I admit that Donald Trump made me pull my hair out last night — interrupting, bullying, talking about 400 pound people and other tabloid interests. It was kind of embarrassing.
But I also learned a bit about what people like about him. Here’s what I think: Everyone is becoming a bit sick of what I call “Geiger counter” accountability. What I mean is the feeling that some kind of powerful person or entity is holding a tester over you to pick up some tiny particle of being out of line. We’re always setting off the no-go alarm. We’re always getting the red notice that we have not filled out the inexplicable form properly (like I just experienced with a City of Philadelphia form). The Donald is just so splendidly incorrect, he gives us hope that a real person might be acceptable in reality. Hillary Clinton has somehow mastered so much material that she can actually function well in political unreality. She stood up very well under 100 million skeptical, critical, mean-spirited eyes — so well people have started criticizing her for being robotic. That is a completely unfair assessment of her brilliance, but we are afraid of needing to be robotic ourselves. So maybe we like Donald bumbling and sputtering around like we do, or at least like people do to us.
Unfortunately, we have a bit of Stockholm syndrome and have bonded with our captors. What I mean is: We do not like it when the testing instruments find some particle of something unacceptable in us (like elementary students dreading the sound of seals being broken on their tests). It is no fun being radioactive, but we turn around and test each other all the time. After the debate, the news commentators were immediately looking for some gaffe Trump or Clinton made and downplayed every plausible or substantive thing they said. The only thing that matters is that they should never make a mistake. Hillary can’t even faint without thousands of screens replaying the “Aha!” moment! We would hate to have someone do that to us and put us on the cover of some checkout-line magazine, but we do it to others all the time. I am sure you have been in a conversation lately in which the person did not pay attention to the substance of what you were saying and stayed fixated on some side comment you made that was not factual. Husbands and wives spend a lot of time talking about how “I did not say that last Thursday” or “No, you certainly did do that in the spring of 2003.”
We end up wondering why we are so unhappy. It is hard to be happy when it is a beautiful day and you are looking for the flaws in it: “It was the best day of the year, but my hair did not come out that good and someone told me I had a chocolate stain on my shirtfront, which I did.” It is hard to be happy when you are with a friend and you are scrolling your Tinder for a better partner. It is hard to be happy when you are about the best you have ever been and you are obsessing over a few pounds or that sin you committed yesterday. We have hard masters and we are hard masters in return. We even make Jesus into a hard master, even when he tells us that his yoke is easy and tells us he did not come to condemn anyone.
I guess the sister of hyper-criticism is hyper-denial. Hillary finally had to tell Donald last night, “I know you live in your own reality…” A lot of us are so unhappy, we do live in our own reality. The actual one is too daunting; we desert it. We are overwhelmed by the flaws in it. It is totally out of control. We are perfectly free, supposedly, to be our own saviors and we can’t do it. That sends us into denial. Just as likely, we have discovered that the love of that perfect lover will not save us, either. Wait until you get one of those or you become one and the Geiger counter comes out! This song that Rachel played for us on Sunday might seem even more absurd.
I am in the habit of telling people that we’d all be dead if they were Jesus. What I mean is: There is an intrinsic accountability with being entrusted with eternal life, it is true. But we don’t get there by deserving it or achieving the perfection that we would require of others. (We even try to tell God it is not acceptable to receive flawed people into the kingdom!). Jesus does not put us to the test all day so we can prove our value. He thinks we are valuable enough to die for right now. For some horrible reason, we have a tough time living in that reality. We might not even enjoy seeing how people right in front of us are standing there showered with the grace of God. We have trouble appreciating the great grace in which we stand ourselves (Romans 5:2).
Appreciate the great grace in which you stand right now, and stand. If someone puts the Geiger counter on you, don’t worry if they find you to be radioactive. They apparently do not have a measure for grace.