Dear President Trump:
On this Ash Wednesday – the first day of the Christian season of Lent – I am beginning a 40-day juice and water fast. During this time, I will be praying for you and sending letters each day with short reflections based on the Daily Lectionary readings from your Presbyterian faith tradition.
The recent presidential election laid bare the ugly fissures that are ripping our country apart. Our national motto aspires “out of many, one” (E Pluribus Unum). Instead, we are rapidly losing the ability to see the humanity in those from a different political party, economic class, racial group, sexual orientation, or immigrant status than our own.
While these divisions and disparities existed long before you took office, as president you are charged with setting a positive tone and leading by example. Still, all of us — progressives and conservatives alike – are responsible to take concrete steps to heal the national divisions and work for justice for all.
I write as a grandfather of three, nervous about the world that Sydney, Kiara and Jesse are inheriting. I write as a university administrator, concerned for the well-being of our international students who fear that they are no longer safe or welcomed in this country. I write as a U.S. citizen, disturbed by the hate-filled rhetoric that threatens to unravel the social fabric of this nation.
The lectionary readings on this first day of Lent focus on humility. The psalmist pleads for mercy for his harmful behaviors (Psalm 51:1) and declares that “The boastful will not stand before God’s eyes” (Psalm 5:5). When the prophet Jonah preaches to the people of Nineveh, the king covers himself with sackcloth, and calls his people to fast and turn away from violence (Jonah 3:6-8). And Jesus tells his disciples that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
You campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again!” What does it look like to be a great nation? The biblical prophets defined greatness as learning to act justly, love kindness and walk humbly. Jesus spoke of greatness as learning to serve the needs of others –feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. Many other religious traditions share these same values.
In Trump: The Art of the Deal, you write: “I like thinking big. I always have.” You reiterated this theme in your address to Congress last evening. My prayer is that you will think big about what it will take to bring healing and justice to this divided nation.
J. Daryl Byler