It has become so unfashionable to be optimistic that to speak of hope in America seems as quaint as discussing honor in a man or virtue in a woman. It’s not that these things don’t exist anymore, it’s simply become unfashionable to discuss them.
But I came away from my first visit to the National Prayer Breakfast feeling — dare I say it? — uplifted and encouraged. The sight of people from around the country and around the world gathered together in our capital to discuss and celebrate and encourage worship made me think that all manner of things might yet be well. Indeed, I’ve begun to wonder if the greatest danger currently facing our nation isn’t the cacophony of political pundits screaming that great danger is facing our nation. It gins up hysteria in the fools who take it seriously and causes them to hate and fear whatever is not themselves.
Yet here at the Breakfast, I saw left-wing legislators and right-wing legislators discussing their joint weekly Bible study and prayer. This, it seems to me, has to be a good thing: that those who govern can still set aside their differences in the presence of something larger than themselves, larger, indeed, than anything. As one legislator remarked, “It’s hard to stab a man in the back once you’ve prayed with him. Not impossible, but hard.”
God doesn’t get very good media coverage these days, when he gets any at all. On the news, you hardly ever see a pastor unless he’s opposed to something, usually something sexual. It gives the impression that religious people are all a bunch of small-minded scolds who can’t sleep at night for worrying about what you’re doing with your private parts. St. Paul said, “Jesus Christ… was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ but in Him it has always been ‘Yes.'” When was the last time you heard a pastor on the news saying yes about anything?
Likewise, out here in Hollywood, the “Yes” of God is generally left on the cutting room floor. Was Christ at the center of singer Johnny Cash’s life? Not in the biopic Walk the Line. In the movie, Jesus was reduced to a ten-second walk-on: a scene of Cash shyly entering a church. A similar edit minimized the presence of God in the based-on-truth film Unbroken. You have to read the book to learn that the hero of the hero’s life was Christ.
The distortion of God in the media may not be intentional, but it certainly is a result of the prevalent religious attitudes on the coasts. I suspect many in our news and entertainment media hate and fear God because… well, wouldn’t you if you were them?
But among our representatives in Washington, for this weekend at least, God remains a living presence. Senate Chaplain Barry Black — a Navy rear admiral — brought the packed house to its feet with his ringing keynote on the work the Bible did in him when he was a child: “Even at ten I had sufficient analytical skills to know that the value of an object is based upon the price someone is willing to pay. And when it dawned on me, a little guy in the inner-city, that God sent what John 3 calls the only one of its kind, ‘His only begotten son,’ to die for me, no one was able to make me feel inferior again.”
Amen and hallelujah. I found it pleasant to imagine U.S. senators going to a man like that for spiritual counseling. I hope they do.
It was after that speech, in a room pulsing with the spirit, that TV producer Mark Burnett introduced the president with a non-malevolent but somewhat tone-deaf introduction about how he started the show The Apprentice. And it was following that introduction that Donald Trump made his inappropriate joke about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poor ratings: “I just want to pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings.”
It was clear that Trump was out of place at the gathering, that he simply does not have the language and behavior of Christian spirituality in him, even to use (as so many pols do) as a cover for hypocrisy. I suspect President Trump does not see himself as a moral leader, but more as something like our top mechanic. “I fix things — that’s what I do,” he told the crowd.
Ah well. I guess that means, if we are going to recover the Biblical bedrock of our nation’s values, the people are going to have to do the work themselves.
Not to sound optimistic, but that may not be such a bad thing.
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