To My Non-Christian Friends This Election Season

To My Non-Christian Friends, dearfriends_black

This election season has been something else, huh? (Here is a video of puppies if you need something to cheer you up.) Take heart, it is almost over. We have at least until February before people start openly campaigning for 2020.

In the meantime, I’d like to say something to you. Specifically, I’d like to say sorry. I think you have seen us Christians at our worst lately and for that I apologize.

I’m sorry that you’ve seen so much fighting between us. We can be brutal to each other and we call ourselves family. We fire missiles from all sides of the aisle and don’t worry too much about collateral damage. It probably isn’t very inviting when we behave this way. I’m sorry if you are less likely to want to be around us after all this.

I’m sorry that you’ve probably gotten into a debate or two with one of us. I’m sorry that we don’t often fight very graciously. I’m sorry that we stoop to things like name calling and rapid dismissal.

I regret that we often want to be heard, rather than hear. That isn’t very kind of us.

I’m sorry if you were unfriended because of your political views. I’m sorry we value our opinions more than your friendship. I’m sorry that we let partisanship get in the way of relationship. There are things we will all never agree on, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing meals and photos of our kids and life in general.

I’m sorry that you see us defending things that are indefensible. Things Jesus would oppose. Things we have routinely and loudly condemned. I’m sorry that we hold a double standard so that we can excuse our candidates and condemn someone else’s. That’s not consistent and its certainly not Christlike.

I’m sorry for all the false memes and bunk articles we have posted. We don’t think very highly of lying, but we are at times in such a rush to be right we fail to check our information. That isn’t very good of us.

I’m sorry if we have led you to believe that a person’s eternal destiny hinges on how they vote. We don’t actually believe that, though we sometimes act and preach like it. Sometimes we (rightly or wrongly) put a lot of hope and energy into these things, but if you give us a time to catch our breath we will remember it is grace, not ballots, that save us.

We sing a song that says our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. I’m sorry we haven’t acted that way lately. While we want to have a say in government, ultimately our hope is not in presidents and senators and legislation.

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by the way we talk about the candidates and their supporters. Regardless of politics you and they are loved and cherished by God. We’ve failed to reflect that too often. That grieves me.

I apologize that regardless of which side we are on, we are often unable to understand where you are coming from. I’m sorry if we talk down to you or figure you couldn’t possibly know or have hurt you with our assumptions.

I know it is probably hard to see through all the nonsense, but Jesus is better than we represent. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but I’m absolutely positive of that. I’m sorry if we have failed him and you this election season.

If we are honest we are just regular ole humans. We mess up, we don’t always do what we want. We can be too passionate, we can be misguided, we can be flat wrong. Please don’t hold that against Jesus.

I can’t speak for all of us, but I can speak for me. I would trade in all this election stuff if it meant people would be more likely to consider following Jesus. His ways are better. We have a saying that goes like this, “His grace is sufficient.” The grace of God is sufficient to cover our weakness and our mistakes. We greatly depend on that.

Now I’m asking for grace from you. Please forgive us for our actions and attitudes, our words and our compliance. Please forgive us for pointing you toward a political party more than Jesus. Please forgive us when we cross the line, wound others, or look no different than any other person you know.

We are supposed to do better than that. We have been wrong. Maybe not all of us, but some of us, including me. And I’m sorry.

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When We Disagree.

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Photo Source: conferencecalling.com

One of the blessings and/or curses of social media is that everyone has a voice. You get a voice, I get a voice, your crazy uncle gets a voice. And since everyone has a voice, somewhere on the internet somebody is wrong right this second. They are going to vote for the wrong candidate or they don’t value your religious convictions or they think the Dallas Cowboys are a team worth supporting.

The chorus of voices is diverse and our opinions are many and yet it seems to me that we have lost the ability to disagree well. We insult and antagonize. We jump to conclusions and fight straw men. We even go ALL CAPS when feeling particularly saucy.

Every issue is now politicized and our ability to find common ground is stunted. We make enemies out of people who hold differing views or experiences. We dehumanize ourselves and others simply because we disagree. And amazingly, despite all the venom we spew and seemingly conclusive facts we vomit, we change not a single opinion.

We can (and should) debate and be passionate, but we need do it with decency and mutual respect. We don’t have to hate each other just because we don’t agree. We don’t have to make it our personal mission to correct or rebuke every wrong person we encounter.

It is time we recover some civility in the midst of disagreement.

Which means we need to hear the other side. Not just take in their words, but actually process what they are saying. Why do they hold the positions they hold? How did they come to that conclusion? What experiences have brought them to this point?

It is easier to just unfriend or unfollow people. It is easier to watch only the news channel that reports from our preferred angle. To dismiss alternate opinions and brush aside any information contrary to what we already believe.

The consequence is we end up living in an echo chamber where the only voices we hear are the ones that sound like ours. This makes us more polarized and deteriorates our capacity to understand people who think differently than we do. We are in trouble if we are so convinced we are right that we can’t even allow other opinions to show up in our newsfeed or on our cable news station. This is a weakness, not a strength.

If we are going to disagree well we will need to listen, actually listen, to what every side has to say. We will be better for it. Our own positions will be strengthened as we learn what others believe and perhaps our well-roundedness will gain us credibility.

If we are going to disagree like adults we will need to stop villainizing people simply because we don’t see eye to eye. I may disagree with you but it doesn’t mean I hate puppies or sunshine or your children. We can do without that nonsense. We may not come to the same conclusions about how taxes should be spent, but I don’t think either of us is trying to destroy our country.

Disagreeing with me doesn’t make you a Neanderthal/jerk/heretic/Nazi/communist/whatever-your-scariest-insult-is. It just makes you wrong. Using blanket statements and hyperbolic terms will get us nowhere. A person is not an idiot just because they have the audacity to disagree with you or me. Sitting behind our keyboards and slinging mud and insults at people we don’t have to look in the face is the cheap way out.

This is not how the real world works. We have to cooperate and live and work and study and worship with people who may disagree with us on any number of issues. They are our friends and spouses and bosses and neighbors. If there is no one in our lives who disagrees with us, we are missing out on meaningful relationships while at the same time not having any influence on people who see the world differently.

If we are to disagree well, we need to be realistic. We need to understand we won’t change everyone’s mind and agreeing to disagree is okay in most situations. We are not likely to convince a person that the positions they’ve held for decades are ignorant and no thinking person would ever come to such conclusions. Some opinions are incredibly complex and have been formed over much time and thought.

Be heard, be prepared (and be kind for crying out loud), but don’t expect a pithy statement or even a heartfelt plea to change someone’s mind. When is the last time an argument in the comment section convinced you that you were wrong? People have been arguing about the things we argue about for a long time. There are smart and caring people on many sides of many issues.

We can do better.

We can be humble. We can sometimes keep our mouths closed and fingers still. We can remember that compromise and finding common ground is not caving. We can think critically. We can allow for others to freely share what they believe. We can learn. We can listen. We can avoid attacking the other person. We can respect and love and esteem each other as fellow human beings. And still disagree.

Disagreeing isn’t the problem. The way in which we disagree will determine much of what we contribute to the world. Are we adding to the discord and division that needlessly rules the internet? Or are we voices of reason and people of respect and decency? Do we sow peace and love or discord and hate?

Let’s be right and wrong with a heaping scoop of decency. Let’s disagree well. Or at least better than we have been recently. Can we at least all agree on that?

Our Political Gymnastics

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Image Source: Club Penguin

When George W. Bush was in office he was harshly condemned from the political left and loyally defended from the right for his response to Hurricane Katrina. Instead of visiting in the immediate aftermath, President Bush was photographed observing the destruction from the comfort of Air Force One as it flew over.The image would be used to supposedly show the president was disengaged from the storm’s victims.

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Jim Watson/Getty Images

Later Bush reflected on how he would have been taken to task if he had landed instead. He imagined his critics would have said, “How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?”

Which happens to be the exact reasoning people are using to defend President Obama for golfing instead of going to assess the current flooding in Louisiana. The tables have turned and it is the lack of boots on the ground that is now ridiculed from the right and rationalized from the left.

I don’t pretend to know what the right response is for a president in times of crisis. I don’t know when one should abandon a needed vacation or when the magnitude of a disaster requires the president’s presence.

What I do know is that we are overly willing to bend and maneuver our opinions in order to line up with the politicians we support.

We have become Olympic level gymnasts in our ability to backflip and contort ourselves into whatever position will most serve our politics. We jump and twist and twirl, though without any of the elegance exhibited by the Simone Biles of the world.

Had it been Hillary who recently showed up to Louisiana with a truckload of supplies the folks at Fox News would have called it a publicity stunt and the people at MSNBC would have skewered Trump for not caring enough to respond. Instead it is the opposite. Our opinions change based on which side did what.

If our preferred politician does a thing, we defend or justify their actions. “Give them grace,” we say. If a politician we don’t support does the same or a similar thing, we condemn or vilify their behavior. We cry, “Crucify them!”

This is why Trump backers can talk about Bill Clinton’s infidelity with straight faces and Hillary supporters can claim that Trump is out of touch with ordinary citizens.

We are so devoted to our political positions that we’ve lost the ability to be objective, honest, and consistent. We reek of hypocrisy. Our flexibility exceeds that of the world’s elite gymnasts and we are probably going to hurt ourselves.

Somehow we have reached the point where we are afraid to call out the behavior of the people we support politically. We are unable to acknowledge that people from our political slant make mistakes or that at times we may strongly disagree with them.

It should not be hard for us to say, “Despite supporting this person on a large percentage of issues, this decision was wrong.” Or “I will probably vote for this person, but the way they responded to this was not okay.”

Sadly, it has become unfathomable to admire the response or policies or decency of a person from the other side of the aisle. Instead we end up awkwardly swinging back and forth as if we are on the uneven bars. Our moral position is summed up as, “Today it is okay when my side does it, next time it will be wrong when your side does.”

If our moral indignation is determined by the person, not the behavior or belief, we lack core values of much substance. If the party name behind a politician is what determines how we respond to what is said or done, we lack intellectual integrity. When we have selective outrage and relativistic convictions we lose our credibility. There no medals for this balance beam routine.

There are certainly times worth calling out politicians. Let’s just do it with integrity. Let’s not excuse or dismiss behavior we wouldn’t allow in a person from a different political persuasion. Or condone behavior we opposed yesterday. Let’s not condemn things we have previously applauded or applaud that which we have previously condemned.

Let’s be fair and honest in our political assessments. And consistent and principled in the things we believe and the standards we hold our leaders to. And let’s leave the backhand springs and gravity defying stunts to the professionals.

Book Review: Vote Your Conscience

— I was provided with a copy of the new book Vote Your Conscience: Party Must Not Trump Principle by Brian Kaylor in exchange for an unbiased and fair review.- –

Vote Your Conscience is a quick read at just six chapters long. It is $2.99 for Kindvote bookle at the time of this writing. The Amazon blurb includes this, “In this book, award-winning author Brian Kaylor addresses the moral issues at stake in the 2016 election, explores how the Christian faith became too closely tied to partisan politics, and considers the alternative political engagement called for in scripture.”

If you are Christian, particularly an evangelical Christian, this book has some things we need to hear. In the later chapters Kaylor spells out some basic truths for us: for too long we have wed our political platforms with our faith (to the detriment of our faith) and our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not a nation or a political party. If I could come to your house and read those couple chapters to you, I would. And I may. My biggest concern for this book is that those messages will be lost on people who don’t make it past the author describing why he feels their preferred candidate is morally suspect, which happens in the first couple chapters.

The basic thesis of the book is this, “We do not owe our chief loyalty to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Our devotion is not to conservative causes and politicians or liberal causes and politicians. Our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. We don’t follow the elephant or the donkey; we follow the Lamb.”

Amen.

Kaylor’s concern (one I completely resonate with) is that many Christians have given our preferred political parties our first allegiance. We have been looking for a savior from Washington DC and we often “sell our birthright for a bowl of red (or blue) stew.” He says too many of us are willing to blindly follow a party leader over the principles of our faith or even our basic political leanings. This book is a call to remember what we believe and then align how we vote behind those values, not realign our values based on how we may have to vote.

Kaylor lays out an argument as to why he feels both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are morally unfit to be president of the United States. He clearly states he does not support Ms. Clinton and presents a case against her, but spends most of his time arguing against Mr. Trump. He, like myself, is deeply rooted in white, conservative, evangelical circles. When he spends a disproportional amount of time speaking about Trump he does so because the people he is most familiar with are disproportionally more likely to support the GOP candidate.

I find his moral arguments convincing, though those who are deeply entrenched in support behind one candidate or the other will not be quick to hear them. He calls out a number of conservative Christians and politicians for what he thinks is dangerous capitulation to a person who doesn’t represent their stated values or even basic levels of human decency. He calls out Trump for his misogyny, racism, religious intolerance, and general behavior. He says that to support a candidate who acts and believes in those ways is the same as holding those positions ourselves. That will be a tough pill to swallow for many people. At times his sarcasm and frustration may put people on the defensive.

But again, the overarching message of the book is worth the read. If you don’t want to hear about why you shouldn’t vote for Clinton or Trump, just skip to Chapter 3. At the end he includes a chapter on what to do in response to these two major party candidates and some ideas for how Christians can rise above partisan rhetoric for the sake of the Kingdom.

I join Kaylor in his concern that the work and witness of the Church is being hindered as we line up behind morally bankrupt politicians and alienate people who vote or feel differently than we do. He beautifully says, “We are called to avoid the temptations of power. We’re called to avoid joining the team just because it’s the winning side. We’re called to stand on the margins, prophetically proclaiming the truth.”

I absolutely recommend this book and encourage you to grab a copy today. You will at least become more informed and perhaps you will be more faithful to the work of the Gospel because of it.

What If God Doesn’t Want to Make America Great Again?

 

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Recently I received an email stating that if Christians don’t support Donald Trump for president we can “kiss our country goodbye.” It said something to the effect of, “Sure he isn’t all that decent, but if that’s what it takes for our economy to be strong, our borders to be secure, and our nation to be great, then so be it.” It suggested God sent us Trump to preserve our capitalism, our patriotism, and general way of life; that perhaps Trump is God’s tool to save our country.

I’m not going to comment on whether any of that is accurate or not, but the email did get me thinking…

What if God doesn’t want to Make America Great Again? Or maybe, what if God’s definition
of great looks a lot different than what many of us are hoping for? What if saving our country (whatever is meant by that) is not really what God has in mind?

I’m not saying that God wants to see America destroyed, but I’m wondering if we make some false assumptions when we think God wants us rich and safe or whatever other things people mean when they say they want America to be great again.

Set aside the fact that many of us will disagree on what actually makes our country great and consider why we think God wants us wealthy, secure, and politically free. Jesus was none of the above. Nor were his first disciples or the early church or many Christians around the world today. None of those things are promised to us. None of those things are neccessary to live a faithful life.

Have we become so attached to our stuff that we are certain God wants us to keep it? Have we become so accustomed to having a vote that we assume that’s how God orders the world? Are we so desperate for security that we are willing to compromise our most basic values to acheive it? And so opposed to our enemies that we are confident God hates them as much as we do?

If so, we are misguided. These things do not line up with the Gospels where I learn of a Jesus who says to welcome the stranger, forgive extravagantly, give radically, and do not resist an evil person (and love them instead). A Jesus who erases cultural and political and religious divisions.

Jesus who flat out says, “Whoever wants to be great needs to become a servant of everybody else.

But we have little time for that sort of greatness. “Be A Servant” isn’t an attractive campaign slogan. Not when we have elections to win and businesses to boycott and borders to secure. Jesus says his Kingdom is not of this world, but we would say our kingdom certainly is and, well, all that loving and forgiving stuff works in church, but this here is the real world.

And so we declare our allegiance. We choose earthly greatness and power and success and security over the way of the cross. We justify our lack of loving our neighbors because we have to protect our version of the American dream.  We cling to political liberty at all costs and find ourselves chained to platforms and politicians.

I’m not anti-American. I’m not an anarchist. I plan to vote in the coming election. I’m just not going to assume that God’s deepest desire for us is something as fleeting as prosperity or political freedom. I’m not convinced God is hoping we elect the proper candidate so he can finally get to work in our country.

While I strongly believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and want those things for all people (literally, all the people), I am not dependant on them. Nor do I think those are the highest things a person can acheive.

Not when our Savior started life as a refugee, lived under the military occupation of his enemies, spent his ministry years homeless, and was persecuted to the point of execution.

Not when the majority of our Scriptures were written to or about people with no freedom, no security, and no wealth. Peope who often neglected their faith whenever they had actually attained those very things.

And not when many of us are willing to ignore the teachings of Christ in order to make a nation great. If I can’t make America great by living the way of Christ, then I want no part in that greatness. And I don’t think God does either.

If we live and love like Jesus of Nazareth at the expense of privilege or safety, I believe America (and the rest of the world) will be greater because of it. Not because we have accumulated all the power and all the wealth, but because we have been faithful. Because being faithful to the way of Jesus is the only way to be truly great.

So inform yourself and vote if you feel so led. But long before and long after your ballot is cast, consider what things you are grasping for, what things motivate and excite you, and what things you assume God wants for you. And then compare them to the life of Jesus.

I imagine we will find we have spent a lot of time and money and energy and yard signs on a greatness that is at best temporary and at worst idolatry. We’ve been invited to something better than anything a politician can offer and we’ve been charged to live in such a way that it doesn’t ultimately matter where we reside or what we possess.

May we be faithful first. Even when the alternative sounds safer and more comfortable. May we choose Jesus and his cross today and every day. Even when it costs us elections and political power. And may we see the world become as great as its ever been.

 

On Being Afraid of the Wrong Things.

There are a lot of things I fear. Like windows without blinds (seriously) and heights.

And there are a lot of things I do not fear. Fear Ladder

Like Muslims.

I’m also not afraid of Buddhists or scientists or flying spaghetti monsters.

I’m not afraid of questions or doubt or skepticism.

I’m not scared of any government or capitalist or communist. I’m not even afraid of Trump.

I’m not afraid of refugees or illegal immigrants or legal ones.

I do not fear gay people or trans people or people we can’t categorize in neat and tidy ways.

Along the same lines, I’m not afraid of finding someone in the “wrong” bathroom. I’m just not.

I’m not afraid of political correctness or laws that make room for other people’s belief systems.

I’m not afraid of the super rich or the desperately poor, people on welfare or people in penthouses.

In my greatest moments I’m not even scared of those who wish me harm or those who tell me I’m wrong.

I do my best not to be afraid of people who don’t look like me, act like me, speak like me, or believe like me.

I am, however, afraid of the way I and others like me misrepresent Jesus. I’m afraid people may reject Jesus because they see me and decide if this is what Jesus is about, they want no part of it.

I’m afraid the Kingdom of Me is a whole lot more appealing than the Kingdom of God. I fear that I seek first my reputation and status and rights. I’m scared to think that I would chose safety and security or comfort and complacency over faithfulness.

I’m afraid our commitment to political opinions is stronger than our willingness to “love your neighbor as yourselves.” I’m afraid that our quest for power and position and privilege leaves us overlooking the very people for whom Jesus would be most concerned.

I’m afraid I don’t have enough friends who are prostitutes or tax collectors. I’m fearful I exclude outsiders and those whose lives look messy. I’m afraid I too easily look down on or insult those who look, act, and believe differently.

I’m afraid all our boycotts and clever memes and FWD: FWD: FWD: emails (and blog posts) will do nothing to bring about the world God desires. I’m fearful that we’ve traded Good News for bad news, an eternal perspective for a temporary one.

I’m afraid that I desire to be right more than I desire to be loving.

I’m afraid that when we respond in fear to people, politics, religions, and whatever things are different than us, we are not responding in the way of Christ. I’m afraid that fearing “the other” will leave me only loving myself.

Most of all I’m scared I will raise my kids to be afraid of the people they are called to love. I’m afraid I will so want to save my children’s lives that they will lose the only life that matters in the process.

That terrifies me far more than terrorism does.

As a general rule I avoid ladders and roofs and other things from which the greedy hands of gravity wish to remove me. My discomfort with heights is stronger than my desire to have clean gutters. My fear wins out.

Since fear often determines my behavior I want be sure to fear the right things.

I want to avoid division and exclusion. I want to build bridges, not walls. I want to learn from people who see things differently. I want to hear the stories of those I don’t understand. I want to break bread with people who have dreams and fears of their own; people who have value to my God. 

I long to set aside things I want in order to serve and love the people everyone else seems to fear. I don’t want any part of pushing people away because they vote or live or believe differently than I do. I want less of “us and them” and just a whole lot of “us.”

When we do that we’ll all be better for it. When we do that we’ll look more like Jesus, who fears none and loves all. And I believe when we look more like Jesus everything changes. And when everything changes, there will be nothing left to fear.

The Politics of Palm Sunday

The masses were in a near frenzy on what would become known as Palm Sunday.

After centuries of oppression, abuse, displacement, corruption, and disgrace, they were finally hopeful. After being forced to pay taxes to pagan Caesar and shuffling past Roman guards on the way to the Temple, they were angry. After watching friends and neighbors turn their backs on the nation and their faith in pursuit of a buck or some political position, they were fed up.

On that Sunday the stories of a coming savior swept through the crowd. Could this finally be the promised one? Could he overthrow the bad guys? Could he restore our nation?

The people lined the streets as Jesus came in. They waved palm leaves, a symbol of military victory. They laid their cloaks on the ground and cheered. Longing for liberation, they threw him a conqueror’s parade in anticipation of what was to come. The people stood and shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us now!”

The crowds were ready, but they were ready for all the wrong things. They were ready for war and political gain. Ready for revenge. Ready to expel their enemies. They were ready for power. Wealth. Vindication.

But they weren’t ready for Jesus. Six short days later they would move from “Hosanna! Save us now!” to “Crucify him!” Jesus wasn’t the savior they were looking for after all.

Sometimes I wonder if we have failed to learn the lesson here. We seem to want the same things the crowd wanted. We still want a savior that looks more like Caesar than Jesus. We want strength and might. We want power and prosperity. We want the bad guys to pay. We have a thirst for political and cultural significance.

And, like them, I’m not sure we are ready for Jesus. We aren’t ready for his command to love our enemies. We aren’t ready to welcome the stranger. We aren’t ready to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, or give to those who accuse us.

Too often we prefer stallions to donkeys, vengeance to mercy, power to servanthood. We applaud brashness and ego, while ignoring meekness and humility. We think it soft not to return evil for evil. And loving our neighbor as ourselves isn’t really the American dream so we focus on what is in it for us.

We, like those crowded on the street that day, are looking for the wrong kind of king and the wrong kind of kingdom.

Jesus isn’t interested in making Judea great again. His platform is not based popular opinion or national security. He is interested in a world that looks a whole lot different than one we see before us now.

A world where lions and lambs lay down together. Where swords are beaten into plow blades. He desires a world that isn’t divided by geography or nationality or culture. A world full of justice and peace. A world without selfishness.

It is a different kind of Kingdom led by a different kind of King. A King who lays down his life for his enemies. A King who carries our shame and guilt, our destruction and our death. A King who doesn’t do it for votes or donations or favors, but out of love and grace and selflessness.

This is a King who doodles in the sand rather than draw lines in it. He rejects “us and them” thinking. This is a King who is attracted to the lowlifes, the tarnished, the untouchable. He didn’t have the best of anything because he gave up his privilege and comfort. This is a King who lays down his rights, not demands them.

I’m not sure we are ready for a King like that. Because this King asks us, repeatedly, to follow his example. To have a King like that means letting go of all the things we naturally find ourselves fighting for. It means swearing allegiance to something broader than national boundaries and political parties. It means saying “no” to ourselves and being willing to forsake our own privilege and comfort and rights.

And it’s a hard sell. It doesn’t drive the masses into a tizzy. No one is outside hawking t-shirts and ball caps. There isn’t 24/7 news coverage. This kind of campaign seldom gets a parade or endorsements from movers and shakers. And yet it is exactly the kind of campaign we need.

May we remember that the crowds missed it that day. May we remember that their desire to have things set right looked a whole lot different than what God had in mind. May we not get caught up in the wrong things: anger, bitterness, division, violence, and a quest for power.

And may we not miss the man on the donkey who came to save the world from the very things we are chasing after.

Hosanna. Save us now, indeed.