Each year since I started this blog in 2012, I have reviewed the most read blog posts of the year. Certain posts on timeless themes, like “It is Well with my Soul: The Story” (from 2014), are perennial contenders. Not this year, though. That article doesn’t even make the top ten.
While some timeless “favorites” (recognizing this is a relative term here) tend to make the list each year, 2021 is marked by the emergence of relatively new writings and a new theme. We might call that theme the signs of the times. At least, we might say that writings which reflect the current times have emerged on top.
This article was written in September of 2020. At that time we were careening toward a contentious presidential election. Though it was written with only three months to the end of the year, it became the most read article of 2020 (beating out It is Well with My Soul), and it is the most read article in 2021 by far.
In fact, the Sons of Issachar article has quickly become the most read article of my blog, ever, beating out the 2014 article (It is Well with My Soul) three times over. That it grew out of my own angst leading up to the presidential election is certainly a sign of the times. We have had much angst in the last two years!
I have never highlighted a single article in my past annual summaries. This year is different. I will get to the summary, but first I will tell the back story and reflect on the significance of the Sons of Issachar article, which seems to have hit home with people.
I continue to process the events of the last year, and my reading through Scripture will sometimes call those things to mind. One of those ongoing events involved former President Trump and all the evangelical support he received regardless of whatever he said or did.
There were evangelicals who defended every word and action. Their support was unwavering, and prophets even prophesied that he would be reelected.
Obviously, they were wrong.
Let me say that again. They were wrong. If God spoke to them and said Trump would be re-elected, he would have won, regardless of any voter fraud.
Regardless of the circumstances in the world. God is sovereign. He knows those things. If God actually moved in those prophets to foretell the future, it would have come to pass. They were wrong! God didn’t prompt those prophecies.
More importantly, I want to focus on the evangelical support of Donald Trump. The unwavering support and relentless defense of Donald Trump troubled me greatly from before he was elected in 2016. I wrote often about it. The prophecies that he would be reelected troubled me even more.
They didn’t trouble me because of the thought that Trump might be reelected. Whatever God will do, He will do. If God wanted Donald Trump to be President for another four years, so be it. God establishes authorities. (Rom. 13:1)
The prophecies troubled me because Paul says we should not despise prophecy. (1 Thessalonians 5:20) We should, therefore, not take prophecy lightly. In that vein, I was troubled that I could be dead wrong about my assessment of Donald Trump and of what God is/was doing in our time.
I wrote about the Sons of Issachar who “understood the times” in an attempt to think, pray and write through it. The people who were saying that Donald Trump would be elected were claiming to be like the Sons of Issachar. They claimed to know what God was doing in our times, and they were one hundred percent behind Donald Trump who they claimed was God’s man for this time.
I was personally concerned that I had it all wrong. I am not a prophet, and I don’t claim to be one, though I feel sometimes that I have a prophetic bent in me (whatever that really means). I would not, however, and do not call myself a prophet.
I don’t predict things.
Not that predicting things is all the prophetic gift is about. I don’t think it is. I think the prophetic gift is about speaking the mind of God. It may include speaking the mind of God in a particular moment, to a particular person or people, or not. It may include speaking God’s mind and heart generally.
I believe people who preach can be prophetic in their preaching. There are teachers, and then there prophetic preachers.
Prophecy may (at times) be predictive, but I think it is more about speaking God’s mind and heart than the ability to predict things. For whatever reason, though, people are really interested in predicting things and knowing the future. In fact, we seem to be obsessed with it.
This isn’t anything new. The disciples asked Jesus many times about when the end would come. Jesus said it wasn’t for them to know the day or time. Still, they pressed him.
Throughout history are examples of people claiming to know the end times. Though, many people have predicted days and times, they have all been wrong.
Of course, someone someday might be right, so people continue to try….
Not that I think we should. Jesus said we wouldn’t know. I take him at his word.
We see this same kind of preoccupation with wanting to know the future in the Old Testament. I recently read the story of Israel’s King Ahab and Judah’s King Jehoshaphat coming together to attack the City of Ramoth Gilead that once belonged to Israel. This story has something to say to us today on the subject of prophecy, and it’s the backdrop for what I have on my mind today.
I think many Americans have been trying to decompress from the events that took place on January 6th. The long, tense build up to the electoral college vote count, the persistent claims of fraud and a stolen election, the rally and then the sudden alarm of people storming the Capitol Building are being replayed now in the impeachment hearing.
Legal retribution is grinding forward. The Biden/Harris duo were confirmed, took over the White House and issued a flurry of executive orders, but we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The ripple effect of the events that preceded the inauguration seethe and heave under the surface.
A majority of Americans condemn the outburst of misplaced patriotism that spilled into the Capitol Building and onto the congressional chamber floor. Most were horrified by it. It looks even worse in retrospect.
I recently heard someone emphasize that Trump lost by 7M votes. That seems like a hefty number, but consider that almost 75M people voted for him. Almost half the country voted for Donald Trump.
How do we move forward? How does the church move forward? (Divided as it, not much unlike the unchurched)
Our human penchant for sweeping generalization in times like these misses the nuance and complexity that fill out the truth. I think about these things as I listen to an interview of Sarah Posner on the podcast, Sacred & Profane, titled Render Unto Q.
I was involved in the New Apostolic Reformation during that time period, though we didn’t have a label for it. I remember the influence of politically minded religious leaders and religiously minded political leaders during those times.
I am now an outsider to the New Apostolic movement, but I was once an insider. I have friends who are still actively involved in current iterations. As I listen to the interview, many of the things Posner says ring true, but I can bring a little nuance into the dialogue from my own experience.
Sarah Posner has studied these things closely, and is somewhat a subject matter expert on the involvement of evangelicals in politics. She has a far more nuanced understanding than most people, so her comments bear some consideration. I will summarize some of Posner’s observations and add my own, especially where I can add some clarity from my own experience.
Part of the problem with critiques of what happened on January 6th is trying to understand the strange mixture of forces that came together in the storming of the Capitol. They have long been stewing together in a weird kettle of different fish.
As with any stew, the individual ingredients take on a singular flavor, given time, and this stew has been marinating for quite a while. To the extent the church is close enough to this stew to take on its flavor is concerning.
As I think about the events of this week (and of the past four plus years) and read through social media comments, I am thinking about things that have been percolating in my mind and heart for some time. I will try to lay them out in this blog article by borrowing some quotations from my social media feed with some hope I can tie them together and make some sense of it.
I write this thinking about neighbors and people I have spent time with, shared a drink or meal with, laughed with, worked with and done some aspect of life with who don’t think or vote exactly as I do. Some of them voted for Trump; some would never vote for Trump.
I may find it hard to synthesize all of these points as I let my social media feed direct my steps, but here goes.
The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”
For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.
Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.
I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.
They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.
We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.
Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.
The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.
The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.
I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.
The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.
We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.