Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

My anguish over the state of the church in America is plain enough that some good friends suggested some reading material to help me cope. Costly Grace is by an American Evangelical Minister who came up in the Regan-era, bought into Christian Conservative politics, became an ardent leader in the Pro-Life movement, and eventually came face-to-face with the reality that the Republican Party is not actually a function of the Church, or a Holy institution mandated by God. He didn’t change sides of the aisle — he’s still a Conservative — but he did have to reckon with the fact that not all Conservative positions are Christ-like.

Rev Rob Schenck prays in the Capitol

Its a good story, made better by the documentary he was in, Armor of Light, that followed his exploration of how Pro-Lifers can also be Pro-Gun advocates. The mental gymnastics necessary to align the Second Amendment with the Gospel have always been fascinating to me, as a Canadian living in America. I’m not opposed to gun ownership, in general, but I am in favor of reasonable regulation and licensing, and I can’t seem to find anything in the Bible that would suggest not giving guns to people with criminal records or a history of mental health issues is sinful…

This middle position we’ve been in since we first moved to the States is rarely a comfortable one. Growing up in Canada, it never occurred to me that one of two available human political parties could be all good, and the other all evil. The fact that I’m aligned with some Conservative viewpoints, but not with others, renders me suspect to both sides. I take some solace in being in decent company: Bill Gates recently said “its lonely in the center.” But we’re not really sure what to do about it when friends and neighbors “unfriend” us for pointing out that Donald Trump is very obviously not Christ-like. Blogging about it is cathartic, but its not changing anyone’s mind — if you’re still reading this old rag, you probably already agree with me on the main points. Those who aren’t reading have already written me off as a liberal, or worse, apostate, because I haven’t sworn allegiance to America’s newest golden calf

Yup, they actually made a graven image of Donald Trump

We’re not liberals, though (sorry if you thought we were and now you have to dislike us…) We’re quite willing to listen to both viewpoints, and while sometimes the “truth lies in-between”, we can’t buy the whole Democrat package either. So what is a moderate Canadian family to do in the upcoming civil war in America?

Well, I’ll tell ya, we’ve thought about moving. Its not off the table. But Canadian politics are far from perfect either, and the economic timing is… well it would be disasterous at this point. While my skills are so marketable in the US that my immigration lawyer’s current strategy is a “National Interest Waiver” — literally an assertion that it is in the country’s best interest to keep me (a determination I’ll leave up to the powers-that-be) — in my home country, I can’t find any employer willing to match even 75% of my current salary with the 25-percent-less-valuable Canadian currency. And our 3000+ square foot house on 2.5 acres of property in Ohio is worth half what 2000 square feet on a postage stamp is worth in Ontario. We just can’t afford to give up the American Dream at the moment.

So that leaves us with the question, if we’re stuck here, is there anything we can do to make things better? And I think the Lord has led us to two conclusions:

First and foremost, we do not believe that America is strategic for the Kingdom in the way it once might have been. Maybe once a shining light on a hill, this country has defaced itself on the world stage repeatedly. No developing country will believe that a white missionary from America has a lock on moral truth any more — we are too compromised by decades of sin to be seen as de facto leaders in guiding people to the Truth. That doesn’t mean we can’t work along-side others, as servants, as fellow seekers, or even as guides within the context of a relationship built on trust and humility, but the day of Americans showing up to bestow American culture and beliefs on another country is over — and well it should be. This is a culture that stubbornly refuses to confess and repent of its original (and ongoing) sin of racism. This is a culture that is quick to make idols of celebrities and politicians and political parties. And this is a culture that is historically, and currently, prone to division and disunity.

These things are true wherever there are humans — racism is not unique to America, idolatry is not unique to Americans. But in the past, the success of this country lent its missionaries some credibility. That’s gone now, and humility must take its place. God has His people all over the world, and we have something to learn from cultures that haven’t made a religion of themselves, but are busy practicing true religion. For Nicole and I, that means re-prioritizing our giving outside of this country. This is not a small realization: giving is our primary ministry outside of our home, and the related tax benefits are significant, and a major part of our strategy.

Secondly, we understand we are to “bloom where we’re planted.” By that I mean, if God put us here, we should do our best to act in our community in a Christ-like manner. Our community is, almost exclusively, Conservative Christian — and many of them are angry, suspicious and… in error. It would be easy to keep criticizing them, and pointing out their misapplication of Scripture (or science) as I’ve been doing on this blog for the past year. It would be even easier to break fellowship with them, and write them off as dumb Trump-supporters, conspiracy theorists, or right-wing nutjobs. But doing so does not help heal the wounds in this country, or help the Church behave better, or make Christianity more effective in showing God’s love. When Paul said the whole Church was one body, he knew about the assholes and the arm pits — he understood that not every part of the body is great all the time. But the body doesn’t work if one part says to the other “I don’t need you!

So ya, there’s a lot of smelly parts of the body right now — more than usual. And we could stand to clean up our act a little. But God knew that too; He knew He was entrusting His mission to a bunch of assholes, and He still told us to be about His business. So if we need each other, then we have to figure out how to help each other. For Nicole and I, that means we can’t disengage with the church or our conservative community, we have to be a part of the body — and maybe help rub a little “wisdom soap” and a “love loofah” on the parts that need to freshen up. I can help other Christians find verses in the Bible that challenge their political perspectives, specifically because I have empathy for those perspectives and some modest equipping and experience exegeting the Word we both hold as sacred… but only if I don’t alienate those people first.

It is when we decide that the “other” is irredeemable that we cease to function as a society — and as a Church. Fortunately, we have a God that looks on the lowliest of sinners, and sees none that cannot be redeemed. If He hasn’t given up on us yet, then we can’t give up on each other either.

Shaka, when the walls fell

I grew up watching Star Trek, and in one of the most meme-worthy episodes, the valiant Captain Picard and a strange alien are stranded together on a planet, and forced to figure out how to work together without a universal translator or any of the technology that makes these “first contact” situations easier. They learn to communicate through a shared language of stories and parables that resonate with their individual and cultural experiences — they find what’s common, despite their differences, and figure out how to talk to each other through it. Maybe its naive to think we can make things any better… but if we’re stuck as aliens in this strange country, maybe God would have us try to help His people communicate…

Behold a pale horse

I had genuinely hoped that I could wrap up the year in blogging with this post: a plea for moderation and communication. That if we could all just agree that hiring a failed real-estate agent/reality TV star/serial woman abuser to be President was a bad idea, then we could go back to the business of comparing notes on differing opinions and trying to ride the swinging pendulum of politics forward together. I continue to hope that, once Trump is gone, our disagreements — although important — could once again take a back seat to neighborly love, and community.

My sister disagrees with me — she thinks now is not the time for moderate views. She might be right. 2020 is winding to a close, and there’s a glimmer of hope in this pandemic, but the crazy continues to ramp up. Not one, but three loving Christians, reached out to send me a link to Giuliani’s unhinged and bizarre press event as evidence that all the conspiracy theories about a stolen election were true. These followed the now-annual holiday rant from my favorite irate uncle, declaring Trump to be the end of Christianity as we know it. The crazy uncle might be closer to the truth.

Folks, Giuliani’s press event came on the heals of the Trump campaign’s most recent loss in the court of law. Every suit alleging electoral fraud that has been brought before different judges in different States has been dismissed because the Trump legal team could present no evidence. Faced with an oath to the truth, and the threat of perjury, not even Trump’s lawyers will stand behind his claims in court. A press event, though, has no oath — and no consequence for lying. When they failed to prove their case in the legal system, they decided to take it to YouTube. An aunt who I love dearly sent me that YouTube video, and when I sent back 8 links to 8 different analysis and news sources spanning the political spectrum, all fact checking the event as largely false, she blocked me on Facebook. Good Christians don’t want to hear the truth, they just want their man Trump to be right… they just want their political candidate to win.

If that’s not you, if you actually care about truth and character and the Biblical qualifications for leadership, turn off YouTube and read the details of 11/11 court case:

The court: I understand. I am asking you a specific question, and I am looking for a specific answer. Are you claiming that there is any fraud in connection with these 592 disputed ballots?
Mr. Goldstein: To my knowledge, at present, no.
The court: Are you claiming that there is any undue or improper influence up on the elector with respect to these 592 ballots?
Mr. Goldstein: To my knowledge, at present, no.

And if you’d like to accuse me of cherry picking, here’s the full transcript:

Also in PA, you can see the revised allegations here.
You’ll see that they started by claiming fraud, but when challenged by the judge for evidence, they revised the suit until there was no case at all.

When Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ most vile conservative mouthpiece, asked Sidney Powell to come on the show and present the evidence of the claims they made in their press event, her only response was to tell him to stop bothering her.
Update: Turns out her allegations were too crazy even for the Trump campaign.

In fact, the entire event crumbles under a conservative, Christian fact check.

Is it possible that there was some manipulation of votes in some counties? Sure.
Is it possible that more than 470 counties, in strategic areas, coordinated a complex plan without communicating with each other, that somehow involved Venezuelan technology, to steal an election by more than 6 million individual votes and 74 electoral college votes?
Or is it more likely that those counties were hardest hit by Trump’s complete failure to manage a pandemic, and they all decided its time to hire someone who knows what he’s doing?

Let me try my plea a different way. You can be conservative — at least 50% of us should be! You can believe in Jesus — His message is hope and love, and everyone should have a chance to meet Him. But if you equate Trump with Jesus, and Trump’s lies with conservative, Christian values, Ephesians 2:2 is for you: you are walking in the ways of this world and the spirit who is now at work in you is disobedient. You are condemned by your acceptance of lies, and you condemn your fellow believers when you endorse or expound on conspiracy theories.

I’m looking forward to going back to sporadically blogging about the kids or an old computer I fixed. I’m tired of trying to be a voice in the middle pointing out crazy on both sides of the aisle. I’m even more tired that all the crazy seems to be coming from the side that claims Jesus — and not just tired, I am ashamed. I am heart broken. Trump lost — not by much, but by enough to make clear that he is not a leader, he is not a spokesperson for the church, he is not a fit president or even a fit business person. He is an adulterer, a cheat, a liar, a selfish thief. The best thing to happen in 2020 is when he lost the election. Get over it, and start acting like Jesus told us to again.

Some, I assume, are good people

Almost everyone, except Trump and his most loyal followers, have come to the conclusion that Biden is our next president. Regardless of where you stand politically, this is a good thing for the country — and for the rest of the planet.

I watched a video of a John McCain townhall, from what feels like a lifetime ago, where I think the Trump strategy might have been born. Ignorant people get the microphone, and make racist, bigoted statements about then-rival Obama, and Senator McCain with dignity and class, politely but firmly shuts them down, explaining that while they disagree on politics, he respects his opponent, and believes Obama to be a good family man, who is serving his country. I imagine it was moments like that where someone like Trump (or Bannon, or Conway) realized that they could appeal to a wide range of Americans by ejecting civility and playing to people’s ignorance — leaning into stupidity and legitimizing into a political platform of its own.

That’s exactly what Trump has done: he’s legitimized the worst of human behavior, and made himself a vocal champion of the ignorant thoughts that people might harbor, but previously wouldn’t dare to say out loud. The oppression of decency is over-thrown by a leader who, according to his base, might be “rough around the edges, but gets things done!”

This year’s election didn’t throw out conservative politics — nor did it halt the cancer that is over-taking that body. But it did excise a significant tumor, and gave the patient an opportunity to improve its quality of life. What remains to be dealt with, though, is the lingering odor of decay that surrounds the site: the devastating collateral damage that comes from close association with the sickness that is Trumpism; the possibly irredeemable damage to the testimony of people who claim Christ, but also claim Trump is His messenger.

I cannot, and will not, defend Trump, or the horrifying shift toward base and degrading behavior that was exhibited by his fan club. But I do have to say some things in defense of the almost-half of the country that felt compelled to vote for him…

For better or worse (and I am convinced it’s for worse), America has a two party political system. The result is an increasing series of false dichotomies that drive people inexorably into one of two camps. Are you for gun control, against babies, for gay marriage, and against religion? Then you’re a Democrat! Are you opposed to taxes, do you hate women, love God, but hate gay people? Then you’re a Republican! And if those simplifications sound stupid to you, then you must be a swing voter, and therefore a pawn in the machinations of a 24-hour news cycle that wants to sell you one of two insane world views.

And of course we all know that, but that doesn’t stop anyone from vilifying the other side. Given how reprehensible a human being Trump is, its all too easy to say “I can’t be friends with anyone who votes for Trump!” And given how extreme some left wing positions have become, its understandable that some people can be convinced that Kamala Harris (a former criminal prosecutor!) is actually a secret operative of Antifa. But labeling the other side with broad strokes obscures the fact that there are only two choices; two buckets into which all discourse, debate, thought and study, has to be sorted into.

I am for Obamacare. The country I come from has universal health care, and while its far from perfect, the fact that getting sick in Canada doesn’t carry a risk of bankruptcy is an important foundation for actual freedom! But while I think the idea has merit, the actual application here in the States has serious flaws. My car mechanic is a friend, and his health insurance went from $30 a month to $300 a month when the Obamacare mandate took effect. That’s not right — its supposed to help people, not cripple them. Unfortunately, our government can’t have a discussion about how to fix the implementation, because one side will fight to the death to keep it as is, and the other is doing everything in their power to reverse it entirely. That’s not a functioning government; that’s two toddlers in a sandbox fighting over a toy they want.

I am opposed to abortion on principle. I believe that at some point during gestation, the fetus is imbued with the image of God, a consciousness emerges, and that tiny baby is a human being that should have the same rights as the mother. But I don’t know when that point is — the Bible doesn’t clarify this, and science can’t explain why or when consciousness occurs. Up until that point, whenever it is, the mother’s rights should prevail over all other decisions. Our society was not set up to give women autonomy, and to use the law to take control over when and if a woman chooses to become a mother is to endorse a systematic rape. I don’t have a uterus, so my opinion on this matter isn’t worth much, but for whatever its worth, the morality of this issue for me hinges on a moment I don’t understand, during a process that, despite everything I learned about it while Nicole carried our three kids, still seems mysterious and miraculous. For legislators (usually old white dudes) to determine that they know exactly what is right in every situation, and can declare their opinion to be a law applicable to every woman all the time seems ludicrous, indefensible and cruel.

Two cells divide during the early stages of pregnancy. Is this the image of God? I don’t know — and I don’t think you do either…

I believe my church should have a right to perform a religious ceremony based on the teachings of our religion. In my religion, we define marriage as being between a man and a woman. We’re allowed to do that, because I’m pretty sure that’s what “freedom of religion” means. I do not believe a government should be able to redefine a religion, and force my pastor to do something he doesn’t believe. But I also do not believe that my religion is public policy — it is freely chosen by its followers, or it is not really faith! This separation of church and state goes both ways, and is fundamental to this country. But my church’s religious ceremony has nothing to say about someone else’s sense of self, or feelings of love for another. We teach our kids that love is love, that God loves everyone, and that we should never judge someone for who they are, or act in a way that belittles their journey or their feelings.

I can’t vote, but given these brief opinions on today’s hot button issues, which way would I vote? Would I vote to keep a flawed Obamacare, to progress toward late-term abortions, and for an increase in gay rights? Or would I vote to eliminate any progress toward universal healthcare, jail women who seek the protections of Roe v. Wade, and strip the rights of two dudes (or two ladies) who love each other? And if the answer is not clear, then you must have empathy for Trump voters (and for Biden voters, if you consider them equally reprehensible) because these things are not simple issues.

Some, I assume, are good people

There are some who voted for Trump because he embodies and emboldens their ignorance. They revel in the permission to act badly. But there aren’t 70 million of those people. Many millions of them exist in the gray space in which neither party represents them, and where they are forced to choose the one that seems like it might steer the nation in a direction that looks a little less confusing, and a little less uncertain. And while millions of voters may have chosen the other old white dude this year (the one whose main platform was not being Trump) they aren’t really aligned with Biden either. As a nation, 2020 has exposed some deep flaws in our structure, in our systems, and in our hearts, and we should forgive each other when we don’t agree on how to move forward — because none of us are really sure how we recover from this year…

There’s a lot of opinions out there — mine are worth less than a single vote. Its OK to disagree with each other. But if you label any opinion that is not your own as a crime against humanity, then you are a victim of this two party system. Worse, you are willingly complicit in a polarization that seeks to eliminate all discourse, all compromise, all cooperation, and drive people further apart. If you voted for Biden, make friends with a Trump voter in 2021, and walk a mile in their shoes — try to understand their fears and their vulnerabilities. If you voted for Trump, take down your stupid lawn sign, walk away from that sore loser, and buy your Biden-voting neighbor a coffee (or a beer) — find some common ground. Go forward together from there, cause if we don’t, then we all lost this election…


For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
– Ephesians 6:12

This is the second post of thoughts on the responsibility of Christians in what is undoubtedly the roughest year of my life time — if you haven’t already, read part one first. We live in a rural “red” neighborhood, surrounded by Trump signs, and we really have no choice but to try to reconcile the goodness we see in our neighbors, with the man most of them want for President. Its really challenging, because by no objective measure can Trump be called a good person.


Most of those we know who vote for him are not apologists — they acknowledge his faults, but maintain that his party is closest to their values. Whether those party’s values are most like Christ is debatable, but as someone who can’t vote, I can have empathy for the position they’re in. And I guess that’s where I’d like to start off:

Both sides will tell you they’re not being understood; they’ll bemoan the death of nuance in political conversation (even as their chosen leaders shout each other down). Many people from both ends of the political spectrum are capable of reasonable conversation, and of hearing the other’s viewpoint respectfully — but the national discourse obscures that rationality, the two-party system drives people to increasing polarization, and cognitive dissonance forces people to defend their choice rabidly. Mark 12:31 says “Love your neighbor as yourself” — a statement that requires you to feel for someone else; to understand their context, their fears and needs, their ideals and their goals. Empathy starts with acknowledging the validity of another’s viewpoint… even if you don’t agree with it.

Its tough for me to say this, and even tougher to do it, but for me, this means that it is counter-productive to write-off anyone with a Trump flag as an ignorant racist idiot (despite Trump’s gleeful courting of ignorant racist idiots.) Its also means that it is neither true, nor reasonable, for Christians to claim that anyone who votes for Biden is voting to kill babies. Every issue, idea and problem that a country is facing cannot be sorted into one of two buckets. And an earnest voter, forced to stack rank the issues, then choose a candidate that they hope and pray will aggregate to some over all-improvement, deserves respect, empathy and consideration.

If you’re an American and you earnestly believe that a vote for Trump has the most potential for Christ-like outcomes, this Canadian accepts you.
However, if you’re an American, driving in a Trump parade, shouting “Black Lives Don’t Matter”, then even the most enlightened person has grounds to condemn you. And that brings me to my next point.


If you have arrived at the decision that Trump is the best candidate to represent you on Christian issues, you must realize that you have chosen a man who is nothing like our Savior, that most of his personal positions are not found in the Bible, and that your rational is, at best, a matter of faith: you’re putting your faith in a deeply flawed human being on top of the faith that God’s providence will work good through that man’s sin. If you can get there, and keep your footing on that wobbly ground, then fine — but you don’t get to attack others who don’t share your belief system, haven’t rationalized this dumpster fire the same way as you, and who have legitimate complaints and fears about the outcome.

The issues on which Conservatives Christians are willing to extend themselves beyond science, politics or the general consensus are, by definition, issues of faith. Positions on how the earth was created, when life begins, how to help others find fulfillment and satisfaction in life — they can be looked at with a scientific lens, but for most of us, they’re going to boil down to what we believe. The Bible tells us that some people are not going to believe what we do, and while that sets us apart, it also gives us a responsibility — not to judge, but to love. If an omniscient God can love a sinful human, then what makes us think that we, as sinful humans, are entitled to hate other sinful humans?

Your leap of faith is not a reason to spite your neighbor. Your political party does not represent your Savior.


And finally, brothers and sisters, while we do believe there is a war going on, it is not a war against elected representatives, or your neighbor who votes for the other political party. The war is a spiritual one, and the lost are not foot soldiers for the devil — they are casualties of that war. When poor black communities cry out for justice, and your response is to condemn their sense of entitlement, you are on the wrong side of the spiritual battle. When women tell us dudes that their needs aren’t being represented in our systems, and your response is to accuse them of murder, then you are not practicing wisdom from above.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the world’s solutions are necessarily the right ones — but to shut down the conversation and brush aside all other perspectives as just being sinful, is to hypocritically claim that your faith automatically makes you right on every issue. Turns out Christians have a history of being wrong on important issues that they thought the Bible spoke to, but actually didn’t. Christians justified racism by saying black people were descended from Ham, and thus cursed — a horribly vile and sinful perspective that has caused more than a few centuries of problems. We put God-fearing but curious scientists in jail because their findings threatened our very human and very flawed understanding of Scripture…

Christianity does not grant us omniscience. It doesn’t even guarantee reason — but our Savior does call us to it.

So What is a Christian’s Role?

When I was young, my parents used to sneak off and watch a show called M*A*S*H. I didn’t know what it was about (although the theme song is permanently implanted in my brain) but my parents sure seemed to love it. As a parent now I understand they probably mostly just needed a few moments of grown-up humor, and a respite from the constant demands of young children. Recently, we started watching it ourselves — mostly for the same reasons.

The main characters in M*A*S*H are in a war — the Korean war, which continues to be a quagmire for the US even to this day. Set in a time of political upheaval, huge clashes between the American left and right, and generational tumult that largely pointed to a younger, more liberal voting block as being responsible for the moral decay of USA, M*A*S*H is interesting not because of the now-very-mild adult humor, but because of the responsibility of the main characters…

Regardless of what was happening in America, or the politics of the war, or the side a particular combatant was aligned with, when a wounded person arrived at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the men and women of the unit dropped what they were doing to fight for the life and dignity of that human being. Personal opinions (or shenanigans) aside, they acted in a way that recognized the Imago Dei of every fallen solider.

Christians, this is us! We are in a war — but we know how it ends! And in this war, we are not called to be soldiers, we are called to be doctors. Our love for the lost does not permit any attack on their position. Our mercy for those in need does not allow us to label someone else as “other” or to treat them un-kindly. We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to condone sin, but we must be willing to lay down our opinions, our preferences, our fears, our projections of guilt — because our Savior laid down His life for ours, when we were the foulest of sinners. And even then, He did not condemn us.

There was a time when Christians were famous because of our mercy. There was a time when a hospital was a Christian ministry, when the greatest centers of socialized education were Christian, when caring for the poor was understood to be a Christian vocation. If your interpretation of the Bible is that those things are not the government’s responsibility, then show the world an alternative! Show the world that Christian love puts others first.

Maybe the world would be more interested in our ideas if we took the Trump signs off our lawns, and became known in our communities as people who love and serve others again.

A Hot Mess Inside a Dumpster Fire Inside a Train Wreck

The biggest question I’ve been wrestling with for this whole crazy 2020 is: what is a Christian’s responsibility right now?

We’re supposed to be salt and light. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. We’re supposed to care for the “least of these.” We’re supposed to take care of orphans and widows. All that would suggest we should be pretty broken hearted about a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands. White Christians should be pretty upset when we hear our black neighbors telling us they feel disenfranchised and abused by our systems. We should feel sorrow for immigrant children taken from their parents and locked in cages. All of these reactions seem to me to reflect the heart of a Savior who laid down his life for people who rejected Him.

And if all that seems obvious to you, then can you explain why Donald Trump is the man chosen to represent the “Christian right” in this “Christian” nation? Cause I can’t…

But we live here, and I have no choice but to try, because if a horrible man like Trump represents me, then there must be some justification for it – and believe me, people are working hard at it. Every time I post something about what a dumpster fire Trump’s America is becoming, some helpful Conservative pops up to explain to me why either A) Trump is really a good person, and its just the media making him out to be horrible, or B) Trump is a bad person, but God is using him for His own good purposes, so we need to support the President anyway.

Never mind that I can’t vote, and have no say in what happens in November, some Republicans feel really, really obligated to convince others that Trump isn’t the worst human being to ever make a mockery of a Presidential debate. So let me try to read it back to you – and then, for the sake of my own sanity, and despite being totally impotent on the matter, I’ll follow up with a second post on what I think we should be doing…

Argument #1 – Morality is the Only Thing We Can Legislate

Christians are called to work toward God’s Justice (which is different than “social justice.”) In this theory, we have an obligation to engage in secular government in order to bring about outcomes that are more like how God would want a nation to run. We recognize that this is a fallen world and that any outcome will be imperfect, so we often have to choose the “lesser of two evils” and continue to work toward gradual improvement. Issues like abortion, Israel and the Middle East, the definition of marriage, and for some reason, the right to carry a gun, all need to be protected, to keep secular society from slipping away from being Godly.

This argument is problematic, because:

A new game show for 2020 where American’s get to choose the Best Awful!

This doesn’t mean advocates of this argument are wrong. Certainly any life created in the image of God should be considered sacred – although the Bible isn’t clear on when the image-imparting event occurs during gestation. Certainly we should desire an end to strife in the Middle East. Certainly a family unit is an important part of society and clearly special to God. And certainly there’s some Biblical justification for defending, or providing for, yourself and your family. But there’s no real evidence that Trump cares much about these things – we’ll give him points for some progress in the Middle East, but its laughable to consider a man who hires prostitutes to pee on him, has been married 3 times, and courts violent hate groups as his base, is God’s chosen representative for these “Christian” issues.

Argument #2 – Onward Christian Soldier

The second argument is blatantly evident in Fox News, and other conservative media bylines: we’re in a war. There’s a “war on Christmas”, it’s “time to stand up for our rights” and we’re “fighting for our lives!” Any move toward socialism is an outright attack not just on democracy, but also on our faith, and it’s our job to fight back. Masks during a pandemic are really just the first wave in a new assault on Christianity that seeks to close our churches forever, and if we don’t fight now, our children are doomed to live in a Godless communist society. And this argument drives me nuts for a bunch of reasons:

  • First of all, Jesus was not a warrior, nor did He ask His disciples or followers to become warriors. Jesus chose to be born into government oppression, the early church met in secret, and when the apostles “stood up” for their faith, it wasn’t by demanding that fellow believers fight for them – it was by patiently enduring hardship, devotedly writing letters from prison, and dying for their faith (not killing for it!)
  • Second, Jesus actually promised that we would be persecuted, and that such persecution would get worse – but at no time did He tell us that we could change that! In fact, not only did He tell us not to fight back, He proclaimed that the battle was already won, and that as believers all we need to do is wait it out – and his followers counted it all joy!
  • Third, there are many countries that are more socialist than America – many of them rank higher on the freedom index than the US of A, and God isn’t dead in a single one of them. Canada is a great country, with lots of government services, lots of freedom, and a vibrant Christian community, that has launched some truly impactful missionaries and ministries into the world. There’s no evidence that God is afraid of a progressive President – why are we?

Argument #3 – The Constitution is God’s Other Scripture

OK, Americans who are more invested in the Constitution and the history of this great nation than I am have made some progress with me here. The founding principles of these United States are really good ones, the founding fathers were mostly pretty good dudes, and while they left some stuff out (like that whole slavery thing, and that part about women being people too), they did include a mechanism to address their blind spots, and historically, this country has been a pretty great one. We should absolutely not rush into changing those original intents just for the sake of change. A run-away left-wing would probably do some damage eventually, so if the three branches of government are balanced with a variety of viewpoints, and its leaders are committed to due process, legal understanding, and a diligent interpretation and application of the Constitution, then this country would be functioning a lot better.

But then things start to get a little crazy. “I’ve got my Bible in one pocket, and the Constitution in the other” is the kind of idolatry I’m talking about. In the Old Testament, God gave real specific instructions to the nation of Israel on how it should be run – based on laws, and frankly, some accommodation for the historical reality in which they found themselves. Then He took the nation of Israel apart, because they couldn’t get it right, sent His Son to fulfill the law, and left us with instructions on how to live our lives and care for our families and communities. In effect, He said, my people are now the Church – and this country you call home doesn’t figure much into the plan. We are sojourners in a foreign land, and as such, the two key commandments for us to live by are: love God, and love your neighbor. The United States doesn’t appear in the Bible, there will be no “Americans” in heaven, and God didn’t actually write, or inspire, the Constitution. It’s a human document, modified plenty of times, and while a decent human creation, its not actually Scripture.

Citizens should vote. There are some believers who are called to serve in government – He’s gifted us all in different ways, and we honor Him by doing those jobs well, and applying Biblical principles to our decisions within those roles. This is admirable — and I get that its pretty difficult right now. But we aren’t supposed to be building or fighting for a Christian nation, we’re supposed to be loving our neighbors. Donald Trump doesn’t love his neighbor – he mostly just loves Donald Trump.

Within a democracy, there will be different interpretations of what policies are most loving; rational debate can be had. Is job creation more important than social programs for helping the down trodden? Does reducing taxes create more opportunities for people to live happy lives, or do social safety nets give people a better sense of security? Should an armed police department respond to every incident? These are great questions! Let’s have those debates, do some studies, and try to figure it out! But claiming the Bible always sides with your political party is not only wrong, it is putting something else before God.

So if God isn’t a Republican, Trump isn’t a Christian, and voting for him isn’t going to make this nation more Christ-like, then what is a believer supposed to do? Well, I have some thoughts, but I guess those will have to wait for part two

One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear

One of the president’s more ridiculous statements in February — one that looked even stupider a few weeks later as we began locking down — has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Not, of course, because we’ve beat the coronavirus, but because as a nation we decided it wasn’t a thing any more. Unable to follow the pattern of other countries that have done a good job of managing the pandemic, Americans quickly decided the bigger threat was to their individual rights, and that anyone with the education or authority (elected or otherwise) to give them guidance during a pandemic was actually the enemy.

In the battle to protect their rights, the collateral damage comes in the form of over 100,000 of their neighbors who died as a direct, or indirect, result of the dangerous spread of Covid-19. So be it, we’ve decided: I’ll do what’s right for me, that’s what being an American means!

I have a whole other draft post of some of the astoundingly ridiculous parts of being in America right now, but I’ve decided those won’t help. While the country that voted for the border wall guy is effectively locked out of visiting most other countries (including our home country that has no interest in seeing more Americans right now) life actually does go on. And the reality we’re in is one we just have to live with. The US is uninterested in participating in global efforts to manage the virus, because no one tells Americans what to do — not other Americans, and especially not the World Health Organization. And so we have to figure out how to live with this virus as a daily reality. A reality that will continue at least until we have a vaccine, but maybe longer, since we don’t trust vaccines either

Of course, opinions on the actual risk fall fairly precisely on political lines. And since its an election year, all data made available to us is filtered through one of two lenses. If you’re on the left, the pandemic must be the worst thing that ever happened because Trump’s mismanagement of it should impact his re-election chances. If you’re on the right, the pandemic has to be overblown, because if it really was a problem, obviously Trump would be doing a better job. Now, go ahead and apply this logic to everything else going on:

Masks Pose a Risk to My Health

If you’re on the left, you wear a mask while you’re alone in your car, because the virus is everywhere and we should all live in fear.
If you’re on the right, you wear a sign like this around your neck, because masks are a form of government oppression.

If you’re on the left, the peaceful protests against systemic racism only turn violent when jack-booted storm troopers appear and start shooting gentle hippies that were singing Kumbaya before they got attacked.
If you’re on the right, Antifa terrorists were burning American cities to the ground before Trump’s heroic defenders of Christian values arrived to save the day.

But what if I told you that you could be anti-racist, without looting local businesses? Or that you could support your local police department, but still want bad cops to go to jail?
What if I told you that practicing basic precautions like wearing a mask, or being thoughtful about interactions with those around you that might be more vulnerable, would allow your society to resume with a reasonable degree of normalcy?

Well, I could tell you those things… but since they don’t align with one of the two available political positions, you probably wouldn’t listen. It is an election year, after all, and any information that doesn’t affirm your worldview is irrelevant. You can hardly blame Americans — its hard to remember a time where politicians didn’t use fear of the “other” to win elections.

It turns out, in talking to individuals from both sides of the Covid debate (because somehow reality is up for debate), one thing we can all agree on is that we’re not getting good information. I’ve been tracking stats for our county, and the neighboring, more populous county, all summer. The raw data is extremely limited — and all other information comes with a political spin. The CDC has failed — not because its not a rigorous scientific organization, but because it doesn’t know how to disseminate information to the American public. Opinion wins hearts because that’s all we’re offered on the news. Most people I’ve talked to, regardless of political viewpoint, are actually hungry for good data, and willing to talk reasonably about what little we have.

I find neither the leftist fear-based view of the pandemic, nor the right’s determination to pretend it isn’t real, to be satisfying. I’d much rather take a data-driven approach to evaluating risk — for myself, my family and my neighbors. And actually, most people I talk to individually are similarly reasonable. Its just that the political discourse in this country drives groups to extremes…

Here’s what I’m fairly confident in for our family, given the data we’ve collected recently:

First, it is possible to get home to Canada. Nic and the kids spent a little under three weeks there, and although it was challenging, there isn’t an actual border wall — just an abundance of caution. Canada requires two-full weeks of complete isolation for anyone entering the country, but allows travel for essential purposes — which includes “reuniting with family”. Because they would be staying in a camper on Nic’s parent’s property, and complete isolation would be challenging, we all self-isolated at home in the States for a week prior to their trip. We then planned a route home with emergency bathroom spots identified where they wouldn’t encounter other people (trails, parks and cemeteries with lots of trees). Fortunately the stops weren’t needed. The border crossing was facilitated by an App-based form they filled out before they left home, that identified where they would be isolating, how they would get groceries, and what numbers they could be contacted at by the government to confirm their conformity to the plan. The camper was spacious and modern, and they had access to the pool and the Internet during their quarantine.
I remained in the US as the “anchor” — and because we couldn’t risk being refused re-entry to the States and losing my job. On the way back they were “reuniting” with me, and had no issues.

Thank you to Nicole’s family for providing a comfortable quarantine spot!

Second, we live in a county where the risk is low. Although compliance with the mask mandate probably hovers around 50% (we have lots of those “don’t tread on me” Americans near us), the population is not dense, and there are few large gathering areas. Since data was made available in March, only 0.7% of the county has been impacted, and less than 50 people have died with Covid. Add to that the new information we’ve just gotten about co-morbidity (and factor in common co-morbidities, like obesity) and its less than 0.05% of our population that has died from this since it arrived. I update my spreadsheet daily, and its been 15 days since I had to update the “deaths” column — I’m sad when I do have to change that value, and I pray for those families, but the data-based reality is that 46 deaths since March is not much.

From my own spreadsheet, tracking cases in our county using raw data

That said, the next county over, which includes the city of Cleveland, has very different numbers. 4% of their (much larger) population has been impacted, there are about 140 news cases a day on average, and they’ve only recently started to get that under control. What this means to me, as someone who spends a lot of time trying to interpret data in my day job, is that risk varies — and therefore, so should precautions. We will, of course, practice reasonable precaution any time we’re outside our home. But we will increase those precautions if we have to go into the city. And for every destination between picking up groceries at the corner store and going to the city, there’s an appropriate scale of precaution that should be applied.

Cleveland area cases, from raw data

Unfortunately, with a polarized, politicized view of the pandemic, there’s little room for this sort of risk-based evaluation. Either you believe you have the right to sneeze in anyone’s face that you want, or you believe that people shouldn’t leave their home. And the truly unfortunate thing is that this has begun to split the Church. God’s people, who should be united in showing mercy, practicing justice, and walking with humility — those of us who are called to love self-sacrificially — are fighting about our rights and our fears.

I am much more concerned about the ability of the church to function lovingly in the world as a beacon of hope, than I am about seeing mega-church pastors fight for their rights to put 3000 people in a room. I am much more concerned with seeing God’s people united in the Great Commission, than I am about exactly how each congregation decides to apply the Biblical mandate to gather (which should be determined based on risk factors, as outlined above.) And while I’m happy that my kids can participate in hybrid schooling and outdoor youth group right now, I recognize that just one county over, things are different — and its not a political spin that should be dictating our reaction to events in the world; it should be Christ’s love, and where available, good data.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

– Micah 6:8

To act justly means that Black lives definitely matter, but that neither violence nor Marxism will fix the problems that need to be addressed.

To love mercy means that I should wear a mask: it is an act of mercy to others who may be at risk.

And to walk humbly with my God, means that my rights aren’t important — a servant heart, and a love for God and others, should rule my life. (It also means a recognition that my political candidate/party of choice might not actually speak for God…)

The Golden Thread

Somehow the math still works. Things may be a dumpster fire here, but the economic situation is strangely detached from reality: the US dollar still has $0.34 on the Canadian equivalent, real estate in Ohio remains significantly cheaper than any Toronto-area bedroom community, and my salary is almost impossible to find on the Ontario job market — and trust me, I’ve checked!

While Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down within US borders, and our home country shows no signs of being interested in having their unruly neighbors come over to visit, a few things have improved a little since my last post.

Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star: Canada-US border

First of all, there are signs of cognitive activity in the President: he called masks “patriotic” and admitted the virus is getting worse. I’m not sure if this is the result of polls showing that the other bigoted old white dude is real competition for November, or if this is just how long it takes for someone like Trump to learn anything new — but we welcome this rational thinking. Hopefully the red hats will follow his lead.

Second, my employer was able to file a correction to our entry stamps. Apparently its not a cheap legal maneuver, but they undertook it on our behalf. Our entry records now show the correct expiry in 2022 — aligned with my work Visa. The correction means we can travel home if/when we need to, and not worry about getting back. The virus related travel challenges remain, but at least 50% of the problem is solved.

We’re 40 this month, and this may prove to be one of the most unusual years of our lives. The debate rages on about a return to school in the fall, and I have a persistent, although minor, medical issue, that may require a follow-up surgery. We don’t really know what the rest of the year will look like, but we’re provided for, safe and mostly healthy, so we’re grateful — despite grumbling to the contrary.

A Tale of Two Countries

I remember the day we heard that Trump had been elected. I was at a trade show with my boss, and we met up that morning in the long hallway leading to the show floor. I said to him, “What has your country done?” and he just shook his head sadly.

Most of Trump’s presidency has had minimal impact on our family. Shortly after he announced his intent to terminate NAFTA, the agreement which provided my work Visa at the time, we finally (after 7 years) won the H1B lottery. This simplified crossing the border, and granted Nicole recognized personhood for the first time in the US — her immigration status still depends on mine, but she has some legal rights now. In the end, the changes to the NAFTA agreement were minor, but we felt safer with our improved status.

So it has been that we’ve been able to ride out the Presidency of a morally repugnant, but mostly politically innocuous, Donald Trump. Since we don’t belong to any minorities, his policies haven’t impacted us significantly. And some of what our Republican-voting friends were hoping for has actually come true — the Supreme Court has tipped toward Conservative leadership (not that it has done them much good), and the economy has performed reasonably well. He’s not a likable person, and some of his fan group is pretty reprehensible, but an argument could have been made that he served his base.

That is until Covid-19 hit. Beginning with denial, following-up with attacks on his own scientific advisers and State leaders, and continuing with threats to de-fund sources of research, Trump led his country into one of the worst possible outcomes. America is exceptional only in its horrifically poor handling of the pandemic. And while other nations are in careful recovery, the US is in resurgence in many densely populated areas.

From the US Embassy in Canada website – the strength of partnership

Its no surprise then, that our home country doesn’t want us back right now. The date of re-opening for the usually friendly border has been moved back at least twice, as Canada (and other parts of the world) watch in horror while our frequently inept State and federal governments scramble to spin the irrefutable, and currently unstoppable, facts of viral transmission in line with their political positions — as if an interpretation of the Constitution will somehow change the behavior of a virus — all while many Americans are indifferent to what’s happening.

But that’s not all. Trump has also put a hold on green cards and H1B stamps through to November, claiming that it will help protect American jobs. Since most H1B Visas (which make up a tiny percentage of the US population) are issued for tech workers, the tech community responded by pointing out the obvious: skilled work forces, regardless of origin, improve American output and create American jobs. But Trump benefits from less educated voters, so he’s not listening. (Not listening is apparently his default state.)

Can I nominate one of these dumb chickens to be the next President?

We are still lucky, though. Ohio’s Republican government has performed well during this pandemic, our mostly conservative community has generally behaved thoughtfully, and our county is fairly safe. I don’t always agree with the political signs I see on people’s lawns, but I haven’t observed any ignorance or hate — “love your neighbor” (or at least “live and let live”) seems to win around here most of the time. Plus, I have a job that allows me to work from home, and the kids have enough space to enjoy the warm weather — we even got chickens for them to raise this summer. So while we’re grateful, the one-two punch of Trump’s leadership in 2020 has a big impact on us…

Nicole and Eli’s Visa stamps expire in September. Normally this isn’t a big deal — when this happens, we take a trip home to Canada, show our work authorization paperwork on the way back to the States, and get a new stamp. But stamps aren’t being issued until at least November (who knows what happens if Trump gets re-elected), and non-essential travel is restricted until July 21. If the border re-opens as planned, that gives us a window of one month to visit home, of which we’ll likely spend two weeks under a mandatory isolation order. If they delay the re-opening by another month (which is likely), that gives us a window of 10 days to visit home, of which 14 will likely be under an isolation order. That’s negative 4 days to visit family and friends…

Biden has said he would lift the Visa holds if he’s elected in November. If that was the only reason to root for his election, I’d feel selfish. But there’s basically unlimited reasons to hope we never have to see Trump in the Oval Office again. He’s turned this great country that we love into an international embarrassment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only hope that our American friends have had enough of this strange timeline, and will vote for the other bigoted old white dude