The poet, Francis Thompson, wrote an aphorism that has planted an oak in my mind for decades. “Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling a star.” In short, all of life is connected.

COVID-19 has rightly sucked up considerable conversation oxygen since January. America and the world are suffering the most traumatic era of the past 100 years. Linda and I must turn-off the television because we cannot endure the constant tumult. Then, after a break, we press the on button again because we must keep informed for nurturing empathy and decision-making.

Keeping informed reveals the connection between COVID and gun violence. The past eight ENGAGE Blogs have dealt with COVID and GUNS. And now there is a third connector. LEADERSHIP.

Bill Mittlefehldt, retired educator and community advocate, wrote an opinion piece in the DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE of 15 May. He said, “President Trump’s leadership depends on power, not respect, empathy or shared vision. . . . Trump is encouraging right-wing and militia groups to demand opening up in 10 key voting states.”

Mittlefehldt writes of three crises: 1) Growing inequality. The rate of wealth flowing to the top has reached record levels; 2) Lack of leadership. President Trump has suggested we drink Lysol. Republicans cut the budget for health preparedness in 2017. Tests are still lacking in supply; 3) Earth’s climate emergency is ignored. The new EPA Director is from the fossil fuel industry.

Compounding reality, due to the quiet insidiousness of COVID, over 35 million people have filed for unemployment, over 98,000 are dead, over 1,500,000 are infected, and the numbers keep growing. The president clamors to open up America while dumbing down a CDC Report on how to do it safely. Social distancing and isolation have become norms for the times. An elderly gentleman sitting on a park bench told me recently, “I thought about jumping out the 26th floor window the other day.” Depression, suicides, stress upon stress.

FLOWERS and STARS are metaphors for GUNS-COVID-LEADERSHIP. President Trump’s biographer for THE ART OF THE DEAL has said “Trump lacks empathy and resorts to power and domination.” (paraphrase). In his book FEAR, Bob Woodward quotes Trump. “real power is . . . fear.”

Woodward further references Trump (p. 175), “Trump gave some private advice to a friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women. Real power is fear. It’s all about strength. Never show weakness. You’ve always got to be strong. Don’t be bullied. There is no choice. ‘You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. That is the big mistake you made. You didn’t come out guns blazing and just challenge them. You showed weakness. You’ve got to be strong. you’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to push back hard. You’ve got to deny anything that’s said about you. Never admit.'” I would argue that as President Trump treats women so does he treat people and situations. Truth is not the issue. Attack, deny and dominate unite to form Trump’s “winning” leadership style. It is a violent dynamic.

This style connects COVID-GUNS-LEADERSHIP.  Violent LEADERSHIP further poisons the COVID-GUN tragedy. The mix is toxic.

What is a Christian response? What leadership character is promoted in Christ’s ethics? How can a Christian leadership ethic re-shape the COVID-GUNS union?  LEADERSHIP MATTERS! Do we kiss and hold hands while dancing into businesses and bars, cheer militia groups which cling to their assault rifles, march with those carrying Swastika and KKK flags, and raise our hands in praise of authoritarian, empathy-less, fear-groveling leadership? Ought we demand leadership yield to the yardstick of the Spirit of Christ, who graces us with “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?” (Galatians 5:22-23) FLOWERS  of life are being stirred. The STARS of Christ are troubled.


Ron Letnes (Rev. Dr.)