Monday, July 27, 2020

Trump Enablement Syndrome? Thoughts on Joseph Epstein’s July 9 “The Next Pandemic: Trump Derangement Syndrome” on wsj.com

Before reading any further, please read Joseph Epstein’s July 9, 2020 Opinion Commentary here. If you’re tempted to continue without having read Epstein, please reconsider and read that article first. It’s not too long, you can get a few free looks without a wsj subscription, and you need that piece as a backdrop for what follows.
First, let’s confirm that the phrase “So-And-So Derangement Syndrome” goes back almost two decades and was used about “Bush” and “Obama” critics. In early 2017, Trump allies saw his critics inflicted with a much worse case of  “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (TDS) than BDS or ODS had been. Trump himself began using the phrase about his critics in a July 2018 Tweet. Epstein is using it within present circumstances, including the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign.
Second, the phrase has been used both ways, having been hurled against opponents by POTUS critics and supporters alike. Clearly, Trump, Epstein, and others are accusing critics of irrational, obsessive "Never-Trump" craziness.
Third, Trump critics would do well to conduct an honest self-examination of possibly having contracted so-called TDS, using Epstein's diagnostic stages self-critically to check their own reactions and critiques of Trump’s policies, statements, and actions. It is all too easy to fall into knee-jerk, ad hominem reactions to any polarizing figure and laughingly concur with late-night comics without considering the actual effects of those figures’ actions. Trump’s critics must honestly consider the effects of his decisions, policies, words, and actions - not simply joke about his hairstyle, tie-length, and occasional (and inevitable for any public speaker) speech gaffes.
Fourth, Epstein and other Trump allies, supporters, and defenders would do well to consider the actual, multifaceted, and wide ripple effects of Donald J. Trump the man being President of the United States of America. This man is not an ordinary, healthy human being. While I am not a professional psychiatrist who has done close-up personal tests on Trump, I stick by my (and many others’) claim, made ever since he became POTUS, that DJT is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder of the highest order. I do not have TDS (though Epstein and others may dismiss me by slapping on that label). I do not find funny the degrading jokes made about his appearance or other human characteristics. Rather, having experienced and observed close-up the devastation that NPDs cause, and seeing those same characteristics in DJT the man ever since the 2016 Republican primary campaign, the trauma caused to many women and to black & brown people in this country continues to be devastating. Moreover, nothing the man says can be taken at face-value - nothing. I am not saying that out of an alleged TDS infection, but out of experience and clear-headed observation of him in as unfiltered way as possible (e.g., through his own tweets, through watching some of his presentations in full).
In reflection of his own life, DJT’s vision for the country he leads - be strong, rich, secure - is warped. People need trust, healthy social relationships, aesthetic vibrancy, and many other life treasures beyond money, conformity, and a strong military. Policies can be debated in their own right - personally I disagree with many of those DJT has touted, not because he has pushed them because of the policies themselves - but they do not come apart from who the man is.
Finally, those who continue to defend the current President simply because he has espoused their preferred policies need, in my judgment, to see how they may have been simply co-opted as enablers of a hyper-NPD. (I say that especially to my fellow U.S. Evangelical Christians.) People who are Narcissistic Personality Disorders are masterfully adept at acquiring enablers to advance themselves and get their way. While looking at myself in the mirror as well, I thus warn Mr. Epstein and other Trump supporters and defenders that they very well may need a cure from contracting “Trump Enablement Syndrome.” Be alert.

Monday, June 29, 2020

God and U.S. Metanarratives: “Created Equal … Endowed by Their Creator”

This July 4, more U.S.-Americans than ever before will, or at least should, realize that there are multiple metanarratives of U.S. history. Last year’s quadricentennial of Africans being sold to Jamestown, Virginia settlers for tobacco labor highlighted African-American slavery and its ongoing aftermath. This year’s uprisings for racial equality - sparked by the image of white police officer Derek Chauvin’s brutal knee-on-neck murder of black George Floyd - have cast brighter light on long-standing systemic injustice in the United States. Disproportionate suffering of African-Americans from COVID-19 has been a particularly tragic manifestation of the ongoing injustice. Genocidal displacement of Native Americans over centuries and more recent struggles of Asians and Latin Americans have been brought to the fore as well.
As a typical middle-class white U.S.-American, I was hard-wired to celebrate the founding of the United States of America with fireworks, bar-b-q, flag-waving, and patriotic music. I grew up knowing only the controlling metanarrative of U.S. history: human freedom was finally realized when our colonial forefathers rejected the English King’s tyranny and proclaimed the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Making that declaration took courage and godly insight, but our forefathers’ sacrifice and fighting savvy finally won us full national independence. Ever since, U.S. military efforts have protected our freedoms as well as helped others around the world gain theirs.
Raised in white-U.S. Christian traditions, I joined others in believing that God’s special Providence had founded “America” for his special purposes. The Preamble of the Declaration of Independence plucked my patriotic heart-strings as much as anyone’s, especially its confession of divine creation of U.S. equality: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our currency’s declaration that “In God We Trust,” and our pledge of allegiance to the flag and our “One Nation Under God,” reinforced my sense that “America” is God’s specially created Christian nation.
Exposures to wider history and to different sorts of people, both outside and within the U.S., have changed my understanding. Those changes have often come slowly and painfully. It was about 25 years ago that it first dawned on me that the North American colonial rebellion against England resembled similar rebellions that have taken place throughout history and around the world. That idea felt treasonous, as it chipped away at my article of faith in U.S. exceptionalism.
Regarding the North American English colonies’ Declaration of Independence, it finally became evident that “all men" only meant Europeans, specifically the North American English colonists and their English countrymen. That is, the colonists were equal with their fellow Englishmen and had their own right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - and to pursue those rights independently of the English crown’s control. Displaced Native Americans and African slave laborers were not included in “all men.” Our national forefathers’ Declaration of Independence was not a universal statement of human rights, as is often asserted and as I had assumed it to be. Racially based distinctions and economic profit are two of this country’s foundational values.
It is interesting to compare the earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” Jefferson used his own colony’s wording as a template for the colonies’ collective declaration he was requested to compose. Note how the Virginia Declaration’s appeal to “natural” and “inherent” rights has been replaced, or upgraded, in the colonies’ collective declaration by an appeal to divine design: “all men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” The signers of the North American English colonies’ Declaration of Independence from England were claiming divine sanction and favor.
The Christian belief that God specially and uniquely founded the United States of America emphasizes the Christian faith of the U.S. Founding Fathers. That belief also affirms the Christian foundation and character of “America” by pointing to the clear confessions of faith on our currency, “In God We Trust,” and in our pledge of allegiance, “One Nation under God.”
A more historically informed viewpoint will note that these two additional affirmations also arose in particular moments and for motives beyond simple faith affirmations. Originally stamped on coins for a brief period during the 1800s, the phrase “In God We Trust” was resurrected in the 1950s to be stamped on all U.S. currency, and was approved as the first official U.S. motto, to distinguish ourselves from the atheistic Soviets (and, for some, from FDR’s socialist-leaning “New Deal”). “Under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance at the same time for the same reasons.
U.S. history has different strands interwoven into a complex history. There is no single foundation or pure metanarrative of faith and heroism. There has been courageous faith, but there has also been racist genocide and enslavement of fellow human beings. Bringing divine design, favor, or blessing into national declarations runs the risk of trying to co-opt God simply for self-justification, self-benefit, and glossing over wrong.
We can smile at opposing fans praying for their players to score or to stop a score. Within U.S. history, however, generations have either benefited or suffered - and God has by no means sanctioned either unjust gain or oppression of people he loves. God is God, and in his presence “the nations [including the United States of America] are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15). God is the God of the whole world, not of any one country. We must recognize him as such, as well as see ourselves as white U.S.-Americans in his true light. Those of us who still doggedly hold onto the belief in an exceptional, divinely founded and blessed “America” must divest ourselves of such a faith that risks co-opting the one true and living God of the universe. Kyrie eleison.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

“The Gospel” and White U.S. Evangelicals

God embraces all kinds of people - all around the world and across the generations - who trust and follow Jesus: that is great news! It is also great news that these varied people are transformed together into the Pauline “new man,” with Christ as the head. Furthermore, the good news of Jesus Christ is that he has ushered in God’s kingdom rule - marked by justice, suffering, and humble service - with weak outposts established in this age as foretastes of the coming new heavens and new earth.
  This all-encompassing great news is “the gospel” of Jesus Christ.
  Anecdotally - but typically, I believe - since the late 1950s "the gospel" I have consistently heard in U.S. Evangelical circles is, “Jesus died on the Cross for your sins. Just believe in Jesus and you will be saved and go to heaven.” That message's focus is on God’s love to meet each individual’s need for a Savior and forgiveness of sin.
  What that message does not explicitly address, however, are corporate and public matters - be they racial, political, economic, ethical, or ecological. In defense, we white U.S. Evangelicals are quick to argue that "the gospel" has corporate and public implications, but the core message is an individual and spiritual one: “Jesus died on the Cross for your and my sins.” Even so, that limited message does not convey the biblical gospel's full message.

Contextualized and Hamstrung

We white U.S. Evangelicals (speaking as a generalization) are convinced that the individual, spiritual message is “the gospel” because, subconsciously, certain key aspects of our basic human identity as white U.S.-Americans tune into select notes of the biblical symphony. We are individuals more than communal. We are monolingual and monoracial. Functionally, then, to white U.S. Evangelicals God is also monolingual (English) and is concerned about what matters to me and my kind of people, e.g., our health care, property values, financial security, and national prestige. Our religious concern focuses on saving souls through “the gospel” of Jesus. Our other concerns, however, tune out God and the Scriptures at corresponding points so that we can pursue our own well-being. At the same time, we presume upon God to bless us and to turn a blind eye to justice and mercy in relation to others who are different.
  Because white U.S.-Americans are in the linguistic-racial majority, domestically we are largely unfamiliar with the realities and needs of speakers of other languages and people of different races. Internationally, because of U.S. military and economic power we disregard the legitimate needs and concerns of fellow human beings of different countries. In our lack of self-awareness of being part of a bigger world, we U.S. Americans universalize and make normative our particular groups; for example, we assign names such as “Evangelical Theological Society,” “Evangelical Missiological Society,” and “Christianity Today,” without such qualifiers as “U.S.” or “North American.” Our contextualized, white-U.S.-Evangelical relationship with God is intertwined with our being hamstrung by our linguistic-racial confinement, lack of particular self-awareness among the wider world, and U.S. power. We U.S.-Americans can thus point out human rights abuses and atrocities committed by others while failing to see our own logs of injustice and terrorizing military activities.
  Our predominant white-U.S.-Christian metanarrative includes the myth of a predominant Judeo-Christian foundation; other intermixed foundational realities such as ethnic cleansing and racial exploitation are ignored. Since we assume U.S. moral leadership in the world, we also assume that God thus favors whatever white U.S. Evangelicals understand will enhance U.S. power, security, wealth, and prestige. “The gospel” itself, however, as an individual and spiritual message does not explicitly address such corporate and public matters as race, politics, and economics. For us white U.S. Evangelicals, saving souls is our (and God's) primary religious concern. We approach other areas of life in the (allegedly and fundamentally) Christian U.S.A. as only indirectly affected by “the gospel” - while we in fact treat those other areas according to our own self-serving image.

A Fuller Gospel

It takes a more representative humanity to understand the fuller gospel conveyed in the Bible. That is especially the case when limited groups - in the present case, white U.S. Christians - have sufficient economic, military, and socio-political power to keep others at a self-protecting distance. The biblical gospel is great news individually, collectively, and publicly for all Jesus-believing people and for the environments we inhabit.
  As the Book of Acts demonstrates, the only way for Jesus’s followers to come to grips with the full, collective, public, and biblical gospel is through actually interacting and living together in our differences of ethnicity, language, socio-economics, nationality, and otherwise. The early monolingual and monoethnic Christians of Galilee would never have had to work through the painful but exhilarating realities of God’s Spirit transforming them into a new humanity in Christ without Pentecost, without being brought together in Antioch under the new label of “Christians,” and otherwise being forced out of their own homogeneous circles. The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, Paul’s theological argument in Romans for Jewish and Christian believers in Rome to accept each other, and most of the New Testament would be unfathomable apart from the integrating process recorded in Acts 2-14.
  Similarly, we white U.S. Evangelicals will limp along with a deficient individualized, spiritual “gospel” apart from being forced out of our self-protecting and self-serving homogeneity, then actually interacting and living together with those who are different. Embracing, not resisting, the integration of churches, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and other groups that shape identity is vital for more fully understanding and practicing the biblical gospel. Trying to recover an alleged golden age of pre-1960s (pre-Civil Rights and pre-Immigration Act) racial homogeneity, economic prosperity and exploitation, and military superiority might fit with an individualized spiritual “gospel,” but it is not a fuller kingdom gospel-driven way ahead. May the fuller gospel of God’s kingdom shake us who are white U.S. Evangelicals and bring more glimpses of justice, suffering, and humble service, all in Jesus’s name and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Some Thoughts on U.S. "Pro-Life" & "Pro-Choice"

  This whole issue was very simple and clear-cut to me 40 years ago. After living outside the U.S. and learning more about history, race, socio-economics, U.S. politics, and other areas, I now see more clearly how multifaceted and complex the matter is. My thinking, geared toward Christian approaches rather than particular political positions, is very much in process, somewhat scattered, vulnerable to critics, and open to ongoing input.
  I still stand with the unborn. Now, I also more consciously stand with poor women of color, as well as with their children (both unborn and born). Better health care for poor women of color - which requires more government initiative - benefits their children, both unborn and born. I am not sure about the actual effect on poor women of color or their children (both unborn and born) of abortion-related legislation. I am also not sure about the actual effect of abortion-related legislation on all women or their children (both unborn and born) in the U.S., given the ideological use of related data.
  The “Pro-Life” (and coterminous “Moral Majority”) movement of the 70s has coalesced with conservative partisan politics. While religious concern for the unborn has motivated pro-life initiatives, so have the same Christian nationalist concerns (coupled with racist instincts) that drove the moral majority. "Pro-Life" represents an ideological hope for restoring an alleged "Christian America" that has never existed.
  Also, ongoing racial segregation has blinded pro-life politics (and conservative politics in general) to the realities of women of color and their children (unborn and born), as well as to how different kinds of legislation actually affects them. Again, political positions can too easily be ideologically driven at the expense of actual consequences for people affected.
  "Pro-choice" can be just as ideologically driven. Even so, God’s standards and love for all people supercede human rights to choose anything per se. However, what kind of legislation best serves the needs of all people in the U.S. - born or unborn, white or otherwise, wealthy or poor - is not as simple as many claim. Nor are different political positions necessarily as demonic as opponents claim.
  I tend to be more pragmatic and situational, rather than ideological, regarding the role of government in the complex ethical, religious, social, economic, and racial issue of health care for women and their children (born and unborn). Both major parties push for big government: one inflates military spending, the other provides more social programs. How we Christians position ourselves - re both macro and micro issues - will continue, I believe, to be diverse and not as clear as many wish.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

My 9-Point Perspective on the POTUS Impeachment Inquiry

1. Compared to the triune God’s “unshakeable kingdom” (Heb 12:28) and all Christians’ inherent freedom to witness and serve, current U.S. political matters are but one more “drop in a bucket” or “fine dust” (Is. 40:15).
2. No matter our particular nationality, Christians’ international identities as divine image-bearers should be more fundamental in shaping our priorities and attitudes about fellow human beings and world affairs than our important national identities.
3. Much of U.S. Christianity seems deeply, almost hopelessly, syncretized with U.S. identity and interests.
4. Current U.S. politics are more partisan than ever. Due to small-mindedness and financial self-interest, most Congress members and their constituents (the rest of us) focus more on manipulation and “winning” power than freely seeking what is true, right, and just.
5. Democrats’ U.S.-based righteous indignation over DJT’s mob-boss-type bullying - in the current case internationally - neglects consistent U.S. international bullying. All nations act out of self-interest; it’s just that the U.S. has recently had more military and economic clout to employ.
6. This Narcissistic Personality Disorder POTUS - who, yes, demands personal loyalty and bullies like a mob boss - has manipulated enough political and popular self-interest and partisan-interest to buttress (and get others devotedly to chant) his ongoing, honest claim to be both the greatest and most mistreated POTUS, and indeed world leader, in all of history.
7. This impeachment process will pass the Democratic House then fail in the Republican Senate; DJT will once again claim vindication (and most likely be narrowly re-elected for another four-year term); and, mud-slinging partisan U.S. politics will only increase.
8. While I understand better than before why so many U.S. citizens support this POTUS because of implemented policies (as well as his populist style), I continue to regret having a hyper-NPD mob boss as POTUS. I also oppose, or in some cases question, many of his economic, international, social, and immigration policies. Others will continue to bring up their relief that the realistic 2016 alternative was not elected, which I understand.
9. U.S. Christians will continue to face the powerful struggle between living out of their inherently theocentric, graciously bestowed international human identities and partisan U.S. nationalism.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Broad Scope of “their land” in II Chronicles 7:14

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
  Here’s the punch line first: “their land” = “the whole earth,” not just “my country.”
  The original context was about three millennia ago, at the dedication of King Solomon’s temple. A millennium later Jesus of Nazareth came, lived, died, rose, ascended, and was enthroned as the entire world’s Suffering King. Jesus was both Israel’s Messiah and the entire world’s Savior. Jesus expanded “Israel” to mean all kinds of people who would follow him. For II Chronicles 7:14, “my people” expands to all of Jesus’s followers worldwide, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic class, or any other distinction.
  Our identity as Jesus’s followers affects, encompasses, but is not restricted to any of these categories. To humble ourselves, repent, and pray for God’s merciful healing of “our land” as “God’s people” similarly should not be restricted to my socio-economic class, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or whatever. The power of national identity often constrains us to assume that “our land” = “my country.” In actuality, however, God’s merciful healing of “our land” encompasses the “whole earth.” We are awaiting a “new heaven and new earth,” not simply a new national entity - all of which change, come, and go throughout history.
  The Jesus-fulfilled prayer: “If my worldwide people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal the still unredeemed earth.” May it be so, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fleeing to Madrid: Under the Volcanic Ash Cloud

My true, short story about trying to travel amidst the chaos in Western Europe in 2010 during a volcanic eruption in Iceland. Click here to download. Enjoy!