For some, it is so easy to get angry at President Donald Trump. He gives them reasons every day via the convenience of Twitter to see him as the problem. For others, the “fake news” mainstream media is a daily focus. For still others, it is the democrats or Hillary or “progressives” or activists. I’m pretty moderate myself, but I find that some people have decided moderates are the problem because they are supposedly compromised or flip-floppers or “head in the sand.” Moderates that I know, including myself, often rail against partisans as extremists or fundamentalists, whether left or right. Our fingers are always wagging and pointing.
All of this takes a lot of energy and time. A lot of focus. But I keep doing it because it helps me avoid facing my own sins and responsibilities. And Donald Trump and the rest of them want to help me stay distracted.
Donald Trump is a master of distraction. He practices “What-About-Ism” better than any politician I’ve ever seen. If you accuse him of sexism, he asks “What about Bill Clinton?” If you point to Russian interference in our elections, he asks “What about Hillary’s emails?” If you ask about how he will pay for his wall, he blames democrats and republicans for not passing his legislation (still confused about that one). He constantly speaks and publishes falsehoods but then blames “fake media” for the problem of false information. He thrives on distracting us from his failures, errors, and worse, his prejudices and dangerous ideas.
If you support Donald Trump, then you tend to follow his pointing finger. He points you to the “fake news media” and you look away from him and he has succeeded in avoiding scrutiny. Yet if you don’t support Donald Trump, he can also distract you. As you gaze at his sideshow, he keeps you distracted from your own surroundings and inner world. And in looking either at him, or at his distractions, we are avoiding looking at ourselves and the people around us.
Recently Judge Roy Moore has tried to distract us. He wants us to believe that five women somehow made up stories of him molesting, abusing, or creeping on them in their teenaged years. He wants us to believe that the Left has manufactured this whole thing and he points us to them. “Look at them, not me!!” And whether we keep our gaze upon Roy Moore, or follow his directions and look to his enemies, he is helping us avoid our own sins and our own callings.
We should ignore the distractions of people like Roy Moore and stand up for his victims. We can’t be pietists and ignore society, praying a lot and hoping that somehow it all gets better. We’ve got to be out there being salt and light. We have to shine light on the hypocrisy of people like Roy Moore. We have to seek a society that is just for all people, especially the most vulnerable. Yes, we must not stop that effort and work.
But while we are prayerfully opening our eyes to the Roy Moores, Hillary Clintons, Donald Trumps and Harvey Weinsteins of the world, and responding, we have to remember that we are human beings too.
I am so tempted to spend much of my day thinking about what these people are up to. And then I’m tempted to think about what other people who are thinking about what these people are up to. And then I’m tempted to think about where all this will take us, and how can we stop that from happening…and on and on.
And I find that it makes it easy to ignore what is going on in my own soul. I’m tempted to justify my own sins and foibles. And believe me, my soul needs to be tended to. So does yours.
I’m also tempted to forget my own calling. I’m a husband and father. I’m called to love my wife and my children as Christ loved his church. My vocation is that of a priest. I’m called to preach the gospel and to do everything I can to see Christ-centered, thriving, humble, faithful and honest churches grow all over North America and the world. These are “full time” callings.
But it seems like in modern America we have arranged everything around us in such a way that we are easily able to avoid ourselves and our callings and responsibilities. Our politics, our marketing, our sports, and even our neighborhoods are all designed to keep us looking everywhere but inside and around us.
And the human heart can be a frightening place to look. The scary part is that every human heart mirrors the brokenness of our world in itself. Our families are also fallen, and so are our neighborhoods. This brokenness is “a little too close to home” and we’d rather ignore it away. We welcome distractions. We are fallen creatures.
So we stay so busy being worried about the people on TV that we can’t see the people around us: our families, our neighbors, and those in any need or trouble.
We point to someone’s sexism, and we feel better about ourselves. We point to her biases or his irrationality, and it makes us feel fair and smart. We point to their radical authoritarianism and it makes us feel like tolerant human beings. We get to feel good about ourselves by feeling bad about our elites, meanwhile ignoring our actual selves. But souls have a way of coming back around to bite us. They can’t be left alone for too long.
That’s why Jesus taught me to take the plank out of my own eye, before attempting to remove the speck out of my brother’s eye. Jesus was not teaching me to ignore the sins of powerful people, or the injustices of our society. But he was showing me that I’m a part of that sin, and a part of that injustice. I can’t address it (or even see it well), until I have faced my own part in it.
I don’t plan to ignore the social and political events of our times. I don’t have any intention of being quiet about things I believe are important to speak about. I refuse to bury my head in the sand. I cannot pretend that politicians who demonize immigrants or advocate for the horror of doctor assisted suicide are none of my business. That is part of my calling, and yours.
But more and more I’m realizing that the Distractors have gotten me distracted. What-about-ism has me comparing my own sins and errors to the errors of others, and then justifying myself. The side show has gotten me mesmerized and it is trying to colonize my heart and mind. I’m constantly tempted to think of myself as “one of the good people” as if its all about me.
So today I will take some time to turn away from the circus and contemplate my own part in the sins of the world. St. Paul taught that we can’t do this apart from the knowledge of God’s grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. He wrote that the Holy Spirit “searches the heart.” So I don’t plan to condemn myself or blame myself. What I do intend to do is listen to the Holy Spirit as he reveals my heart. We can’t focus on ourselves unless we do so in light of the cross of Christ, where he said, “Father, forgive them…”
I also need to wake up more to the people around me. My family. My community. My church. Who are these people? What is going on in their lives? How can I love and serve them? How can we love and serve one another.
None of this is antithetical to active involvement in society. In fact, it is the foundation of transformative involvement in society. As Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” We can’t give what we haven’t received.
I’m not sure how well I will be able to practice this today. My life is like a car with tires that need an alignment. I keep turning the wheel straight, but the pull of momentum wants to pull it back to the side. Good thing the Holy Spirit already knows how to deal with people like me, to lovingly steer us back away from the ditch.
So as Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi try to grab my attention today, I’ll try to see that distraction for what it is and say a prayer for my own soul, and then a prayer for the soul of my beloved country.
Whether you are conservative, progressive, libertarian or some other label, and whether you despair over or delight in Donald Trump, take a moment for self-reflection today. That’s a big plank in your eye. Might be painful, but removing it will feel so good, and will open up a new view of the world around you.