Why Does America Still Struggle with Racism?

It will not surprise regular readers of this blog that I believe racism is one of the core dysfunctions gutting American society. It also won’t shock the world that I’m convinced American racism is directly tied to the inability of Christians, our nation’s largest religious group by far, to deal with their history of, and their ongoing participation in, forms of racial oppression.

Such forms have sometimes been overt. For example:

  • Forced conversions of indigenous peoples to Christianity by European invaders
  • Enslavement of indigenous peoples and Africans
  • Ethnic cleansing of Native nations from their homelands
  • The founding of the Southern Baptist Convention to preserve slavery
  • Genocides of Native tribes
  • Ban on Chinese travel to the U.S.
  • Native boarding schools
  • Jim Crow laws
  • Japanese American incarceration
  • Government-imposed sterilizations and experiments on people of color
  • Segregation
Boarding Schools
Native American girls pray at the Phoenix Indian School, June 1900. Over 200,000 Native children, many forcibly taken from their families, “attended” Indian boarding schools, which were mostly contracted by the U.S. and Canadian governments to Christian denominations and organizations. Expressions of Native culture, dress, diet, language, and religion were banned; child abuse of all kinds was rampant. An unknown number of children died. The boarding school experience fits the United Nations definition of genocide. (Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior)

At other times, the forms are masked by institutions or by rule-of-law rhetoric. For instance:

  • Racial profiling
  • Excessive force disproportionately used against African American men
  • Excessive minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders
  • Neglect of the health and environmental concerns of people of color
  • Propagation of the “welfare queen” myth
  • Cruel immigration “enforcement” actions
  • Mass deportations of previously protected refugees
  • The admitted Muslim ban
  • A refusal to condemn the alt-right and white nationalism
  • The latest of many attempts to strip away Native sovereignty
Syrian Refugees
In one of the largest refugee movements in recorded history, 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country’s civil war, with another 6.1 million internally displaced. Half of these millions are children. So far in 2018, the U.S. has accepted 11 Syrian refugees. (Photo: National Geographic)

Millions of Christians through our nation’s history have been complicit in these horrible deeds, whether by active means or by silent shrugs. And until modern American Christians find a way to resolve the massive racial rifts among themselves, America as a whole will not.

I say this not out of a sense of American Christian exceptionalism. Rather, it’s because of the sheer numbers of American Christians and their influence on American society, both for better and worse. America continues to struggle with its original sin, racism, in large part because American Christians do.

Christian Racism
Some context for the first two photos in this post. American Christians have been complicit in many racist deeds, whether by active means or silent shrugs. (Click here for more details about some of these images.)

Last week, an invitation-only group of fifty evangelical leaders gathered at Wheaton College near Chicago to talk about the negative effects of hard-right political influence on the evangelical movement. Matters of race came up, as Katelyn Beaty reported yesterday for The New Yorker:

“Something of a generational gap seemed to emerge among the attendees over the question of whether the Church should seek to rise above contentious political questions or address them head on. With a few exceptions, the older, white cohort stressed civility and unity. What the movement needed, they said, was a gentler evangelicalism that reached across partisan aisles for the common good. Others, especially the leaders of color, stressed repentance; there could be no real unity without white evangelicals explicitly confronting the ways they had participated in the degradation of persons of color and women. They contended that white evangelical churches and organizations had for decades supported a political agenda that deemed unborn lives more sacred than living black lives.”

American Church
America continues to struggle with its original sin, racism, in large part because American Christians do.

It doesn’t appear that any consensus was forged on race, though it is encouraging that a handful of Christian leaders have begun talking about it across racial, gender, and generational lines. But what happens from here is unclear.

What is clear is that what ails American Christians is much bigger than Donald Trump, though it cannot be fully discussed without addressing his highly influential role in the current situation. He has frequently denigrated people of color, particularly those born in another country, and has bent over backwards to not criticize white supremacists. He often has stoked Americans’ fears of foreigners with weapons of mass destruction and said very little about angry white men who have taken dozens of lives with their own legally purchased weapons of mass destruction. His policies have uplifted the wealthy at the expense of the poor, disproportionately impacting minorities. And few white evangelical leaders have boldly called him out on these.

Complicity abounds.

Would that more American Christian leaders, especially those who are white, spoke truth to power like the prophet Nathan of Old Testament times! When confronting King David for his rape and murderous cover up, he declared, “Thou art the man!”

Nathan and David
Thou Art the Man by Peter F. Rothermel, 1884. (Photo: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)

Yet I have to remind myself sometimes, Trump is truly not the enemy. For us American Christians, our true enemy is found deep within our history and our present.

It is our racism, both active and passive.

It is us.

O Brothers and Sisters, Where Art Thou?

Little Boy with Bible
Back when “King James” had nothing to do with LeBron James.

Beginnings

I still have my very first Bible. I was five years old when it first overwhelmed my small hands – a heavy, black hardcover edition of the King James Version with “Holy Bible” stamped in golden, old English lettering on the front.

I still remember the first verse I ever learned using that Bible. My teacher at the fundamentalist Baptist school I attended underlined it with a red felt pen, as she did for all the students in our first grade class. In what we’d now call an eight point serif font, that verse spoke these words in black and white: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1.1).

I don’t use that Bible anymore; I haven’t since junior high in the early 1980s. Even during my twelve-plus years as a church minister, I favored modern translations, meaning King James either gathered dust on my office shelf or slumbered with other religious tomes in a storage box.

But I can’t bring myself to just give it away. That Bible represents the first baby waddles of almost my entire lifetime following in the path of Jesus Christ. It also reminds me that the white Southerners who ran my Baptist school, in a working-class part of oil-boom Houston, were the first to teach me what Christians call the gospel. That’s the “good news” about a God who loved us so much that he sent Jesus, the faultless One, to willingly endure enhanced interrogation, skin-shredding torture, and an unjust, grisly execution – all so we wouldn’t have to.

Heavy Baggage

Tragically, I also absorbed from these fundamentalists a plethora of self-righteous and judgmental teachings, massive errors of biblical interpretation which sounded perfectly legit to my young mind and faith at the time. The toxicity consumed me from within as I became a harsh judge not only of others, but also of myself. Emotional and spiritual anguish came to dominate my waking hours, and did so for years.

Boy on a Jungle Gym
My fundamentalist school gave me some good … and a lot of bad.

Over the last decade, deep personal archaeology guided by a skilled and caring therapist, supported by my wife and a small circle of friends to whom I can tell anything, has been vital in my still-ongoing recovery from fundamentalism.

But though my first Bible teachers saddled me with a ton of theological and psychological baggage, I am still thankful that they introduced me to Jesus. That much they got right, these Southern, white evangelical Christians who distrusted government and universities; looked with suspicion upon any scientific theory that measured time in millions of years; abstained from profanity, pop music, drinking, and dancing; and cherished both Robert E. Lee and conspiracy theories about the end of the world.

The Descendants

Though many of those teachers have passed on, I recognize them in today’s Religious Right. That’s the millions of evangelicals, overwhelmingly white, who intensely support very conservative politicians and causes, believing that doing so returns America to its Christian roots. Such a spiritual revival, they say, spares the nation from God’s judgment for its immorality and brings economic blessings and security. Their words and actions make them seem descended from my Baptist school teachers, and not in a good way.

Nothing grieves me more right now. It both shatters my heart and infuriates me that so many politically conservative white evangelicals, who were first to tell me about Jesus, have made his “good news” look, to a watching world, like anything but. Not since the televangelist scandals of the 1980s have I witnessed so many people who aren’t Christians express their shock at the actions of those who profess to be.

Most of this, of course, has come in reaction to white evangelical support for Donald Trump; 81 percent of white evangelicals casting ballots in the last election voted for him. Even now, 66 percent of them still believe he’s been a good president.

Thank You Lord Jesus for President Trump
Without white evangelical enthusiasm, Trump could not have won. (Photo: HuffPost)

Particularly galling have been the defenses of Trump and his policies from some of their most prominent leaders, including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Pat Robertson. (This follows their rape culture-promoting comments on Trump’s behalf after his sexually violent history became a major campaign issue.) Their enthusiasm seems undiminished, notwithstanding the strong public consensus, expressed in historically low approval ratings, that he’s been ineffective, dishonest, reckless, and indifferent to the needs of regular people.

More troubling, their unwavering support seems terribly hypocritical, in view of the numerous ways Trump and his actions as president have opposed basic Christian principles of love and compassion, especially toward people who are already suffering.

Heavy Damage

By supporting him so strongly, these and other evangelical Trump enthusiasts, ranging from those with prominent pulpits to the average Joe and Jane in the pews, have effectively tied many Americans’ perception of Christianity to Trump’s behavior. And again, not in a good way.

Don’t believe me? Check out this small sampling of op-ed titles:

“White Evangelicals Are Why America Can’t Have Nice Things” (HuffPost, June 13, 2017)

“Trump’s Pious and Dangerous Enablers” (The New York Times, July 14, 2017)

“Does God Believe in Trump? White Evangelicals Are Sticking with Their ‘Prince of Lies’” (Newsweek, Oct. 5, 2017)

This is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve heard so many comments that reflect our current reality – that evangelical Trump enthusiasts have made Christianity look terrible, unrecognizable to many who aren’t Christians, as well as to some of us who are.

And what, then, of the gospel? The gospel, the good news about Jesus that these evangelicals would claim is the most important message in human history, gets completely lost.

White Evangelicals Support Trump, Damage Gospel
I wish it were not so, but it’s so painfully obvious.

To be perfectly clear: I truly believe that white evangelical support for Trump has seriously damaged the cause of the gospel. The Religious Right is alienating far more people – “causing them to stumble,” to use Jesus’ language – than it is attracting, all in pursuit of political goals.

A number of us Christian public commentators said that this would happen if Trump were elected with a high level of white evangelical support. One of the most prominent was Andy Crouch, longtime executive editor of Christianity Today. One month before the election, he wrote:

Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.

Sadly, Crouch’s words are ringing more true by the day.

Along Came a Senator

And we haven’t even mentioned the harm done to the gospel endeavor by the strong white evangelical support for Senate candidate Roy Moore. That has come despite several credible, carefully vetted accounts of his sexual abuse and harassment of women as young as age 14. 60 percent of likely-to-vote evangelicals in Alabama say they still strongly support him. 67 percent still believe he’s a man of “strong moral character.”

Roy Moore at Church
Moore speaks at Angel Grove Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Alabama. (Photo: The Anniston Star)

Appallingly, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, an evangelical Christian, believes that Moore’s accusers are telling the truth – but will still vote for him.

But lest we think it’s just folks in Alabama, the Religious Right’s unofficial national spokesmen have also weighed in. Jerry Falwell, Jr. declared his belief that Moore is the one telling the truth. Longtime Christian radio host and author James Dobson has not withdrawn his endorsement. And then there’s Franklin Graham:

Graham misses the fact that some of the most scathing denunciations of Moore’s candidacy have come from Alabamians. Also, at least 18 prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John McCain, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and even Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby have called on Moore to withdraw from the race. (And I don’t know what Graham thinks about child sexual abuse, but I submit that there’s nothing more evil than that.)

Many strong denunciations have also come from white evangelicals who opposed Trump last year, particularly among evangelical women. I know many such followers of Jesus, and I’m proud of them for continuing to speak out. But that doesn’t keep the Religious Right’s perverse backing of Moore from reinforcing the already grotesque image that many people have of the Christian faith.

To be honest, if I weren’t already a Christian, I would perceive Christianity that way, too.

Power to the (Wrong) People

Standing with Moore also gives a sense of power to sexual predators and child molesters. I highly doubt there are many evangelical Moore enthusiasts who have considered this.

It is a terrible fact of life that there’s no place on Earth where abusers and assaulters won’t go to carry out their evil acts, and that includes houses of worship. I have known a number of abuse survivors who were victimized by people they knew from their churches. I have heard countless other such stories; often, the perpetrators were trusted family friends and even church leaders.

Many a church has a predator in its midst. My friend Boz Tchividjian, a law professor and former prosecutor who heads an organization called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), says that, for all the problems the Catholic Church has had with abuse, “More children are being abused within Protestant churches than in the Catholic Church.” That says to me that the presence of abusers is truly widespread.

And what are these sexual predators, sitting in churches where Roy Moore is being defended as a godly man, thinking? They’re feeling emboldened, seeing and hearing exactly what they’ll need to say and do to get people to support them, should their own abusive acts ever come to light.

And what are abuse victims, sitting in these same churches, thinking? If they have yet to come forward to talk about what’s happened to them, they are now even more frightened of doing so; it would be an added trauma to tell their story, only to find people believe their victimizer rather than them. Those who have already told others about their assaults will likely feel re-traumatized.

Support Moore, Embolden Predators
Another consequence of supporting Moore’s candidacy.

Further, when students are sexually assaulted at Liberty University, where Jerry Falwell, Jr. is president, what are they to think about coming forward? Between 2007 and 2016, 42 sexual assaults were reported at the school’s main campus. If Liberty’s incidents of collegiate sexual violence are under-reported at the rate of the national average (one out of five), it’s reasonable to assume that over 200 sexual assaults took place at Liberty during that 10-year period. Falwell’s support of Moore, on top of his vocal defense of Trump last year against charges of sexual misconduct by a number of women that grew to 22, can only serve to discourage more victims from coming forward and getting the help they need.

The Religious Right’s strong support for Trump and now Moore are hurting a ton of people.

Man of Constant Sorrow

Yes, I am grateful to politically conservative white evangelicals for introducing me to God and the gospel many years ago. Yet their descendants now weigh my heart down with great sadness for all the damage they are doing. Sometimes, it very much feels to me like I’m reading from a totally different Bible than they are. And their Jesus? Unrecognizable to me. I wish it were not so.

Bible
Last I checked, our Bibles were identical. Why doesn’t it feel like it?

Andy Crouch also wrote last year (emphasis mine):

There is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Religious Right, in love I plead with you to turn away (in biblical language, repent) from depending on men like Trump and Moore. Repentance is the right thing to do, but I ask you to also do it for the sake of sexual abuse and assault survivors, and so that predators are not emboldened in committing their heinous acts. Do it, too, for the sake of the gospel, and so that you don’t continue to cause many to stumble.  

Please.

Friends and Fellow Americans, Lend Me Your Ears

Content Warning: Quotations of very strong, abusive language.

That Escalated Quickly

It began with a single phone call this past June to New York City’s famed Public Theater:

Tell that fucking bitch to get out of my country. I think it’s absolutely disgraceful what you guys are doing. You all are fucked up!

More such calls followed, sporadically at first, then with increasing frequency until they became a raging torrent. Within hours, the Public’s ticket office was completely overwhelmed by thousands of abusive calls, all responses to reports that the company’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar showed Donald Trump being stabbed to death. A small group of ticket operators handled the complaints, daily enduring hours of verbal and emotional abuse in the process.

Now, although box office operators have rarely, if ever, been the protagonists of literary opuses, a brand new one-hour play, Behind the Ides, tells the real-life story of those who worked at the Public during its run of Julius Caesar. A dramatic staged reading of Behind the Ides premieres next weekend (September 29, 30, and October 1) in Los Angeles, and I am incredibly excited for audiences to experience it! I’ve been fortunate to read the script in its entirety, and it’s truly powerful and timely.

Behind the Ides Rehearsal
An early rehearsal for Behind the Ides. (Photo: Joan Marie Hurwit)

Part of the play’s impact comes, I think, from the fact that playwright David Armstrong depicts events that happened to real people. But he also uses numerous word-for-word quotations of actual calls to the Public Theater, making the trauma the operators experience more shocking, and their struggle to cope more moving. The play then confronts audiences with essentially the same question I and many other Americans have been wrestling with lately. I’d put it this way:

How do I engage my fellow citizens whose fundamental values seem very different from mine, especially those who feel threatened by people like me, and who also support policies that threaten me and my loved ones?

Much Ado About Something

At the opening of Behind the Ides’ first act, the Public Theater controversy is just beginning. Perhaps you’ve previously heard about the actual uproar this past summer, which truly exploded when Trump-friendly media corporations Fox News and The Blaze, along with white supremacist website Breitbart, devoted major air time and screen space to the story. Though the Public has for years been one of the nation’s leading theater companies, winning over 50 Tony Awards and premiering highly successful musicals like Hair, A Chorus Line, and Hamilton, corporate sponsors Delta Airlines and Bank of America consequently withdrew their financial support. Even the National Endowment for the Arts distanced itself from the Public.

Unquestionably, the Public’s rendition of Julius Caesar intentionally resembles Trump:

Public Theater's Julius Caesar 1
Photos: Sara Krulwich, New York Times

Public Theater's Julius Caesar 2

Yet I think most folks who’ve been to a Shakespeare play know that it’s customary for characters to wear attire that either pre- or post-dates the era in which the story is actually set. For its Julius Caesar, the Public presented characters from first century B.C. Rome in attire from present-day America. In fact, other theaters around the country have long outfitted their Caesars to look like whomever the president was at the time; Caesar has resembled nearly every president since Ronald Reagan, including President Obama in a 2012 Minneapolis production:

Guthrie Theater Julius Caesar 1
Photos: Heidi Bohnenkamp

Guthrie Theater Julius Caesar 2

Behind the Ides shows how the Public Theater and its ticket operators even took pains to clarify that the assassinated character isn’t Trump, but Caesar, and that its version of Caesar resembles Trump to provoke thought, not promote disrespect or violence toward him. In fact, such is the underlying message of Shakespeare’s tragedy. (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN JULIUS CAESAR!) Far from being painted as heroes, Brutus and the other conspirators are condemned for resorting to violence. The fact that they were attempting to keep Rome from slipping into authoritarian rule doesn’t at all justify their murdering Caesar. In short, the ends doesn’t justify the means.

But that’s not how thousands of Trump supporters interpreted it.

Say What?

Perhaps the abusive call in Behind the Ides that disturbs me most is this one, taken verbatim from the Public Theater box office’s voicemail:

You people are sick. You are disgusting. You are glorifying violence. It’s actually really, really sad. Really fucking sad and pathetic. You all think you’re so brave, putting on a show like this, and it’s just some sick, depraved fantasy. And then you hide behind your chickenshit email from the 1980s. Be ashamed. It’s shameful. You are not Christians. You are not good people. You should all burn in Hell for this. I will pray for you, but I don’t think there’s much hope for you, honestly.

As a former minister who pastored evangelical churches for more than a dozen years, I’ve definitely known folks like this. More basically, as someone who still identifies as a Christian after nearly 40 years of faith, I’m embarrassed.

But though I’m embarrassed, I’m glad Behind the Ides includes this voicemail in the script. (Sadly, it’s not the only one that’s piously high and mighty.) It epitomizes for us what not to do when attempting to engage fellow citizens whose values seem quite different from our own. And even though Armstrong’s play portrays just how awful Americans can be to their fellow citizens, it also shows how the box office operators strove to rise above the meanness. The play ends up being a story that is real, yet with hope.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the dramatic staged reading, and I hope you can make it, too! It features a highly diverse cast, which is always a win; the eight very talented actors and actresses will voice over 80 parts among them! I’m also excited for the production because I have great confidence in director Joan Marie Hurwit, who’s a friend of mine. We first met through her work with Native Voices at the Autry, and I’ve found her to be very thoughtful, incredibly hard-working, and strongly committed to directing and producing art that truly benefits the communities in which they are staged.

David Armstrong Joan Marie Hurwit
Playwright David Armstrong and director Joan Marie Hurwit have collaborated on projects going back to their days as undergrads at San Diego State. During Spring Break of their senior year in 2008, they and a bunch of friends took Manhattan. (Photo: Joan Marie Hurwit)

I asked Joan what she hopes Behind the Ides accomplishes, and she said (and I’ll quote her):

At this moment in time, art is inherently political, and artists are activists. When we choose to tell stories about the social climate, we have the power to implore our audiences to not only engage in a conversation with us, but also to carry that consciousness back out into our communities to effect positive change.

Since Behind the Ides is a new play, and it’s been very exciting to workshop and shape it as we go, I don’t know that I expect it to accomplish anything in particular. Instead, I hope it provides a foundation for people, especially of differing viewpoints, to have a conversation, to start a conversation. When art brings us together, as this play does, well, I think that’s a beautiful place to start.

And if you, kind reader, are wondering if I’ll take my daughters, who are ages ten and eight years old, to the staged reading, the answer is not yet, because of the raw and abusive language in the script. I hope they’ll be ready to see it in a few years. In the meantime, my wife and I will continue to teach and, hopefully, model well for them how to relate to people with whom they don’t see eye to eye in healthy and productive ways.

See you at the Lounge Theatre next weekend! For tickets and additional info, visit the Behind the Ides website.

Behind the Ides Full Info

How K-pop Saved Me from Donald Trump

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#Hashtags – #LoveEmOrHateEm?

As for me, I don’t completely despise words preceded by TEFKATNAPS (The-Emblem-Formerly-Known-As-The-Number-And-Pound-Signs). They can be useful, especially on Twitter. Mostly, though, they feel like visual clutter.

phone-1662579_1280
Once upon a time, # symbols were mostly relegated to phones.

Nevertheless, I’ve come up with a few hashtags of my own over the years. My current favorite is #NewsThatDoesntSuck, because there’s been a lot of national news over the last several months that has definitely sucked.

To put it plainly, I started using #NewsThatDoesntSuck because of Donald Trump.

His election has turned out to be as much of a disaster as many of us thought it would be. And every day has brought news related to the Trump Administration that has shown something of its:

  • Callousness toward struggling and marginalized people
  • Lack of respect for humanity’s responsibility to steward the Creator’s world
  • Brazen and unconstitutional exploitation of political power for personal financial gain
  • Psychological inability to accept unpleasant realities
  • Extreme dishonesty, even for politicians
  • Governmental incompetence
  • Slapdash policymaking
  • Pro-life hypocrisy, pursuing policies hazardous to the lives of millions

Just writing this list makes my blood boil with a (hopefully) righteous anger, because so many of these things are antithetical to Christian biblical values. And being a news junkie, with a habit of reading and listening to multiple updates a day, I’ve experienced such boiling events quite frequently since the election. As a result, news that sucks has become at times overwhelming emotionally and spiritually.

I know many of you have experienced something similar in the aftermath of Trump’s election. And from our conversations, it sounds like you’ve also had to figure out how to step away from the news and your activism to catch your breath, take care of yourself, arrest your slide toward burnout, and renew your spirit.

My first step came in early March, when I decided that on some days, I just had to turn off the news and limit the number of times I checked for updates. Into that quieter space entered a bit of K-pop.

Lovely, Lo-Lovely Fox

I can’t recall exactly how I stumbled across the song “Fox” by longtime popular K-pop (short for Korean pop) artist Kwon Bo-Ah, better known by her stage name BoA. It may have started through a suggested video that popped up on the right side of my YouTube screen. That itself was highly unusual, since I’m not a K-pop fan. Until a few weeks ago, I could only have named three K-pop songs, one of them being the track everyone knows, rapper PSY’s ground-breaking 2012 song “Gangnam Style.”

Regardless, I found “Fox” to be so incredibly catchy. Full of joy and energy, it bounced around in my head for almost a week. In fact, I hadn’t had a song stuck in my head for that long since Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” It quickly became the song I played most often in the car and at home.

Several weeks later, it’s still the song I listen to the most. And that’s despite the fact I don’t know Korean, and that the only English lyrics are:

Like a lovely, lo-lovely fox
I’m so into you, babe

A translation of the song reveals that BoA’s singing about a dude she’s attracted to, and that he’s charming like a fox. I don’t get it, but maybe it makes sense to some of you; if so, please explain it to me. But the important point here is that the song makes me feel happy! Even though I don’t really understand it, “Fox” has been a tonic for me against recent sucky news.

Here, you try it:

There are also a couple of videos online that use a shortened version of the song. One shows BoA performing before a studio audience:

Another shows Lia Kim, the song’s official choreographer, demonstrating the steps with students from her dance studio:

Not only is the song a happy, feel-good one, but the dancers look like they’re having a good time! And that’s infectious! It sounds absurd, but it’s true: “Fox” has helped me to deal with Donald Trump’s presidency.

Music Soothes

And actually, I’ve curated an entire list of songs that are also saving me from Donald Trump, beginning with the versions of “Fox” I just mentioned. Most of them aren’t particularly deep in meaning, but they’re also fun, and I hope they help you, too! Visit my YouTube playlist called “When the News Sucks,” or look these up indvidually:

1. BoA’s “Fox” (complete audio recording)

2. BoA performing “Fox” live

3. Lia Kim performing the choreography for “Fox”

4. BoA’s “Masayume Chasing”

5. Zendaya’s and Bella Thorne’s “Something to Dance For/TTYLXOX Mashup”

6. Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancing” (The Peanuts Movie karaoke version)

7. Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” 

8. Rick Astley’s “Together Forever”

9. Swing Out Sister’s “Am I the Same Girl”

10. Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” 

11. Bee Gees’ “Night Fever”

12. Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”

13. Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”

14. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”

15. Bananarama’s “I Heard a Rumour”

16. U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

17. U2’s “Vertigo”

18. Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” 

19. Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me”

20. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”

21. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove”

22. Amy Grant’s “Galileo”

23. Amy Grant’s “Every Heartbeat” (remix)

I’ve also gone hiking more often to deal with my #TrumpStress, as well as maintained frequent prayer times for the people affected by the president’s words and decisions. How about you? If you’ve found yourself often stressed/depressed/infuriated/scared by the news coming from the Trump Administration, what have you done to take care of your own emotional and spiritual well-being? Please let me know on social media (see buttons on this page).

Jimmy and Me

Our conversation lasted all of 10 seconds, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m speaking of the precious moment that I shared with one James Earl Carter, Jr. nearly 20 years ago in Dallas. I was a grad student; he was the former 39th President of the United States.

Better known by his preferred nickname Jimmy, the 70-something-year-old ex-POTUS sat that day at a small table in a cozy indie bookstore, signing copies of his new book Sources of Strength. The volume was billed as a compilation of his reflections on favorite Bible themes, and given his well-known history as a Sunday School teacher (a role he maintained even as president), it promised to be more than the standard existential musings of a former politician. So for the rare chance to meet a former president and buy a signed copy of his rather unique book, hundreds of us lined up out the door, around the corner, and down the block, braving the unusually cold, brisk December afternoon.

President Carter had long held a special place in my heart. It began in my childhood, when he was the sitting president; I learned that he and I shared the same birthday, October 1. (Recently, I learned that his daughter Amy shares with my elder daughter a birthday, October 19.) My fondness for him grew in his post-presidency years, as I learned how active he continued to be in helping people in need, particularly by building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

mark-humphrey-for-ap
Former President and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter work alongside husband-and-wife country singers Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks in Memphis, Tennessee, in November 2015. Since the mid-1980s, the Carters have volunteered one week of their time annually to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity. (Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP)

Two or three hours into my wait to see him, the line finally shortened enough that I could get inside the door and away from the chilly wind gusts. And there he was at the little table with pen in hand, looking much less intimidating than the tall, burly Secret Service agents that stood to either side of him.

My turn came, and as he began to sign my copy of his book, I said, “Mr. President, we share the same birthday!”

His succinct, Georgia-soaked reply came with warmth and a smile: “Well, take care of it for me, will ya?”

“I will!” I answered.

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What all the fuss was about.

My conversation with the man took only a handful of seconds, but it has become a motivating force in my life. His quip referred merely to our shared birthday. Yet in recent years, it’s become to me a special charge, almost a passing of the baton, from him to me and millions of others to carry on our shared values.

One of those values that he has long advocated for is human rights. He made it a touchstone of his presidential foreign policy whenever he could, and he kept on speaking and writing about it after leaving office.

His most recent statement came late last year. Partly out of concern for the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, he publicly and boldly requested that President Obama officially recognize the state of Palestine. At 92 years old, and battling metastatic cancer, this guy doesn’t quit! (He still teaches Sunday School weekly, too.)

President Carter has also been known as a peacemaker. His crowning achievement as president was negotiating the 1978 Camp David Accords, which led to historic diplomatic relations and a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt. In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime of peacebuilding work, which has also included the monitoring of elections in a number of countries and the dissemination of medicines to eliminate diseases in the developing world.

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Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, President Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin formalize the Camp David Accords. Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles. But within a few years, Carter and Begin were both out of office, and Sadat was dead, murdered by terrorists. (Photo: Bob Daugherty, AP)

That same year, he became the first sitting or former president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge. His efforts at rapprochment with Fidel Castro decades earlier as POTUS paid off. During the 2002 visit, the dictator gave Carter permission to speak via radio to the entire island nation about the need for democratic reform, while simultaneously calling for an end to the American embargo on Cuba.

Another core principle of Carter’s: transparency. A mere two years after Watergate brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon, Carter campaigned on the promise that he would be a different kind of president. For one thing, he pledged to never lie to the American people.

This went over well with the electorate, but it was likely also a genuine expression of his heart. In his post-presidential years, he worked to increase transparency in election financing in other countries.

The pursuit of human rights, peacemaking, and transparency are just three of the values that so many of us share with former President Carter. We can continue to advocate and agitate for these as we receive the baton from him. Yet there’s one more of his core principles that especially resonates with me as a feminist father: his passion, now given the highest priority of his remaining years, for gender equality and ending violence against women and girls worldwide.

In his 2014 book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, the former president says:

I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States.

Who would’ve thunk it, right? Jimmy Carter, feminist!

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This is what a feminist looks like! It’s also what grace and courage look like; this is the press conference in August 2015 in which he announced his cancer diagnosis. (Photo: Erik S. Lesser, European Pressphoto Agency)

Carter’s belief in women’s rights is yet another of his deeply-held convictions that millions of us share, and that we must pursue. It is my commitment to do so as much as I possibly can for the rest of my life.

Of course, all of this is not to say that President Carter is without faults. Overall, he is not remembered as having been an effective leader during his term in office; that’s why he’s the only POTUS in the last 40 years besides George H. W. Bush to serve only one term.

Yet in recent weeks, many of us have looked upon our current president and bemoaned his glaring lack of maturity. I hope that even as we resist and persist, that we will find inspiration and strength in the lives of heroic Americans on whose shoulders we stand, like President Carter.

If I could tell him one thing now, I’d say, “Mr. President, this country that you’ve served all your life? We’ll take care of it for ya!”

In Cuba, 2002. Quote from A Call to Action, published in 2014. (Photo: The Carter Center)

The photo at the beginning of this post, showing President Carter on his 2007 Ghana trip, comes courtesy of The Carter Center. 

 

 

To the Brave 22 Women Who Told Us What Trump Did to Them

TW/CW: Sexual and verbal violence.

To the brave women who came forward with the truth of what Trump did to you:

I can only imagine what it’s been like for you these last several months. You had kept to yourself, or to just a few confidants, the story of what he did to you years ago. You handled the intense, lingering pain, confusion, and feelings of shame, each in your own way. Many of you probably thought you’d never need to talk about it ever again.

Clockwise from upper left: Temple, Jessica L., Natasha, and Rachel. (Photos: NBC News, New York Times, People Magazine, and LinkedIn.)
And then the world heard from the man, in his own words and voice, that he couldn’t help kissing women, that he enjoyed grabbing the most private areas of their bodies, and that because of his star power, they would let him.

And then the world heard more recordings:

  • In one, he allowed another man to wonder out loud whether his daughter had breast implants.
  • In another, he explicitly gave permission to the same man to call his daughter a “piece of ass.”
  • In a third, he boasted of getting away with deliberately walking in on contestants in his beauty pageants while they were naked.

And we heard his denials. It was just “locker room talk,” he said. Just stuff he said, but didn’t do.

Then, one by one, you began to bravely tell your stories of what he had done to you. You did so publicly, knowing what people would say.

They’d accuse you of making it up. They’d say the fact you waited until right before the election meant you were lying.

Not understanding the psychological effects of sexual harassment and assault, they would insist your story had to be fake because of something you said or did afterward. They’d accuse you of conspiring to get Hillary Clinton elected, or that you were doing it for attention, money, fame, or all of the above.

And you were right, they did say those things. Some, for good measure, also called you bitches, whores, sluts, cunts, and pussies.

Some said they would rape you.

Some even said they would kill you.

Most, perhaps even all, of these reactions were not a surprise to you, especially in this day and age.

Mindy, Cassandra, Nancy, and Jill. (Photos: Palm Beach Post, Miss Washington USA, Crescent Magazine, and Instagram.)
His denials went into an even higher gear. “Totally and absolutely false … fabricated … outright lies,” he said.

He blamed Clinton. He blamed the media.

He even called himself a victim.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, near the hallowed ground on which thousands of soldiers died for the values Americans hold dear, he promised, “All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”

You never really wanted anyone additional  to know about one of the most painful parts of your life, much less, literally, millions of strangers. But you felt like you had to tell your story. The stakes were too high. The country had to know the truth – that the nation was about to make a sexual predator the most powerful person on the planet.

But after a few days, people rallied to him, proclaiming their belief that he was the one telling the truth. Politicians, pundits, and prominent male evangelicals declared their disgust with his recorded comments but made clear they believed nothing else happened.

Without saying it explicitly, they called you liars, too.

Then on Election Day, he won, and hasn’t looked back.

Nor have his closest supporters, like his own Vice President-elect, who told multiple national networks on the morning of Friday, October 14, that by day’s end, there would be proof that all of you were lying.

As of the date of this blog post, 90 days have passed. We’re still waiting for that proof. And those lawsuits, for that matter.

Of course, we know that proof doesn’t exist. And that he was bluffing about those lawsuits, each of which would either expose his serial abuse in greater detail or would cause him to perjure himself.

Kristin, Cathy, Karena, and Summer. (Photos: Washington Post, People Magazine, Karena.tv, and Reuters.)
It shouldn’t take so many of you coming forward for Americans to believe you. False accusations of sexual assault are no more common statistically than any other major crime; research consistently shows that 92 to 98 percent of accusations are true. But the fact that so many of you have bravely told your stories gives the rest of us no excuse not to believe you. Like with Bill Cosby’s accusers, there is not only strength in numbers, there is no longer even a shadow of a doubt.

I do not know how or when the great injustices that have been done to you – the sexual violations, the years of pain, the retraumatization through public smears and vile threats – will be made right. I have faith that they one day will. Yet in the meantime, please know that you, and what you have been through, have not been forgotten as the political process and news coverage have moved on. Many millions of us believe you, the 22 that have spoken.

Temple, Jessica L., Rachel, Natasha, Mindy, Cassandra, Jill, Nancy, Kristin, Summer, Cathy, Karena, Ninni, Tasha and the other 2001 Miss USA contestant, Bridget, Jessica D., Mariah and Victoria and the three other 1997 Miss Teen USA contestants, we see you. We stand with you and with the others whose stories we have heard, but who have declined to speak publicly at this time.

Ninni, Jessica D., Mariah, and Tasha. (Photos: Facebook, The Guardian, Facebook, and Facebook.)
Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking out. Your courage inspires ours as we rededicate ourselves to holding him and all abusers accountable, and to stopping violence against women and girls in every community, all over the world.

Better Call Him Saul

Now it’s really over. The electoral college vote is finally in the books, and Donald Trump is free of any remaining electoral hurdles to becoming the next President of the United States. The electoral votes aren’t formally counted until early January, but it’s now basically official; we’re looking at the end of President Obama’s time in office and the beginning of President Trump’s on January 20.

I need a blueprint for dealing with the Trump Administration.

As this reality continues to settle in for America and the world, I’d like to share a simple blueprint for dealing with Trump’s administration, for however long it lasts. From the looks of his continued hyper-Nixonian tendencies, which I’ll elaborate upon below, and his many alarming Cabinet and White House staff choices, there won’t be many things on which I’ll be able to support him. I know a lot of other liberals and progressives feel the same way.

As a Christian ever since childhood, and also as a former longtime evangelical Christian minister, I’m used to going to the Bible for wisdom in difficult times. My little blueprint for how to relate to the Trump Administration comes from that. More specifically, it comes from what Christians call the Old Testament, but which Jesus and other Jews through the centuries have called the Tanakh. The sections that most inform my blueprint are found there, among the histories of the kings of Israel.

The Wrong Comparison: King David

During the campaign, prominent evangelicals like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. likened Trump to the biblical King David, who reigned over the kingdom of Israel in the tenth century B.C.E. Many other Christian leaders said something similar. It was part of the effort to encourage evangelicals to support Trump, despite his serial infidelity and frequent harsh rhetoric. (They mostly turned a blind eye to the many other ways he has seriously wronged other people, from inspiring hate crimes against people of color and Muslims, to defrauding people out of millions of dollars, to sexually violating nearly twenty women and girls, and so on.)

Trump and Graham in Mobile, Alabama, on Dec. 17, 2016. Photo: Christian Post.

The comparison is made because while he was king, David secretly took for himself the wife of a man named Uriah. Uriah was known as a good man and a dedicated member of David’s army. Yet when Uriah’s wife became pregnant with David’s child, David arranged for Uriah to be killed by leaving him alone on the battlefield against their enemy. Still, David is called in the Christian Scriptures a “man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13.14), and he is acknowledged as the author of much of the biblical book of Psalms.

Graham, Falwell, and others say that just like God used David, God can use Trump. David, they reason, was rough around the edges and had a checkered past, yet he did great things for Israel. But this comparison to David is fundamentally flawed.

The main reason the analogy fails? The Bible shows that David didn’t accomplish much good after his horrific choices. When confronted over his sins, he was deeply sorry and threw himself at the mercy of God, asking for forgiveness (2 Samuel 12.7-23; Psalm 51). But though God forgave him, He did not exempt him from the consequences of his actions. David’s family fell apart and the kingdom suffered greatly, even plunging into civil war when Prince Absalom sought to usurp the throne.

So when Christian preachers say that God can use Trump because he’s like David, they lack a biblical basis. Further, it should be noted that David is only called a “man after [God’s] own heart” before his reign. He is not called that at the end of his reign; in fact, near the end of his life, he is prohibited from building the Temple because God considers him a “man of war” and a man of bloodshed (1 Chronicles 28.3).

A More Accurate Comparison: King Saul

The much more accurate analogy to Trump in the Bible is King Saul. He was the first king over Israel and the predecessor of David.

Mercurial.

Saul, on the surface, looked like royal material; he was a tall, strapping young man. Yet on the inside, as seen in the book of 1 Samuel, he was:

• Paranoid and highly afraid that others (like David) were out to get him
• Jealous of the attention given to others (like David) instead of to him
• Constantly blaming other people (like David or the general population) for his own shortcomings
• Highly impulsive, often speaking or acting without thinking a matter through (as with his vow that threatened the life of his son Jonathan or his hasty burnt sacrifice)
• Unwilling to accept intelligent counsel (like the prophet Samuel’s)
• Willing to compromise his people’s values to be chummy with the leader (Agag) of an enemy country
• Willing to use his power as leader of his country to line his own pockets (like keeping the best livestock from Agag’s herds)
• Seeking help from an extremely dubious fringe person (the woman at Endor who purported to speak with the dead) to bolster his position
• Giving the outward appearance of piety while still acting in ways that showed he followed his own rules
• Vengeful toward those he believed had wronged him

Many of these characteristics are abundantly apparent in Trump as well; the campaign was full of examples. It is actually remarkable how much Saul and Trump have in common.

But please don’t get me wrong. I sincerely hope Trump loses these Nixonian traits, which he appears to possess in even greater degree than the disgraced former president. Yet realistically, given human nature, we can expect him to continue to be who he has shown himself to be.

How to Live Under the Reign of a King Saul

The simple blueprint that I see in 1 Samuel for life under Trump has three parts.

Saul Attacking David. Guercino, 1646.

First, I need to hold to my values and not descend to the meanness that characterizes Trump and some of his supporters, especially those who troll his critics online. David sets an example through his years-long, life-and-death struggle with King Saul.

In his younger days, when he was a musician in the palace, David survived near misses from Saul’s spear on two separate occasions. Later, when Saul was chasing David around the kingdom, seeking to kill him and killing people who helped him, David had two point-blank chances to kill Saul. Yet David refused to strike him because Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” – in other words, God’s chosen king for that time.

Or as someone wise said during the campaign, “When they go low, we go high.”

Second, I need to be prepared to intervene to protect those threatened by injustice. In 1 Samuel 14.24-46, Saul is dead set on killing his son Prince Jonathan because he had violated Saul’s ban on anyone, military or civilian, eating before day’s end. All Jonathan had actually done was to taste a bit of honey, without having any awareness of his father’s order to refrain from food. But Saul’s soldiers protested vehemently and vowed they would use force against the king and anyone else who would harm Jonathan. Saul stood down after that.

There are several groups that Trump threatened with one thing or another during the campaign – immigrants, Muslims, refugees, women that he victimized sexually who dared to tell their story publicly, and so on. There are even more groups who have been victimized by a segment of his supporters who commit hate crimes in his name. I must stand with all of these oppressed groups.

Not showing on your favorite cable TV channel.

Third, I need to tell the truth. Throughout the account of Saul’s life and reign, the people that are portrayed positively or sympathetically by the historian author are people who tell Saul the truth. They do this even though they know Saul is highly mercurial in temperament, and that to cross him is to risk their lives. The prophet Samuel, Prince Jonathan, and Saul’s soldiers all boldly stand up to him and refuse to soft-pedal their disagreement and disappointment.

It’s always important to show the proper respect to everyone. Yet it’s also essential to boldly stand up to governing officials and to speak the truth plainly when they are hurting people. This must be done without descending into the rudeness and crudeness that Trump often uses in his own speech.

Again, I do hope and pray that Trump changes dramatically, especially now that he is vested with more power, humanly speaking, than any other person on the planet. But if he does not, and he seeks to do the oppressive things he proposed during the campaign, I must still stand against him.

As I do, I’ll be thinking of my simple little blueprint.