Donald Trump has decided that the IRS is auditing his taxes because he is a Christian. It is (at least in his mind) a clear case of Big-Government Christian-Bashing. Now, I am not a public Prosecutor, but (so far) I haven’t heard enough evidence to convict him of the Christian charge. And I am a little skeptical of his claim that this would be a reason the IRS might be interested in his tax returns. But I am going to leave the IRS to do its job and ponder a different kind of audit altogether.
We Christians (both outspoken and quiet) are in the midst of Lent which happens to be a time when we are encouraged to conduct an internal and external audit of our faith(ing). In the interest of not abandoning those who readers who are not Christian, let me pause for a moment and be clear about what we are (and are not) auditing.
We are not auditing our beliefs. Our beliefs form a kind of intellectual matrix, and that matrix can include everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Do we believe (or not) in the Virgin Birth? How about the miracles described in the gospels (Did Jesus really walk on water? heal the man blind from birth? raise Lazarus?) Do we believe (or not) in the resurrection of the body? the sages from the east? transubstantiation? eternal damnation? universal salvation? Our beliefs tend to be heavily influenced by the doctrine of our particular sect of Christianity and (heresy alert!) are largely neither here nor there when it comes to being a follower of the way of Jesus.
Faith(ing) is a completely different animal. The Greek word that we translate into English as ‘faith’ is actually a verb, not a noun. It applies to an active engagement with the world, a set of consistent behaviors that incarnate, manifest, ‘live out loud’ what we hold to be of greatest value. Moreover, it is a set of behaviors that is continually evolving and changing. Lent – indeed, the whole life of a disciple – is about auditing our faith(ing) with intention on a regular basis. This is really true about any follower of any path of discipleship. Faith(ing) is about engaging in acts that will deepen and strengthen our maturity and behavior.
So the question always is, What are we living out loud? What is our audit(s)tory about our maturity in the life of faith?
Presumably, as a good, outspoken follower of Jesus, Mr. Trump is currently engaged in this (Lenten faith(ing)) audit (along with the one the IRS is conducting). So, I am wondering how he is judging himself in relation to some of Jesus’ non-negotiable mandates like welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, and loving our enemies? [As an aside, I am wondering the same thing about Senator Cruz who is making the same (loudly repetitive) claim of being a Christian.]
I could quote scripture until hell freezes over (except I don’t believe in hell – beyond the one we create here on earth), but I won’t. Let me cut to the chase and use the short interchange between Jesus and a student of the Hebrew law that is the measuring stick I use for my own faith(ing) audit.
The scribe (lawyer) asks, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And Jesus answers, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I don’t know how Mr. Trump or Senator Cruz behave off the campaign trail. I don’t know how all the people who are supporting them behave. Perhaps they are all persons of generous compassion who spend all their free time serving in soup kitchens and building shelters for the homeless. For all I know, Mr. Trump’s stump speeches may be filled with proclamations he doesn’t actually believe (like promising to close our borders to immigrants, create a database to register all Muslims in the country, and shut down mosques).
Here is what I do know. I know that I (personally) need to be very careful about that loving God part…because loving someone includes not using that person for my own ends or as a means to my own aggrandizement. I need to be really careful that I don’t assume that I know what God is about or how God may be choosing to act. Let’s face it, I don’t even have a good handle on why my husband does what he does. Or, frankly, why I do some of the things I do. So believing that God’s plans always march in lock-step with mine is probably a fantasy.
I also know that loving my neighbor as myself requires a community of accountability to remind me that I can be kinder, more generous, less judgmental, more inclusive, and more merciful than I am currently being.
Back to Mr. Trump (and/or Senator Cruz): Even if he/they don’t want to make this nation their own personal gated country club (which is what it sounds like they want at the moment) and are just pandering to folks who aren’t Jesus-followers (and, presumably, also aren’t Muslim), how is that loving your neighbor as yourself? Wouldn’t you expect the person who wants to be the leader of one of the most influential countries in the world to be asking us to rise above petty fears and narrow-mindedness? To take the high ground? To find common ground? To be generous and kind of spirit to those who are under-employed, or who are under-insured, or who are under-educated because the public school system is failing in so many places? To mention our need to work for a common good? To invoke our best impulses rather than our worst?
Whatever they may or may not be doing in private, what Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz are doing and saying in public isn’t Christian by any definition Jesus would recognize.
How about the rest of us? We don’t need to be Christian to do a personal spiritual or moral audit. And to wrestle honestly with what we find. The choices and words of some of our political candidates are a lesson in ‘living out loud’ that (again, speaking personally) are an example of what I do not want to be…in form or in content.
So, in the midst of a challenging season in the electoral cycle, it is time for me to be about rising above my petty fear and narrow-mindedness, taking the high ground, finding common ground, being generous and kind of spirit to those who are under-employed, or who are under-insured, or who are under-educated because the public school system is failing in so many places (and voting for people who will help put the system on an even playing field), working for a common good, and living out of my best impulses rather than my worst.
Text © 2016, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014.2015, 2016, Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: Two of the photos above are from the Chakra series I am working on: Heart Chakra and Crown Chakra. Both are available from my etsy shop. The first photo is the Candle of Conscience from Salisbury Cathedral. The second photo is from the Icon Museum in Massachusetts.