Last month in the Smoky Mountains
Personal Notes from Mike
  • Reading Aaron David Miller's, The End of Greatness:  Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President.  Very perceptive.
  • I just spent 3 days at Rend Lake with the staff and some of the lay leadership of the Mattoon Church.  A good experience.
  • The garden is finally in, just ahead of the frost the other night.  There are a hundred tomatoes ripening in our kitchen, baskets of radishes and radish greens, a dishpan of spinach in the refrigerator, dozens of beets and beet greens, swiss chard, lettuce, and hot peppers.  I am thankful once again for the gifts the gardens give us.
 


November 13, 2016
Last One Standing:  Trump
The 45th president of the United States will be Donald Trump.  I've refrained from writing about this campaign...out of respect to my various readers; you have not all been of one mind.  Don't misinterpret my neutrality in these Sunday letters:  I had no trouble deciding how to cast my vote; and I voted wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.  It's just that I kept my thoughts about the candidates to myself:  both in these letters and in comments I made from the pulpit.
 
Was I a coward...to not speak out?  Of course I can rationalize my silence.  In the states that ultimately swung the election for Mr. Trump, (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) I only have six readers.  And I know for a fact that those six readers voted the same way I did.  My speaking up would not have changed the election result.
 
This election was so vitriolic that I reckoned I would actually lose readers and relationships if I gave my opinion.  And you could reasonable condemn me for that:  How good can a relationship really be if it cannot weather differences of opinions?  How much value can a friendship hold if friends cannot stretch and nudge each other to think more thoroughly or wisely? What's the point of keeping a reader who is too righteous or emotional to accept a thoughtful (albeit contrary) opinion I might hold? So I am wondering:  Am I a coward...or am I courageous to keep my relationships intact with my friends and readers...in order that we might start some serious conversation once the emotions take a hiatus?  I honestly don't know which I am.
 
This was the 58th election held in American history.  It is the fifth time a man has won the presidency while his opponent got more votes.  Due to a quirk in our constitution, it actually matters more which states you win than how many Americans actually vote for you.  Mr. Trump will join John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush in this category.  But we are used to having presidents we didn't really vote for:  all the Vice Presidents who ascended to office were not our top choices:  John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford.   And if we add in the elected presidents who failed to attain 50% in their plurality victories, we have to raise our eyebrows at Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, James Garfield, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Harry Truman (1948.)  So of our 45 presidents, 24 of them have not been chosen by a 50% (plus one) result at the ballot box.  That is more than half our presidents:  who have started out a term with the majority of voters against them.  Each one has had to figure out how to proceed with such a divided electorate.
 
One of the disappointments of this election is that the United States did not finally elect a woman to be president.  I say this in a non-partisan way.  Politics and candidates aside, the people of our country deserve to have that glass ceiling blown off.  We are only hurting ourselves as long as it exists.
 
When people ask me what to expect from Mr. Trump, I don't know how to answer that question.  The campaign gave us no clues.  Campaigning and governing are always distinctly different.  No modern candidate can deliver what they promise...very little of it.  But usually campaigns and political parties give us some inkling of the decisions and directions to come.  

Not this year, however.  Mr. Trump's campaign was a cartoon, from beginning to end.  And it turns out that no one in either party knows how to beat a cartoon.  We saw 16 other Republicans try and we saw one of the mightiest political machines (Clinton's) of our era try.  The only other candidate in the past year who had any popular traction was Bernie Sanders, a socialist.  Mr. Trump's entire campaign was based on name-calling, bluster, shock-speech, hyperbole, taunting, and wild sales promises.  We've spent two years watching Homer Simpson every night.  (This is not to say I have no criticism of how the other candidates conducted their campaigns.  None of them respected us enough to talk straight about the concerns and issues actually bothering the public.) 
 
We simply do not know how Mr. Trump will govern.  He's not really a Republican.  I'm pretty sure the Democrats will never let him back in their house (although the "dog house" the Democrats are currently inhabiting these days isn't very appealing.)  As I write this essay, a news flash comes across my computer screen that the president-elect's new chief of staff will be a moderate, conciliator, political pro.  So much for Mr. Trump planning to drain the Washington D.C. swamp.  He has already backed off his plan to dismantle Obamacare.  And on Thursday he promised a very non-Republican plan to help people pay off student loans:  a plan more liberal than even the one Bernie Sanders proposed!
 
So what shall we do?  I propose three things, whether you are one of my "Trump" readers, one of my "Clinton" readers, or one of my "None-of-the-Above" readers. 
 
First, we should MAKE OPPORTUNITIES to talk to people who think differently than us.  We tend to only read those who fit our political stances.  We tend to talk deeply only with those who are like-minded.  Granted, these will be tense conversations.  But with playfulness, respect, thoughtfulness, curiosity, and humility we can began to stitch together (relationship by relationship) the deep cut that so wounds and threatens our country. 
 
Second, we should pray for our new president.  The president is the peacefully, legally chosen leader of our country, whether another got more popular vote, whether we agree with his or her policies, or not.  When someone fails to show respect for the president, it is a way of showing our country disrespect.  Bad candidates and bad presidents come and go.  We can disagree...vigorously disagree...employ civil disobedience if need be.  But when we disrespect, we soil the very country and the very social contract that enables us to strive for justice and liberty.
 
And third, we should raise the important issues that affect our country and talk about them, and study them, and argue among ourselves about them, EVEN IF OUR CANDIDATES OR OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS WILL NOT.  Let's have thoughtful people, from the right and the left, talk more about the environment, health care solutions, terrorism, the mess in the Mideast, the frequent shootings in our own country, racism and sexism, entitlements, tax reform, education... 
 
Both political parties are in shambles these days.  There is a profound opening for all those who wish to make a difference in our world.  Let not disheartenment nor complacency steal this opportunity from us.
 
--Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS