Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Prosperity President

What's most fascinating about the election of Donald J. Trump to be our 45th President is that it perfectly mirrors the evolving character of faith in America.

Donald is perhaps the first major candidate to arise from a new and significant force in American Christianity.  No, that's not being Presbyterian, because Donald is not one of us, no matter what he says.  Frozen chosen he is not.  He has none of our procedural rigor, none of our austerity, none of our tendency to overthink things so much that we never quite get around to doing anything.

Overthinking is not a Trumpian characteristic.

He more closely reflects the faith of another corner of the ever changing ecology of Christianity, one that has grown and flourished as the oldline has descended into anxious irrelevance.   Because this is not the era of the fading spirit of denominationalism, with its assumptions of civic duty and social order.  It is the age of the prosperity preacher.

The Donald is the first president whose worldview aligns with the Prosperity Gospel.  When we saw him during the campaign, surrounded by pastors earnestly laying on hands, they were mostly prosperity preachers.  When we heard a faith leader earnestly asserting that the Donald had found the Lord, she was a name-it-and-claim it televangelist.

Sure, he dabbled about with biblical fundamentalists and more traditional evangelicals, understanding that he can single-issue their support.  All he had to do was suggest that he opposed abortion, and their votes were his.  But he is not part of that stream of faith, and traditional conservatives know it.   He's an aging billionaire playboy who made a significant portion of his fortune from casino gambling, an unrepentant serial philanderer who cares about scripture in the same way he cares about anything you have to actually read.

His appeal, frankly, is the same appeal as the well-dressed pastor who strides across the stage of a 10,000 seat auditorium, who shows up to church in his Bentley or S-Class, and who lives in a house twenty times the size of the homes of his flock.

This frustrates the bejabbers out of those of us who've actually studied what Jesus had to say about wealth and how Jesus-people should live their lives, but as much as we cry out "charlatan" and "huckster" and "fraud," our words cannot compete with the sparkle of a well-played con.

Look at his success, they say.  He must know something.  Listen to what he says, they say, as he confidently tells them exactly what it is they want to hear.

Just want it, the pastor says.  All you have to do is really want it, and it will magically happen.  Just pray and want it, and give me both your hopes and your treasure as a sign of your faith.

In those churches, the guy up front does very, very well for himself.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Angry White Man and the System

Yesterday it was midday on a November Thursday, and I had walked to the store to pick up a few things.

At mid-day on a Thursday, the crowd at the grocery store is...different. A smattering of moms, their little ones ensconced in their cart seats, little legs dangling. There's a whole bunch of white hair, moving slowly, leaning on their carts for support.

 And there are men. Forty and fifty somethings, dressed in ways that say they have no reason to care about how they look during the day. Shoes, a mess. Old, threadbare jackets covering stained shirts mismatched with ill fitting pants.

 Meaning I fit right in.

I filled my basket, and wandered over to the short line at the self-checkout, the machines that simultaneously let large grocery chains hire fewer workers and open up the option of not ever, ever talking to another human being face to face.

 In front of me, a man. A white man, maybe seven years older than I. Salt and pepper hair, unwashed, uncombed. A mustache and chin grizzle. He seemed agitated.

 I know the routine. Plug in your card number, the machine prompts you, first thing. He was trying to get through that stage, jabbing at the screen with his index finger.

 It wasn't working. He muttered, angrily, and tried again, jabbing harder.

 Touchscreens being what they are, that didn't have the desired effect.

 "[Fornicate]," he said, not quietly. He tried again, now pressing hard enough on the screen that if it had been flesh, it would have left a bruise. It didn't work. "[Fornicate]," he said, again, his voice raised enough that heads turned.

 And then he balled his hand into a fist, and punched the screen. Hard. The employee responsible for the self-checkout, an older black man, looked faintly uncertain as to what to do, and not eager to intervene. 

The angry man snatched up his basket and stormed off to one of the regular lines.

 "[Fornicating] thing doesn't [fornicating] work," he said to me as he left. 

I took my place at the machine. The screen wasn't cracked. I tested it. It was still working. I plugged in my number, gently. It took two tries, as it often does. But it took.

 I finished my transaction, and loaded up my backpack.

 When I left the store, the angry white man was at the back of the line, rocking slowly back and forth, eyes unfocused, staring off into the distance.