The True Meaning of Trump's Favorite Song

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Earlier today, President Trump appeared at the CPAC. He gave a long, winding speech, full of his “greatest hits,” including a recap of his 2016 election win, the promise to build a wall, chants of “Lock her up!”, and surprisingly, another reading of “The Snake.”

Reading the lyrics of the old soul classic by Al Wilson had been a staple on Trump’s campaign. He implored the crowds to hear it as a warning about immigration, which he did again this morning at CPAC.

The song is straightforward. It tells the story of a “tender hearted woman” who finds a “poor half frozen snake,” and moved by compassion, takes the snake home, where she warms and feeds the creature. After the snake recovers, he takes a vicious bite out of the woman. As she screams, “I saved you, and now you’ve bitten me, but why?”

The snake hisses, “Oh shut up, silly woman. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

The moral of the story is straightforward — some people simply can’t be trusted, or once a snake, always a snake.

As Trump uses the story, however, there is a sinister twist. He means to say that you can’t trust the people you let into a country, whether migrants, asylees, Muslims, or refugees. In fact, the song seems to say, these kinds of people are quite dangerous. Welcoming the stranger is a mortal threat to the safety of a country.

I could write volumes about why this view of immigration is cynical, misinformed, and downright evil.

Instead, I would like to suggest that “The Snake,” unbeknownst to Trump, is actually the story of the gospel. It’s not a preposterous concept — the woman and the snake immediately conjure the well-known tale of the Garden of Eden. In that story, the serpent tempts Eve into disobeying God’s command, which unleashes sin and death upon humanity. At the end of the tale, God says to the snake, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This has traditionally been read by Christians as an early prophecy of Christ; he will “strike the head” of Satan and reverse the curse, bringing an end to the sin and death.

We Christians believe that this is precisely what Jesus did. But how? What did Jesus do to bring this result about?

Well, he did something strikingly similar to what the woman in the song did. He loved the snake!

In story after story in the gospels, we see Jesus giving love, compassion, and healing to criminals, sinners, and illegals. He loved his enemies. He spoke truth and justice in the streets and in the marketplace. And when evil came for him, like the suddenly-revived snake, he gave himself up for the vicious bite!

He didn’t fight the snake; he didn’t regret taking the snake in. Instead, it is through receiving the bite itself, that Jesus won victory. That’s what Christians claim every time we say that Jesus was crucified and resurrected for our sins. We are making the paradoxical assertion that Jesus defeated evil and death by dying.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, I know. But that’s the beautiful mystery of the Jesus story. Love is stronger than evil, stronger even than death.

The conclusion to be drawn from this awareness is that we must be unafraid to take in snakes. We must engage in the radical trust of agape love. We must not “return evil for evil,” as Saint Paul put it (Romans 12:17). We must not draw the sword, for “he who takes the sword dies by the sword,” as Jesus put it (Matthew 26:52).

The only way to true life, abundant and free, is to risk warming, feeding, and caring for the stranger, for the immigrant, and yes, indeed, even for the enemy.

I don't think that's exactly the message Trump was going for ...

How to Pray About A(nother) School Shooting

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I was blissfully unaware of the school shooting yesterday in Florida for much of the day because I was busy with meetings and preparations for Ash Wednesday. When I saw the “Breaking News” alert on my phone, I tried to ignore it as long as I could.

Not until I got home from the Ash Wednesday service last night could I spend any time processing what happened.

Since I have already announced that our Lenten focus will be going deeper in prayer, let me suggest a couple of important things to know about how to pray in the aftermath of big tragedies such as a school shooting:

 

  1. Because the blame game will shortly begin, it’s always good to pray a Prayer of Confession. The usual suspects will be on TV soon — the NRA gun lobby, a do-nothing Congress, the state of mental health services, those who knew the shooter was a threat but did nothing, etc. But we all shoulder a portion of the blame for this national trait of ours. As Americans, we are complicit in a culture that celebrates violence, shames those with mental disabilities, and does nothing to prevent future school shootings. A Prayer of Confession is the only way to approach God in this matter. 
  2. Pray for victims, survivors, and first responders by name. As names pop up on the screen or in news coverage, use those names in your prayer. This personalizes the situation for you, and has the effect of deepening your empathy and compassion. It’s one thing to pray for “all those affected by” an event, and quite another to pray for Reginald, Barry, and Leigh.
  3. Pray for the shooter. Our natural impulse will be to pray for the shooter’s destruction, or to leave him out of our prayers altogether. He has committed an atrocious and horrific evil. We want to avoid mentioning him, but the Truth-with-a-capital-T is that he is a beloved child of God, as surely as those whose lives he took. He is a human being who deserves dignity and respect, even if he did not extend dignity and respect in kind. Our prayer for this particular shooter ought to be that he finds grace from God such that he is driven to repentance.
  4. Very few words rise to the surface of one’s consciousness when trying to pray about a school shooting; thus, it can be a helpful thing to attempt praying without words. One way to do this is to watch news video footage with the sound muted. Let the images guide you; enter the scene with your imagination, and let the emotions you encounter lead you into prayer, either wordlessly or with words. Remain in silence for as long as you need to.
  5. Finally, pray for guidance to action. On Twitter yesterday, politicians who offered “thoughts and prayers” for the shooting were mocked endlessly, because this has become the standard response to a recurring problem. If prayer doesn’t lead to corresponding action on our part, then one can rightly question whether our prayers were prayed in all sincerity. Ask God what you can do to counter the rash of school shootings in America. 

 

Death and Life in 2016

In these waning days of 2016, I have heard much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the number of beloved persons who passed away in the past year.

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