Barbarians to Bureaucrats: Why the UMC Needs its Donald Trump

Barbarians to Bureaucrats: Why the UMC Needs its Donald Trump January 9, 2018

Trump–and his avid disciples–are barbarians. They are not politicians. They don’t understand or honor the slow process of making policies. The “way we’ve always done things” cry is irrelevant to them. They are here to destroy and to rebuild the US in their image out of the ashes. And that is precisely why the UMC needs its Donald Trump.

Barbarians break up the glue that normally holds things together
What is the glue that holds us together?

Background: I am married to a business owner who has given me a front-seat education on the effect that the policies of the socialist-leaning Obama have had on the business environment. And it’s not good.

Layers of executive-order based regulations have circled business forces with a nearly impenetrable hedge of impossible standards and contradictory regulations. They have stifled creativity and contributed to the continued wage stagnation that has bedeviled our economy for so long. For this reason, he voted for and continues to support Donald Trump.

Personally, I think Donald Trump is a despicable human being, a white supremacist and a sick abuser of women at his core. I find terror at the idea that this scared, tantrum-throwing child-man has the power to start a nuclear war and that we as a nation have declined precipitously in the world’s opinion of us. I find it appalling that he rapaciously pushed for and signed a tax bill that primarily benefits him and his family. I miss the calm erudition of the balanced and intellectual Barrack Obama.

But I understand how and why my husband (who pays zilch attention to the things that are making Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House a runaway bestseller) continues to support the current President. (Note: I purchased and started to read the book mentioned above. It is poorly written, even more poorly edited and, as far as I can tell, offers nothing new that has not already been written elsewhere but here in more tabloid form).

Mr. Trump systematically appointed as the heads of most agencies people who were fundamentally opposed to or ignorant of the work done by such agencies. Slowly but surely, for better or for worse, regulations are being discarded and dismantled.

As David Brook’s New York Times column notes:

Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade.

As horrifying as this looks–and much, much damage will be done–such deregulation becomes necessary on a periodic basis to keep the US economy healthy. And without a robust economy generating a lot of money, we do not have a functioning nation nor can we do a good job caring for the more vulnerable among us.

Trump–and his avid disciples–are barbarians. They are not politicians. They don’t understand or honor the slow process of making policies. If the US does survive the assault of this particular barbarian, we will end up much stronger and more focused. If we don’t . . . then eventually we’ll be a forgotten footnote in history. One way or another, we will be utterly changed and very possibly, more alive than ever.

Keep in mind that the “way we’ve always done things” cry is irrelevant to barbarians. They are here to destroy and to rebuild out of the ashes. And that is precisely why the UMC needs its Donald Trump.

John Wesley, the beloved barbarian

Years ago, I read a business book by Lawrence M. Miller that I’ve never forgotten: Barbarians to Bureaucrats: Corporate Life Cycle Strategies. Miller, apparently a profoundly spiritual man, pulls liberally from world history to illustrate how corporations, generally starting with much creativity and energy, too often end up choking themselves to death by policy manuals and layers of strangling bureaucracy. At that point, they are ripe for the next barbarian to wipe them out and rebuild from the ashes.

This process, of course, is what has already happened to nearly all mainline denominations. Since I know The United Methodist Church the best, I will speak specifically to them, but what I say is applicable across the board.

This church, the Methodist movement, began by the barbaric, rule-breaking, structure-destroying actions of our very own barbarian, John Wesley. Now, let me note quickly: the difference between Mr. Trump and John Wesley is that Wesley was a man of well-formed character while Trump apparently has minimal or no character foundations. Nonetheless, the two have followed a similar pattern of bursting on the scene and leaving chaos and discombobulation in their respective wakes.

Where the church is concerned, the “barbarians at the gate” come primarily from entrepreneurial, independent pastors in the Evangelical world. They function with little accountability and with the accompanying freedom to quickly pivot as conditions change.

That pattern stands in total opposition to the methodology used by mainline churches when faced with a radically shifting world. We can’t do anything without multiple layers of approval. Often our very structures make it utterly impossible to implement substantive change, even when mandatory for institutional survival.

Truthfully, our beloved barbarian, John Wesley, would look at us and say, “I’m outta here. You are bringing death, not life. You have obliterated the freshness of the Gospel by the rules that breed infighting and self-righteousness.”

Fixing systems or selling and producing?

I know many are working hard and tirelessly to come up with a solution that will breathe fresh life into the church that I love so much, the church that offered to me the aroma of Christ, the openness to the Spirit, the wideness of God’s mercy. Unfortunately, they tackle the impossible task. Note how Miller describes the Bureaucratic organization (Barbarians to Bureaucrats, Ballantine Books, 1989, p. 128):

The Bureaucratic organization is one consumed by love of its own physical form. The process of specialization has evolved now to the point where there are subgroups of subgroups, each performing disjoined studies, evaluations and plans, few of which will have any effect.

The Bureaucrat will constantly reorganize, searching for the structural solution to the spiritual problem. These frequent changes in organization will produce employees who will constantly be wondering if they will have a job once the latest reorganization is finished. In the developing stages, employees looked to the future with high expectations. In the declining organization, employees look to the future with fear, the enemy of creativity.

A downward cycle is set in motion. Concern about the future reduces creativity, reducing new business, which increases fear, further suppressing creativity. The more this cycle progresses, the more the Bureaucrat feels justified in cost cutting, reorganizing and tightening control.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

I wrote another blog post last year about the fact that the UMC as an institution does not serve her primary customers well. To function with energy and hope, the primary “customers” of the UMC organization are the front-line clergy. Funding for mainline church bureaucracies comes primarily from offerings generated in the local churches. Thus it becomes the role of the clergy to essentially “sell” the product that enables the institution to survive.

Yet too often the institutions itself ensures that clergy see little institutional support, are beat up by their congregations, find themselves ignored, worn out, drained by endless meetings and even more countless reports, inadequately compensated and spiritually incapable of being the channels of spiritual vitality to their congregations.

Another note by Miller (p. 132)

You May Be in a Bureaucratic Age If . . .

. . . .your company is growing more by acquisition than by new product creation.

. . . your company has reorganized more than once in the past three years.

. . . employees and managers alike feel that they can do little to alter the company’s fortunes.

. . . managers and employees tend to talk about the “good old day” when things were exciting and fun.

. . . managing or fixing the systems and and structure receives more time and attention than selling and producing.

Does any of this sound familiar?

We need a barbarian with character

Like it or not, we need a Donald Trump–but one with the character and executive ability of a John Wesley. We need someone to come in and shake us up and make us look harder and longer at the real “why’s” behind our lost vitality. We appear to have left behind or legislated away the ability to self-reform. We must distill our essence and then ask, “Does this procedure, this policy, the pattern serve our essence or distract from our essence?”

The Declaration of IndependenceFor the US, two vital documents contain our essence: The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. I suggest you re-read both of these noble documents. Here is Abraham Lincoln’s distillation of both:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate we can not consecrate we can not hallow, this ground The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Freedom is our essence; capitalism is our means. Some restrictions are necessary, or there is no freedom, only anarchy. Too many restrictions mean we stagnate. The church has chosen to take the path of too many restrictions.

I continue to ask: what does a disciple look like?

What is the essence of the UMC? We say it is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Time after time, I’ve asked for a definition of a “disciple of Jesus Christ.” Until we know that definition, just as we know that freedom is the essence of the US, we will never again regain vitality.

Wesley knew what a disciple looked like. We, however, no longer have a standard definition. Without it, we are doomed.

Our glue becomes pensions and fear of pain rather than passion and love of people. But money and pain always fail. Passion and love? They, and they alone, give us a fighting chance.

Photo by Sam-Ca on VisualHuntCC BY-ND

Second Continental Congress; reproduction: William Stone, Public Domain

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  • Reese

    ”God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” Shakespeare. Oh, a liberal by any other name would be as hypocritical!
    A mere 11 days ago, Ms. Thomas opined, “Yes, it is with a great sense of entitlement that Mein Führer Donald Trump has given us a list of banned words in his quest to eliminate the most vulnerable among us. (Read more at She pictured President Trump with Hitler.
    Yet, behold, today she opines that the “UMC needs a Donald Trump!” Of course, she stays true to her liberal roots by condemning his “tweets” while not explaining that he has no choice given the highly biased liberal press that his tweets go around and directly to we the people. Oh well, but she lauds his leadership…
    Now, Thomas: “Trump–and his avid disciples–are barbarians. They are not politicians. They don’t understand or honor the slow process of making policies. The “way we’ve always done things” cry is irrelevant to them. They are here to destroy and to rebuild the US in their image out of the ashes. And that is precisely why the UMC needs its Donald Trump.”
    Read more
    Thomas writes: “We need a barbarian with character. Like it or not, we need a Donald Trump–but one with the character and executive ability of a John Wesley.” Without a doubt, the most hysterically hypocritical line I have ever read from any liberal. O.K. so it doesn’t beat Hillary’s condemnation of misogynists and sexual predators, but its in the same zip code! (P.S. I googled “barbarians with character”, found none)
    Rather, Ms. Thomas should look for a doctor with immeasurable powers. The United Methodist Church is facing its end because the cancer of liberalism has metastasized in its body and while the progressives play, we traditionalists will stray, or go our way in the split. Too bad, the church of my youth is dying…

    • Dubious in Tennessee

      Southern Baptist here and I would say if those in my denomination talked about and too fellow believers they way that you do without any supporting rationale, I would be glad to see them stray their own way. That is exactly what is happening across the country. Your described faction does not change and remains in some sort of ideological cluster, and everyone else is trying on some new ideas that might more correctly speak to our present understanding of life on this planet. If that is the result, it is hardly a credible threat to the faith. The church has changed much over the two millennia.

      Honestly, you lost me when you said you listen to Rush Limbaugh to balance the liberals on Fox. That poor soul has been saying exactly the same things with exactly the same tone for decades. I have always considered ardent fans to be struck in a bit of a time warp. You be you. I long for some fresh air and embrace the stewards of the future, the millennial generation. I think it is right that they question and correct the structures that the outgoing baby boomer generation created while following leaders that were 10-15 years older than themselves. Many of these very old folks are still in Congress. I hope our youngest generation of adults does not falter.

      • Reese

        You win! My line, “I listen to Rush to balance out the liberals on Fox”, is my attempt at humor, but your line, “embrace the stewards of the future, the millennial generation”, has me on the floor laughing!!! Isn’t that the generation where about 40% still live at home with mom and dad? They collectively hold over $1 Trillion in student debt, but an estimated 48% work in jobs that do not require a four year degree (who knew a degree in philosophy or art history or archaeology wouldn’t lead to a job that paid well enough to pay off debt and even live on your own?). And, from my own involvement in scouts and a service club, millennials sure don’t volunteer much – even though they collectively claim to think improving the world is their big thing. I have not thought millennials, on average, could be more lethargic, but now with more states legalizing pot, I’ll bet we’ll see a further slowing! BTW, the word “conservative” like the word “traditional” means that we do not change. You might say our philosophy is built on a rock, not on sand…

        • Dubious in Tennessee

          Does not matter how much you disparage them, they will be here to inherit this country and you and I will not. We will be in our graves. As for Conservative or traditional being on rock. That rock has been resharpened many times over the centuries and it will be again. Being able to adapt to change has been what the species has needed to not become extinct. I think all this hubbub about who is the most right about what is best for the future is a change event in process. The millennials will solidify that change, not either one of us being snarky. We are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I have lived through the glorious past, not really all that glorious. My son, a member of the newest adult generation, is facing a work and world reality I never faced. The post World War II era of easy prosperity and personal economic security seems all but over, what comes next will require great thoughtfulness, not appealing to past troupes.

          I am pleased you are still able to spout your clever rhetoric, I suspect it gives you a sense of control and security about how the world presently functions or will always function. It surely makes life more concrete. Alas, I am fairly certain most of it is fast becoming an illusion and the new reality not quite in sight, will require a lot of cognitive realignment. I hope I still have the brains at that time to adapt. Such a paradigm shift, even in its earliest manifestations, has been hard on the late middle aged.

          • Reese

            I only recently felt confident again with “a sense of control and security” – that coming a year ago when we elected Trump. Until then, I was an angry, frustrated old veteran about the cancer of liberalism metastasizing in the country of my birth. Now, I admit I have become a little smarty, but I just love watching languishing liberals, sniffling snowflakes and demoralized Democrats. Life is GOOD! #Shut It Down + #Lock Her Up + #Build That Wall = #Make America Great Again

  • Marcus Johnson

    “As horrifying as this looks–and much, much damage will be done–such deregulation becomes necessary on a periodic basis to keep the US economy healthy.”

    WTF? That’s not how a healthy economy works. It’s like saying, “Well, if I didn’t drive over broken glass on a periodic basis, I would never even think to get my tires rotated.” Sure, there’s a whole lot of value in using the missteps made in the past to set precedent for better economic policy, but the idea that we should count on economic dysfunction and catastrophe to reset ourselves is not only laughable, it’s dangerous. It’s also a common defense mechanism for people who wish to remain ignorant and opt out of actively resisting or dismantling bad ideas.

    • Martha Anne Underwood

      So true, Mr. Johnson. I’m with you.

  • RustbeltRick

    “I am married to a business owner who has given me a front-seat education on the effect that the policies of the socialist-leaning Obama have had on the business environment. And it’s not good.

    “Layers of executive-order based regulations have circled business forces with a nearly impenetrable hedge of impossible standards and contradictory regulations. They have stifled creativity and contributed to the continued wage stagnation that has bedeviled our economy for so long.”

    Okay, I’ll challenge these assertions right off the bat, because they sound straight out of the Chamber of Commerce playbook. First, if doing business in America is so stifling and impossible, it must be a miracle that corporate America did so well during the Obama years. Have you seen how much corporate money is stashed off shore? Second, wage stagnation is not the fault of some EPA rule that was enacted to keep chemicals out of the local creek. Wage stagnation has been a deliberate effort by corporate America to pay as little as possible to as few as possible. For example, notice the ferocity with which the Chamber of Commerce battles any raise in the minimum wage. It’s really galling when the guys in the board room create these problems and then blame the government (especially Democrats) for that very thing.

    • Reese

      Me thinks the Democrat open borders position does more to depress wages than anything the CofC could do; Millions of unskilled non-American workers. Next, companies kept $$$ overseas because they were taxed at too high a rate here. Trump has fixed that with the tax bill. If corporate America did so well during the Obama years, why did so many leave, why did the GNP never exceed 3%, why did black unemployment reach record levels, why did food-stamps reach record levels, why were unemployment benefits expanded to two years, why did normally blue rust-belt states vote for Trump? Hmmmmmmmm?

      • RustbeltRick

        Why? We already covered that — corporations engaged in wage suppression. A full-time Wal-Mart worker collects food stamps because he works for a sub-poverty wage. The expansion of food stamps is a failure of go-go capitalism more than anything else. The government is there to mop up the mess and keep families from starving.

        • Reese

          Truth according to liberal logic: more entertaining than anything on TV. Next week, let’s cover the global warming hoax!

          • RustbeltRick

            I have liberal logic, you have Fox and Friends logic. Good luck with everything!

          • Reese

            I listen to Rush every day just to balance out the liberals on Fox!

          • Lynn

            Not a hoax and if you notice the level of disasters in America, someone up there is trying to tell you something nineveh.

          • Reese

            Cycles, Ms. Lynn, there are cycles. There were no humans around to cause either the first or second ice age, or the warming after either one. No humans were present when millions of dinosaurs went extinct, and certainly there were no cars or power plants at that time. Now, the alarming warnings, written by “scientists” are mostly paid for by something called “government grants”. The government pays real taxpayer money to university professors to write those warnings. To keep getting the grants, the “scientists” must write what the government wants to read. It is a hoax.

        • Lynn

          But as more of us make less and less and those who make the most pay less and less we have a harder time paying to prevent starvation and the starving have a harder time learning which allows for even less contributions. I am tired of the redistribution of wealth to the wealthy.

      • Lynn

        I guess Zero is too high to pay for any corporation and heaven forbid they contribute a smidge to the roads they ware out transporting their goods and overcharging for.

        • Reese

          Are you alright? I have seen no reference to “Zero” in this regard and trucking companies pay high registration taxes, even extra use taxes for extreme loads. The roads are there to move commerce, without them, the grocery shelves would be empty. So, what are you trying to say?

      • Nonsense Reese, the ol’ coach here again…the only thing that keeps wages down is corporation’s authoritative control levers…there is no democracy in an authoritative bureaucracy…only an oligarchy for the haves and have nots. You only use Latino labor as a scapegoat…a crutch if ya will to lay blame on. American corporations have been doing this centuries in pitting certain ethnicity, immigrants and cultures against each other in downplaying corporate roles in low wages or unemployment.

        Also, corporate tax rates weren’t the highest, but agreed was high, but name one corporation that paid the full tax rate…go ahead…name one. With all the loop holes that they will continue to enjoy (as this new tax bill did not cut corporate tax loopholes) most corporations paid at most 21% of that 35% rate. In fact some, while making profits, did not even pay federal taxes like GE in 2010.

        Corporations did do well under the Obama years, but horded their profits rather than use it to invest or hire. At the time of the ‘Great Recession’ they horded into their pillow cases and sat on $1.43 trillion of cash reserves rather than help pull the nation out of the crisis.

        You need to recalibrate your thinking…I wonder what would’ve happened if Obama had not aided the U.S. automotive industry from going into bankruptcy; no capitalistic private sector was about to come to their aid….Hmmmmm…

        • Reese

          Ford refused Obama’s attempt to control them and they did very well. Your liberal view of our capitalist, profit driven system makes a debate with you like an argument with my wife. I just leave for the golf course…

          • Fore…

          • Martha Anne Underwood

            Yeah, if President Obama had not offered the bailout, the other companies who did might have gone out of business. Then there would have been a possibility that Ford would have become a monopoly in the automotive world. Then prices would go up because there is no competition.

      • jekylldoc

        “why did black unemployment reach record levels, why did food-stamps reach
        record levels, why were unemployment benefits expanded to two years,” the answer in all three cases is that they happened because of the disastrous collapse of the financial bubble created by de-regulation of the financial services industry. The recession that followed was the worst since the Great Depression of the 30s, and despite furious huffing and puffing by Limbaugh and Fox News, everybody knows it.

        Obama’s policies kept the unemployment rate from hitting 16 or 18 percent. He saved the auto industry, as has been noted here. If the Republican Party had been allowed by the electorate to continue their laissez-faire approach we probably would have had a repeat of the 30s and someone far worse than Trump elected instead.

        • Reese

          My records show that a combo of Democrats and RINOs ruled that even people who could not afford to buy a home should be able to get a loan. Millions did. Then defaulted. I blame stupid people of both parties, and a socialist community organizer who doubled the national debt under the guise of fixing the problem…

          • jekylldoc

            Your records are foisted on you by the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh crowd who will do anything to fudge the record of the disaster brought by Wall Street. Yes, the programs promoting affordable housing played a role, but Wall Street was playing the dirty games that created this mess well before those programs got started. When the organizations involved in getting people into affordable housing went to the Fed to get some investigation into unscrupulous and risk-creating lending practices, they were turned away. Even within a year of the disaster, when word of the bubble situation was leaking out everywhere. Right wing ideology refused to see what was going on, because that would mean regulation.

            The increase in deficits came mainly because revenue fell. It is so obvious you can see it on any chart of tax revenue or revenue vs. spending. It is Economics 101 that when a severe recession hits and unemployment is jumping, the economy needs a stimulus, and when business is not borrowing because of a recession, the government should be. This has nothing to do with socialism – it is demonstrated fact.

    • BosqueNorse

      RustbeltRick: : Good rebuttal. Thanks.

    • Martha Anne Underwood

      I wholeheartedly agree with your comment, RustbeltRick.

    • jekylldoc

      I have real trouble believing that executive-order based regulations had any appreciable effect on business growth in the U.S. I am open to persuasion, and have no front-row seat, but it does not match with the reading I have done. Furthermore, the real policy holding back business expansion was premature austerity. The economy has now reached a point of low enough unemployment that some austerity actually makes sense, but it was nigh-unto-criminally stupid in 2011.

  • BosqueNorse

    This is a most thoughtless and thoroughly nauseating article. Whoever heard of comparing DJT to John Wesley? Give me a break Ms. Thomas. Furthermore,
    I have no idea what your gripe is with the UMC, but it sure comes across subtly and otherwise. I am not so sure what your politics is as well. Your use of the term barbarian is ludicrous. How in the world did you manage to receive a doctorate? I will dispense from any other attempt at evaluation. Perhaps someone else with some theological and political knowledge can give it a try?

  • Beverly Anne Thomas

    Wow! A UMC pastor, misnamed “thoughtful”, putting an immoral egomaniac before everything I stand for as a Christian and an American idealist. Your view is obviously biased based on one person’s opinion, your spouse. The tax bill just passed by Congress does much more to help large corporations than small businesses. I know many business owners who are disgusted. How anyone can write such an article with the message that we in the UMC or anywhere else need an ignorant, bigot, racist, egomaniac as president is beyond belief. Patheos has lost all credibility to me, and I am unfollowing as soon as I put a period at the end of this sentence. Shameful.

  • Martha Anne Underwood

    I am having a little difficulty understanding why you think a principled man who acts like Donald Trump without the foul, bigoted language will re-unite the United Methodist Church? Do you think an authoritarian leader is what the UMC needs to survive? If you want someone like Donald Trump, what happens to those in your church who favor giving LGBTQI folks equal stature in the church, such as being pastors, Sunday school teacher, i.e. leaders? Because you know he supports the conservative rights belief that LGBTQI are so sinful that they must be discriminated against and put in their place by so-called “true Christians”? As for capitalism being the Christian way to do business, why did the early Christians share their wealth with each other so no one would go hungry, naked, sick because they couldn’t afford what they needed to keep them alive.

  • jekylldoc

    Well, apart from all the histrionics of comparison to 45, does it make sense that the UMC needs a renewed sense of mission instead of a focus on policing other Methodists? It seems to me the crisis is much bigger than the UMC, and that no movement of barbarians is going to solve it, but that there is some real insight in comparing the situation to the constricted, inward-looking hierarchy which Wesley blasted past. The crisis is in a disconnect between traditional religion, which bound people to rules and respectability by authority-based command, and modernity, which finds rule-based authority inadequate and seeks (as much of the church always has) a deeper sense of meaning. It might be that a charismatic (by which I do not mean “based in ecstatic experience”) leadership of people fed up with glib answers and shallow worship could blow right past the sterile debates over authority and structure. Might be.

    • Reese

      Wow. So many big words that I get a little lost. I have never been part of “authority-based command”, but it seems that I have always been under it and I credit my success in life on having to obey rules. My parents had rules, my schools, my coaches, the Navy, the university, several corporations, my town, even my wife – all had rules! And, the church of my youth had rules which seemed to be about organizing our lives and our society, morality and worship. It worked for me. But now, my church no longer enforces many rules. Oh, the rules are still in print, but now ignored and the fight now is only over erasing the rules, not whether or not to obey. My old church is indeed dying. The cancer of liberalism has metastasized in the body of my old church and soon it will succumb.

      • jekylldoc

        If you understand the reason for rules, there is no problem with them. If you don’t, then either you need to wise up or the rules do. Principles that tell which choices will lead to later problems are vital to all of us. Rules to enforce on others, especially when there is no later problem or damage to others, are usually about making someone feel important. Jesus was not too friendly to the rule-makers of his day. His commands? Feed the poor. Turn the other cheek. Forgive 70 times 7 times. Understand those principles.