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Salt and Light

So, the world is today waking up bleary-eyed and incredulous to a Donald Trump presidency. Most of the people in my social media orbit are stunned, shocked, angry, grieving, horrified, anxious, fearful, and whole host of other grim adjectives. I can’t recall encountering this volume of doom and gloom before breakfast in quite some time. The once-laughable prospect of someone as reckless, crude, ignorant, arrogant, childish, and spiteful as Donald Trump ever occupying the White House has now become a reality.

As my wife and I were mulling over this ominous state of affairs this morning, it occurred to me that of all the things that I’m feeling today, “surprise” would be rather low on the list. I’m not surprised. Not really. In many ways, a Donald Trump presidency has a certain perverse logic to it in a cultural context where politics is theatre, where journalism is entertainment, where political opinion is shaped by the reactive and emotive deliverances of Twitter, and where once admired virtues of civility, truth-telling, moral character, and transparency are so often treated as little more than speed bumps on the superhighway to superpower. Donald Trump as president is, in some ways, exactly what we ought to expect in light of what we have to come to value and what we have chosen to ignore.

And now, we will be treated to weeks on end of reaction. Those of us who are disappointed by the results of yesterday’s election will find it tempting to look with incredulous disdain at the ignorant masses who did this. There will be endless mockery and the relentless apportioning of blame. Those who are elated by it will gleefully exult in the middle finger to the establishment, the media, the politically correct, etc. that this decision represents. On and on and ON it will go. We will agonize over how this was possible about what it says about us about what it means for the future about how impossible it is to understand “those people,” whoever “those people” might be. For me, the most parsimonious rationale for the decision itself and the endless stream of commentary it will unleash comes from the pen of the prophet Jeremiah:

The heart is deceitful above all things

and beyond cure.

Who can understand it?

Words as true in AD 2016 as they were in BC 600, it seems to me.

As it happens, I spent a good chunk of Election Day with friends and neighbours welcoming another Syrian family to our community. It was a wonderful distraction from the insanity of the media machine, and was of course delightfully ironic in countless ways. At one point, I looked around at this unlikely collection of humanity gathered together on an improbably warm November day on the Canadian prairies. We had Christians of at least four different denominations who had come together nearly two years ago to begin this journey of refugee sponsorship together. We had our new Syrian friends who had just welcomed a brother and sister at the airport. We had neighbours from the down the street. We had a translator who had become a friend. We had a mixture of Mediterranean and Western food laid out on a groaning kitchen table. We had endless smiles and hugs and kids bouncing off the walls, a noisy din of English and Arabic mixing and mingling in the air.

At one point, I overheard our translator friend talking enthusiastically to the new arrivals from Syria. “What are you talking about?” I asked. She told me, “I was just telling him that about how amazing this group is… that before the government ever decided to do anything, this group of churches was out in front leading the way.” I think she went on to say a whole bunch of other very nice things, but I was kind of lost in thought from that point onward to be honest. I marveled at what is possible when ordinary people far from the official levers of power and influence decide that good needs to be done. I looked around at all the people in the room and breathed a quick prayer of gratitude for each of them. There are moments when I feel embarrassed by the behaviour of my fellow Christians (election cycles, for example). This was not one of those moments. This was a moment that made me proud to number myself among those whose lives have been upended and rerouted by the love of Jesus.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus spoke these words:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

There has never been a social or political context that has not been in need of salt and light. Salt to preserve goodness and truth and beauty in contexts that seem destined for nothing but rot and decay. Light to point toward the love and the life of the enemy-embracing, wall-shattering, truth-telling God revealed most clearly in Jesus Christ. The church has always been entrusted with this high and holy task: to direct human hearts and minds to better and brighter things than the toxic alternatives that we so naturally gravitate toward, that are so deeply embedded in the human heart. To allow the Spirit of God to take us by the hand and lead us away from violence and deceit and arrogant self-flattery that we so greedily crave. The church has always been supposed to play this dual role of preservation and illumination. That we have failed so frequently and (sometimes) so spectacularly does not mean that this doesn’t remain our true north, our raison d’etre.

Political leaders and regimes will come and go. Despots will rise and fall, wars will be waged and (mercifully) averted, human hearts will continue to be hell-bent on the very things that are destroying them. This is the way the world has always been and will always be. But there is no force on earth that has the power to prevent the church from fulfilling its twin calling to preserve and to illuminate. Thanks be to God.

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kevin K #

    “Political leaders and regimes will come and go. Despots will rise and fall, wars will be waged and (mercifully) averted, human hearts will continue to be hell-bent on the very things that are destroying them. This is the way the world has always been and will always be. But there is no force on earth that has the power to prevent the church from fulfilling its twin calling to preserve and to illuminate. Thanks be to God.”

    Amen. Appreciate the perspective and encouragement. A pastorally appropriate response. Thank-you.

    November 9, 2016
  2. Ann Sinclair #

    As a citizen of the United States, I can only feel sorrow and fear today. The very behaviors that have been presented as wrong during my lifetime are now rewarded and copied with enthusiasm by much of society. Where we are going as a country is unknown, but the direction looks bleak.

    Almost 100 years ago, Canada welcomed my mother’s refugee family. That is where they first found safety and peace after the horrors of the Russian Revolution. My personal approach to the sadness I feel over recent events is going to be tempered by trying to do more for new refugees. Thank you for your efforts with the families you help. I will try to do a small version of that help where I live.

    November 9, 2016
    • The very behaviors that have been presented as wrong during my lifetime are now rewarded and copied with enthusiasm by much of society…

      Yes, this is one that bothers me, too. You teach your children to tell the truth, to treat other viewpoints with respect, to not use threats and intimidation, that money isn’t everything, that winning at all costs is not to be admired… And then you see a man elected to the highest office in America who is the lurid embodiment of each one of these things. It makes the head spin.

      So great to hear a bit of your family’s refugee journey. I wish you all the best as you try to help where you live.

      November 9, 2016
  3. jc #

    Ugh. I usually don’t mind the first half of your blog entries but the second half when the Max Lucado punchline gets delivered has always left me cold. It seems like you haven’t given the problem of evil as much thought or weight as it should have in a long time. I just want to be depressed today instead read all of the “don’t worry God is in control no matter what truly awful things he has allowed to happen in this world posts.”

    November 9, 2016
    • Wow. Being compared to Max Lucado AND not taking the problem of evil seriously enough in the same comment.. Donald Trump has apparently ushered in an even stranger and more bewildering reality than I imagined possible… 😉

      November 9, 2016
  4. hey JC I see your point about wanting to be depressed today. When I woke up this morning the first thing I said to my wife was that last night I had a terrible dream about a reality show host becoming the US president. 🙂

    On how Ryan manages to focus on the positive in his posts – just remember that he is a preacher and preachers get hurt by the faithful if they let themselves become too real and bleak. Have you ever wondered why preachers often seem plastic, its because church culture expects them to put on a happy face …. in terms of Ryan, i do think that he has plumbed the depths of evil and see it reflected in his posts/comments – happily he hasn’t lost all hope 🙂

    November 9, 2016
    • As it happens, Larry, I don’t “focus on the positives” because I am a preacher (I actually self-identity far more easily as a “writer” than a “preacher”) or because I’m trying to avoid becoming “too real and bleak” (I’ve been accused of both rather often). It’s more than a little bizarre to be having to defend myself against “putting on a happy face” or somehow writing in such a way as to appease the faithful or whatever. Most of the people who know me best would probably be chuckling out loud upon reading some of this stuff…

      Re: the “Max Lucado” turn in this post (and others, I presume), I would simply say that I try to always be asking the question, “What does this issue/problem/controversy/social reality ask me to do in concrete terms?” I spent a good chunk of my teens and twenties agonizing over philosophical and theological abstractions, and eventually came to a grudging peace with the fact that none of the questions that matter most in the world (Why is there evil? Is there a God? Does free will exist? Does truth matter?) fall into the realm of empirical proof. No matter what worldview we embrace, we are all dealing in the realm of metaphysics and personal convictions and commitments—whether we understand or acknowledge this or not.

      So, given all this, the question then becomes, “In light of problem/issue/controversy x, and in light of my convictions and commitments, what ought I to do?” Hence the second part of the post above. If I don’t have at least the possibility of hopeful action in the face of evil and suffering and injustice, and if I don’t at least attempt to give it voice, it becomes too easy to just settle into complacent despair and cheap cynicism (believe me, these could come quite easily and naturally to me!). At my best, I understand that this is a road that not worth traveling.

      So, I suppose I’ll keep making the “Max Lucado” turn—not because I’m a preacher or because I’m trying to placate the religious masses or because my paycheque depends on it or any other such thing, but because I need this hope to live well in the world.

      November 9, 2016
      • jc #

        I guess I just miss the “Ryan in his twenties” blog posts.

        November 9, 2016
      • Come to think of it, I didn’t start this blog until my thirties… So, I guess technically there are no “Ryan in his twenties” posts to miss. 😉

        November 9, 2016
      • I should add that I would like to think that the hope that I articulate here is more than a Max Lucado tag on to the end of all the serious, realistic, appropriately despondent stuff. The hope that I have is, if nothing else, reasonably hard-won and, I hope, articulated with some measure of appreciation of why it might not be shared. If what you heard from the post above is some kind of formulaic articulation of “God is in control,” well, then I must have some work to do in communicating clearly.

        November 9, 2016
    • jc #

      You are older than I thought! For some reason I thought you were in your twenties at Regent and I thought your blog started back then

      November 11, 2016
      • I was thirty when I began at Regent. Started the blog a year and a half later.

        November 12, 2016
  5. Rebecca #

    Excellent post. I find politics is all about tolerance….and jokes. Can’t forget the jokes.

    November 9, 2016
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Lucado? Most of his quotes are of the cocktail napkin variety. Ryan would need a table cloth.

    November 10, 2016
    • I’m going to choose to interpret that as a compliment… and not a (thoroughly warranted) commentary on my wordiness. 🙂

      November 12, 2016
      • Paul Johnston #

        Lol. Precision comes at a price and usually won’t fit on a t-shirt.

        November 12, 2016
  7. As an American, I can only say this: the sane of us are outraged and terrified. We won the popular vote but the Orange fuhrer got in anyway.

    Prayer is needed; yes. I’ve been praying for two straight days now. America has committed suicide, and I fear this nation will now bring the world down with it.

    November 10, 2016
    • Paul Johnston #

      Many in some of the circles I move in felt a similar concern when Mr. Obama was elected.😄

      Trump cannot rule independent of Congress. Yours is a republic not a dictatorship.

      If any of the outrageous concerns people have make themselves manifest, president Trump will swiftly face the wrath of his own congress.

      A congress can impeach it’s president. Make no mistake this body will move quickly against Mr. Trump should he threaten the safety of the world or attempt to govern erratically and independently of them.

      The “Donald” has, pardon the coarseness, whipped some ass. He has parlayed the art of making the “deal” into the presidency. He is almost always made fun of, underestimated and scorned…..and look where we are today.

      I think the mask comes off. The huckster with the platinum touch… your heart out Tony Robbins…..will look to reveal his presidential style and will surely temper his language and behavior…..the deal has been won time to do serious work….

      Republican control of all three branches of the executive is the real story here. How that plays out could have seminal impact on how America goes forward over the next few generations.

      Many sopposed Christian groups make their camp here and have been the moral backbone…..for better or worse….of the party since the 80’s. It is time for them to bring the true Gospel to the public square.

      I have about as much confidence in them as you do in Trump.

      Here’s praying we are both wrong.

      November 10, 2016
      • We will pray alongside you, Shawn. And perhaps take comfort in the fact that the church has endured a lot of terrible kings and emperors over the millennia and still found ways to be faithful to the path of Christ.

        November 12, 2016
      • Nomad #

        …Great insightful comment, Paul.

        November 13, 2016
  8. Cheryl #


    November 11, 2016

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