxicity is not sustainable. There’s a quickening in my heart every time I react to our President with disgust, fury, and despair, and I recognize this quickening as a challenge I’m woefully unequipped to sufficiently manage.

I desire to have the heart of Jesus towards Trump, not because I want to be a “good Christian” or because I have something to prove, or want to “appear” holy and faithful, but because I believe that love heals and hate destroys. I feel the tremor of the voice of Jesus deep in my soul saying, “this is your Mount Everest Renee’. This is your purpose, right here, right now. This is who I’ve made you to be…a voice of light and love in this moment, a peacemaker, a woman who learns to wholeheartedly give and receive grace because she fully grasps that every one of my creations is worthy. Your life can be a testament to how I love you and every other human on this earth without conditions, without reservations. If you will allow me to transform your heart so that you can love who you’ve deemed unlovable, then you will break this destructive cycle and breathe in the freshness of my tender spirit in a way you’ve never experienced.” I want to respond to this persistent rumbling in my core, but my human nature cannot summon it. Sealing the goal for grace in my mind has not translated to action in my heart. I pray for the Lord’s heart towards a man I believe is undeserving of grace and then I scoff at myself as I reflect on the knowledge that grace IS exactly that… undeserved favor! If he could earn it then it wouldn’t be grace.

Grace for Trump is not the only place I struggle.

I yearn to have the heart of Jesus towards myself. I intend to offer myself love and forgiveness, but every time I respond to others from a place of judgment and exasperation, my heart sinks in shame. There has been a heaviness, a sadness, a separateness that isolates me from the love I used to sense in my daily life. I fear there’s no place for me anymore. I wonder if the wilderness has swallowed me whole. I scold myself for lacking the heart of Jesus, even while I’m consciously seeking it out. My internal dialogue is not one of compassion or hope as I continually disappoint myself in the journey towards becoming love. I am dispirited by my grave inability to create a gentleness in my heart when I so badly want to be an example of the love of Jesus. This year, I have teetered between healthy accountability and severe self-shaming. I pray for the Lord’s heart towards myself knowing that no amount of good deeds could ever earn His blessings. If I could earn it, then it wouldn’t be grace.

This journey for grace is more wearisome than I expected.

I dedicated this year to grace and I am persistently tested, consistently repenting, consciously aware of every ungracious thought and action. I have hit my knees begging for the Lord’s heart towards those I don’t understand, those I vehemently disagree with, those I fear. I have grappled over how to love my enemies..truly, radically love them. It’s seemingly effortless to flippantly say, “I will love my enemies.” It’s a different endeavor altogether to react from a place of benevolence when I come face to face with an adversary’s hostile shouts, venomous words, and furious eyes. I want to behold myself and others with generosity. I want a lens of redemption to filter out the world’s perspective so that visions of love, grace and mercy are all that remain. I want an agape love to spill out of me in a life-giving stream. I want to feel the strength of God’s love lifting me up in my weakest moments so that I may lift the burden of lovelessness and isolation from those who are wounded and lonely.

I am starving for a grace that glides naturally from my being, but the war of words raging inside my head has done nothing to encourage the love of God in my heart, and so I repent. I repent for making it about me. I repent of my bitterness. I repent of my judgment. I repent of my anger. I repent of my need to be right. My flesh reminds me every day that I am incapable of transforming my heart without supernatural intervention.

Below is a visual of the candid and often unpleasant inner workings of my daily thought life. Beware that it is brutal. I am not proud of where I’m at, but I am hopeful, as I believe The Lord is working on me every second of every day. I rarely make it to column 3 (The Truth), and even when I do, it isn’t without kicking and screaming. God’s wisdom has yet to take root in my heart, but that is my constant prayer.

My Flesh = My Worldly Response = My Knee Jerk Reaction = My Sin My Human Struggle for Grace = My Self Talk God’s Wisdom = The Truth
Trump is evil and there’s little to no explanation for supporting a man who bullies and disparages war heroes, immigrants, refugees, minorities, women, the disabled, the dying, leaders of ally countries, literally anyone who disagrees with him! Ugh! I hate this sin…this tendency to judge others that lives and thrives within me. I am not blameless. I am also guilty of making fun of others, laughing at jokes that are in poor taste, thinking less of certain people when I feel justified. In fact, I do this to Trump and feel TOTALLY justified! BUT, at least I’m willing to reflect on my faults and ask for forgiveness. At least I don’t live my life committing these offenses without any remorse! And, here I go again feeding the sin that enjoys its lofty place in my heart. Why can’t I get this grace thing right?! Why am I always making excuses for my lack of grace? Why can’t I will myself to love the way God loves? I’m so bad at this! I’ll never figure out how to love those my flesh has deemed unlovable! Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard…His gift of love and favor now cascades over us, all because Jesus, the Anointed One, has liberated us from guilt… Romans 3:23-24
I am physically ill as I observe how Trump fuels the fire of hatred! I literally can’t think of another person who can stir the malignant brew of animosity more effectively than our current President. And yet I give myself a pass as I fuel the fire of hatred with name-calling, negative social media posts, and fruitless conversations regarding my disgust for him! I cannot fight hate with hate, so why do I keep ending up here?! Shame on me, shame on me, shame on me! You are forgiven and so is he.
How is it possible that Trump’s Christian supporters can’t see how he capitalizes on fear to win their support and that fear is NOT from The Lord?!?! Yet, I’m full of fear too! My reaction to his policies and vicious rhetoric sends me into a whirlwind of fitful nights and dark days envisioning nightmarish outcomes. I’m guilty of allowing fear to rule my heart, as I fear his presidency will bring us to war and/or tear our country apart. I provide fear with a playground as I watch the news, read his tweets, participate in relationships that serve as an echo chamber. I am once again doing the very thing I claim to hate so much! If my faith is in The Lord, then there would be no fear! God will never give us the spirit of fearing men or others. The Holy Spirit gives us mighty power, love, and self-control…the light of revelation. 2 Timothy 1:7
I have yet to observe any behavior from Trump that exemplifies the love of Jesus, so why do so many “Christians” support him? Maybe I no longer identify as being a Christian when the reputation of some seems to be that of hypocrisy, intolerance, racism, nationalism, pridefulness, dishonesty, fear-mongering, hatefulness, bitterness, intimidation, un-forgiveness, belligerence, sexism… I have not been appointed judge of moral character. Who am I to act as if I have everything figured out and anyone who disagrees is blind? Who do I think I am?!?! How many times have I encouraged others to dial back their compulsion to be right? How many times have I prayed for the softening of hearts and the opening of ears and the healing of relationships? Yet, here I am dialing into the rage and digging in my heels. HOWEVER, he has admitted he’s never had to ask for forgiveness. At the very least I have the insight to know when I’ve sinned and the ability to feel remorse. At least I’m looking for a way to show love even when I REALLY don’t want to. And here I go again with my righteous anger, my rationalization of denying grace. Once again I’ve failed! God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! John 3:17
Trump’s narcissism, pride, and lack of any humility whatsoever makes it substantially difficult for me to look at his face, hear his voice, read his words. I look at him and feel evil, see evil, hear evil. He stands for everything my parents taught me to avoid: dishonesty, bullying, disrespect, dishonor, selfishness, vanity, anger, cruelty, hubris, and the list goes on and on. He represents the opposite of every quality I want modeled for my children. He is everything I was taught not to be. The things he is praised for are the very same things I’ve been punished for. This posture of knowing all there is to know about a man I’ve never met shines a light on the sin of pride and superiority that lives inside of me too. My acidic reaction to Trump is not a seed planted by my Father. This is not a root that bears the fruit of love. This visceral reverberation spreads a twilight over my circle of influence when my desire is to bring the sunrise. So, why is this so damn hard?!?! If I want something SO badly, why can’t I just make it happen? Why can’t I turn myself into the loving and gracious human being I know the Lord desires me to be? I’m so frustrated with this journey. I feel like giving up on my search for grace. Lord, I cannot love the way you love without your heart. Please transform me! Please impart in me the Spirit of Love over the spirit of rightness! We are both struggling sinners and yet “Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly!”

Romans 5:8

If I’m supposed to give Trump grace, then he and every one of his defenders need to give (fill in the blank) grace! I can’t wrap my head around the people who stand up for his abhorrent behavior and then get defensive when someone reacts with anger in return. Trump started the racist and outlandish birther conspiracy against Obama, yet his supporters are up in arms over the Russian investigation. I hear people belaboring how upset they are with Robert De Niro for yelling an obscenity at an award show, yet these same people cheer when Trump calls NFL players “sons of bitches” and join in the chanting, “lock her up,” and applaud when he mercilessly picks on John McCain, and rallies around him when he encourages his supporters to physically harm protesters. I’m stunned and sickened that he can talk about grabbing women’s pussy’s and how easy it is to take advantage of them because he’s powerful and rich, but yet his base continues to talk about Bill Clinton. It feels to me as if deceit and sexual assault and misconduct are completely forgivable as long as you’re on the “right” side. The false virtues I’ve witnessed makes me definitively unwell. The double standard is outrageous! What is this hypocrisy?!?! Again, grace is undeserved favor and I need it too! Grace does not wait for the person to get everything right before it shows up. It’s not even waiting for us to get one thing right. If I insist on Trump changing his modus operandi before I change my heart towards him, then I will continue to run low on peace and I will exhaust myself chasing grace. There is no positive change that can come from my despondency. Hope is is not ignited by a fire of vindictiveness. Redemption and reconciliation will never grow from a place of hostility. I must find a way to allow the permanent station of grace to take camp in my heart, but I’m finding it nearly impossible and therefore I’m afraid I’m failing at being Love. “The Son of Man has come to seek out and to give life to those who are lost.” Luke 19:10

He is seeking us out even while we head in the wrong direction. Jesus views us through the eyes of love because we are made in His image and we have been reconciled to Him through the sacrifice of the savior. He does not withhold his love based on our behavior…He loves us in despite of it. The truth is that His transformative love is available to every one of us, and He will love me through my journey no matter how many wrong turns I take.

If you are offended for him, standing up for him, defending him, I feel like screaming, “he’s not the one that needs protecting! It’s those he oppresses and bullies and demeans and flippantly disregards that need protection!” If you can’t see the hurt he has caused, the hate he has stirred, the fear-mongering tactics he’s forced down the throats of anyone who will listen, then I don’t know how it is we are living on the same planet. There are so many things I can do to fight injustice, protect the oppressed, love the hurting, care for the poor, and none of those things require vitriol. I only make my heart-sick and the divisions in my circle of influence more polarized when I engage in shaming, finger-pointing, blaming, outrage, and resentment. Sometimes I witness myself expending more energy on being against someone than being for those who need me to stand with them. I am so disappointed that I have come to a place where my knee-jerk reaction is to occupy a space of indignation rather than a space of love and grace. I am terrified that I will never escape this murky water I’m drowning in. Where are you God?! I beg you to lift the heaviness of this contempt that has made its home in my heart the past 18 months. I cannot move forward bearing beautiful fruit without your transformative power! This all feels impossible! “Looking straight into their eyes, Jesus replied, Humanly speaking…no one can save himself. But what seems impossible to you is never impossible to God!” Matthew 19:26

I’m exhausted from this struggle. I’m exhausted just writing and reading about this struggle. Even while I seek His heart, strive to love the way He calls us to love, attempt to offer grace in all situations to all people, I feel abandoned to blindly feel my way through this chaos on my own. I don’t know how to give grace to Trump or to those who support him no matter what he says or does, but I do know that the Lord loves him and every single one of His creations regardless of our misdeeds and shortcomings. I know that as much as I focus on Trump’s need for forgiveness and grace, I need the very same things! I’m tempted to berate myself for my lack of love, but I know that’s not God’s desire for me. I know He is inviting me to rely on Him. Today, I feel alone. Today, I feel lost. Today, I wonder what road lies ahead. Today, I feel fatigue setting in as I relentlessly beg for a transformation. Today, my spirit is waning as I fruitlessly search for a heart I can’t create on my own. Today, I ask the creator to breathe new life into me. Today, I meditate on The Word that says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” – Psalm 34:18.

I imagine 2 main responses to my struggle:

  1. If you’re responding to me with disbelief, disappointment, or even disgust that I could have so much darkness in my heart towards a man I don’t even know, then I challenge you to consider that those are the very same feelings I share in response to Trump. If you’re feeling “column 1” feelings about me, let me be the first to acknowledge that I get it. If you’re sitting in judgement about me or anyone else during this highly polarized era of “othering,” would you join me in my effort to move to “column 3?” I don’t make this request because I need you to like me, but because I want us all to live in a place of wholeness and grace. I want us all to experience one another as God experiences us. I want us all to rest in a place of peace and joy as we face our daily lives in community with one another. I want us to find a way to give each other grace in this messy, broken, imperfect world full of messy, broken, imperfect people. I want us to conquer hate with love! I could try to convince you that I’m not a terrible person, but let me just admit that I’m a sinful human being who is seeking grace and striving to have the heart of the Lord no matter how many times I fail.
  2. If you’re responding with disbelief, disappointment or even disgust that I am making an effort to “let Trump off the hook so easily,” I want to be clear that seeking grace is not justifying, excusing, or trivializing wrong-doings. I strongly believe that lies, racism, sexism, oppression, and hate all have to be addressed and consequences are necessary. Grace can be offered without brushing anything under the rug or minimizing the ramifications of someone’s behavior. I believe that in order to be a light in this world we must be pillars of truth, which requires the courage to speak against polluting messages and the willingness to condemn untruths. We must speak up and speak out, and I believe that doing so from a place of love is the only way we can escape the cancer of “column 1.” I believe rising above the fury is the quickest path to a place of unification and healing. If you connect with my “column 1” feelings about Trump, let me be the first to acknowledge that I get it. If you’re sitting in judgement about him or anyone else during this highly polarized era of “othering,” would you join me in my effort to move to “column 3?” I believe that only love is sustainable. I believe radical love and profound forgiveness are powerfully transformative. I believe there’s a path that allows us to stand up for what is right without succumbing to despondency and animosity. I believe there’s a journey ahead that doesn’t include hate, but rather calls us to practice a communion of reconciliation so that we may avoid the death of our joy and the joy of those around us. I believe we can be breath in breathless moments rather than oxygen fueling the fire.

My life is full of choices that can move me towards grace or away. If I am to be an ambassador of redemption I cannot do so by engaging in maliciousness. I am choosing to create a community that bonds over inclusivity versus causticity. I am seeking a way to stand for justice and offer grace simultaneously. I don’t believe it has to be either/or…I want to live a life of both. I want to find a way to hold the hands of the oppressed, the vulnerable, the hurting, and claim out loud what I believe is right and worthy without pointing fingers, placing blame, screaming judgement, spreading condemnation or ostracizing. I want to love loudly and stand boldly for what’s fair, just, and good without being against anyone. I want to be an example of grace’s transformative power. I want the Lord to brand my heart with the reminder that every single one of us is His creation. I want to remember that we all require healing and that love conquers all. I cannot in good conscience continue to wallow in bitterness when I know with all my being that hate will not defeat hate and shame will not fill hearts with loving-acceptance and compassion. I want to live from a place where: Justice is necessary and Grace is transformative!

As I continue to wrestle with grace in the Trump era, I invite you to join me in reflecting on this beautiful scripture:

Don’t let anger control you or be fuel for revenge, not for even a day…And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Lay aside bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults. But instead be kind and affectionate toward one another. Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.” Ephesians 4:26-32

And when we fail, may we remember that we are forgiven.

A Lesson from my Letter to Mormons

Words Matter

After posting my blog, A Letter to Mormons, I received a comment from a woman who spoke to an issue I think many of us have struggled with on both sides of the fence. I want to bring attention to this quote because I have spent weeks sifting through its meaning and how it made me feel.

The woman wrote, “I live in Utah, where my husband and I have moved to dedicate our lives to sharing truth with Mormons and helping them out of their religious cult, which is exactly what it is.”

When I read this comment, my heart sank, blood rushed to my head, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I physically bristled. I immediately began imagining how hurtful this statement could be to the Mormons following the comments on my blog. The whole purpose of my letter was to connect with my Mormon neighbors and this divisive comment broke my heart. I will admit that I struggled with anger as I felt the need to defend all the open-hearted, courageous, loving Mormons who had poured their hearts out in their responses to me and trusted me enough to share their stories. After I processed my initial disappointment, I paused. I paused and considered all the times I had heard this term used in my circle of influence while growing up. It was not until this moment that I realized how damaging this 4-letter word could be. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never thought about the implications of this language until now. I had always assumed that Mormons knew what non-Mormons meant when they used the term “cult” and that any hurt feelings were due to a misunderstanding. Please forgive me for my short-sightedness. As I was reflecting I began to put myself in the shoes of my Mormon neighbors (and new friends, Praise God) and it brought me back to the many moments of name-calling, shaming, and embarrassment I’ve endured throughout my life when I didn’t fit someone’s mold. I began to realize how painful this must be to hear and how nasty it must sound even when the person using the word doesn’t have malicious intent.

First, I want to share (for better or worse) how this term was used in my world. I grew up in a non-denominational Christian household and I was taught that a cult was any faction of Christianity that adds to or changes the Holy Bible, or any religious group that dismisses or alters the main tenets of the Christian faith with unorthodox beliefs. If this is the theological definition and it’s taken at face value, then it explains why Mormonism (with its addition of The Book of Mormon) would be referred to as a cult by non-Mormons who practice the Christian faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. So, I grew up believing that the term “cult” was a religious technicality that described why and how our faiths and belief systems are different, and although an important difference from my faith perspective, I had not considered all the inherent damage that could be caused from casually throwing this word around.

After some soul searching the last couple of months I’ve come to realize that even when non-Mormons believe this definition, refer to this definition, and use this definition to substantiate their desire to share their faith with Mormons, the issue is how this word makes people feel…what it does to a person’s heart. In our present day and age, the word “cult” goes beyond the theological definition and carries a much heavier and sinister connotation since the tragedies of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, TX in 1993, the 1997 California Heaven’s Gate group suicide, and many others.

Words matter. Words can cut us to the bone and labels can destroy any chance of connection we may have with another person. Even if you are referring to the genuine theological definition please stop and consider how this word might make people feel. Consider what is heard when you use this label. When I hear the word “cult”, I picture darkness, fear, coercion, abduction, suicide, murder, death, loss, powerlessness, brain-washing, evil. If we are truly seeking to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Mormon neighbors, are these the words we want them hearing us use to describe them? Are these the words that open another’s heart to our faith story? Are these the words that build bridges and fuse connections? Are these the words that open the doors to vulnerability and whole-heartedness? Are these the words that ignite receptiveness and intrigue? Do these words break down walls and allow for authentic, loving, respectful dialogue?

If someone approaches me with a label that feels like name-calling, my defenses go up, my walls get higher, my heart closes shop and there is no longer room for relationship. I am not going to hear how you love me and care for me and want to share your heart with me after you’ve insinuated that I am dark, scary, and evil. Labeling is not helpful. Relationship is helpful. Breaking bread and fellowship are helpful. Lifting others up is helpful. Loving one another, sharing each other’s story, giving context to why we believe what we believe is helpful. Pointing fingers, calling names, using words that make others feel like they have to defend who they are and what they believe is not helpful…even when you have the best of intentions.

Regardless of technical definitions, the words we use to speak to one another or about one another often carry emotional meaning, which in turn causes emotional reactions. Regardless of why you choose to use a certain term, considering how your language affects a person’s heart is more important than driving home the point you are trying to make. The words you choose matter.

With all of this being said, I also had comments from readers that have experienced what they called a “kidnapping” of a loved one by the Mormon Church. I have not experienced this with the LDS community, but I want to share my story. There are churches of all faiths and denominations that have unfit representatives who use their church to abuse power and perpetuate sin. My great aunt was preyed upon by a “pastor” of an evangelical church in rural Oklahoma. She wasn’t able to have children, so he used the hole in her heart, the vulnerability, the pain to convince her to adopt him. He has parents, a wife and kids, a church and yet he is also an adopted son of my great aunt. She uses her life savings to pay for his expensive trips, his gorgeous house, and his kid’s college tuition. As soon as she began to show signs of forgetfulness, he moved her into a nursing home and wouldn’t let her leave. My family isn’t allowed to visit her because he is now her guardian and has requested that none of us be allowed into the nursing facility to see her. It has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, rage-inducing, grief-stricken process to watch and live. So, please let me say that if you’ve experienced something similar I can understand, truly understand, why you would look at the religion affiliated with that person or those people who tore your family apart and feel nothing but disgust, fear, and anger towards them. The challenges for me and for anyone who has experienced something comparable to this is to (1) refrain from judging the whole lot according to the actions of a few and (2) seek the heart of Jesus who is the only one with the grace to love and forgive all people under all circumstances.

If we do witness this sort of behavior in our faith communities, we must speak up. If there are people attending a church, any church, who begin to shun their family because they practice a different faith or if there are people being “ex-communicated” for their sin, their lack of faith, their decisions, their lifestyle, their humanness, then we are called by Jesus to call this out. Jesus was not exclusionary. Jesus did not say “love those who are like you” or “love those who live up to your moral standards” or “love those who attend the same church” or “love those who never show their sin.” Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

In summary, if we’re going to love like Jesus and proclaim a faith in a God who is Love then we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be cautious and caring with our words, bold in our response to injustice, forgiving of those who have hurt us, and inclusive of all of God’s image bearers! When we share our faith and our truth and our beliefs, may we do so with words of love void of judgement, words of connection void of shame, words that build bridges instead of walls and words that embrace the hearts of others in the warmth of agape love. May we always speak our truth with kindness. Words matter!