Lenten Journal, Day 5

“Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’”[1] This is a verse from today’s Daily Office Old Testament reading; it’s supposed to be Moses’ words spoken to the Hebrews about to enter the Promised Land as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, a reminder of the debt of gratitude everyone owes to God, but today it reminds me of a political episode of a few years ago.

President Barack Obama, in a 2012 campaign speech, said, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.” The “that” in that sentence was meant to refer to “roads and bridges” he had just referenced in the previous sentence, to the infrastructure which he had just described as the “unbelievable American system” that allows businesses to thrive.[2] That was clear to anyone who heard the speech.

However, just as verses of scripture can be lifted out of context and misapplied, Mr. Obama’s political opponents lifted that sentence out of the context and tried to turn it against him. They were not successful in doing so and he was elected to a second four-year term.

I am willing to bet that some of those who used or, rather, misused the President’s words in this way would describe themselves as “conservative evangelical Christians.” I would have thought those folks would hear the strong Mosaic echo in Mr. Obama’s declaration but, of course, if they did, they did not admit to it. It would not serve their narrative and the “liberal” Democratic president disrespected the hard work of American businessmen, the self-made millionaires and billionaires of the American dream.

As I write in my journal today, Mr. Obama’s successor scandalized progressive Christians and other liberals a few days ago by scribbling his signature across the covers of Bibles at a rally in tornado-ravaged Alabama. My suspicion is that allegedly-self-made billionaire Donald J. Trump has no idea that this Mosaic text is contained in the book he was writing on, that he has never head Moses’ admonition, and that if he has, he would never imagine applying it to himself.

But … I have to apply it to me, and I can’t really, for the moment, be concerned with whether the person filling the office of President of the United States, for good or for ill, has any self-awareness. That’s not the purpose of my Lenten discipline, my keeping of this Lenten journal.

My goal in spending these moments each day in writing is two-fold: first, to develop the habit of daily writing, a habit I hope will extend beyond this penitential season, and, second, because it is Lent, to be self-reflective and introspective. So … since I am not a wealthy person (although I am better off than the majority of the world’s people), how do I apply this Mosaic admonition to myself? My wealth, such as it is, is in my education and in my experience; I would have neither if not for the grace of God, the love of family and friends, and the good work of teachers and mentors.

Lent, this verse reminds me, may be a time of penitence, but it is also a time of gratitude.


Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.

[1] Deuteronomy 8:17

[2] Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Roanoke, Virginia, Office of the Press Secretary, White House, July 13, 2012.