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Posts Tagged ‘narcissism’

The Trump Conundrum

 Political commentary is not my forte. I have no need or desire to write in favor or against President Donald Trump, any more than I did for his predecessors. Rather, for those of us who believe the world we see outside ourselves is a reflection of the world within, Donald Trump provides an interesting and humbling self-reflection. The American political system is awash in seemingly unresolvable conflict, and the current face of that system is Donald J. Trump. My interest is not so much in Mr. Trump’s strengths or fallacies, however, but in what his strengths or fallacies, as perceived by me (and you), reveal about me (and you). Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for June 12, 2017, wrote, “All the conflicts and contradictions of life must find resolution in us before we can resolve anything outside ourselves.” I (reluctantly) agree.

Beyond a reasonable doubt, I know the qualities that bother me most in others are qualities in me that I try desperately to hide and deny. A characteristic of Trump I find bothersome is his narcissism – his seeming self-centeredness and need for self-promotion. Of course, some of his popularity stems from exactly that quality, so I try not to cast it too negatively. Any admission on my part that his narcissism is troubling is more a confession of my own repressed narcissism than criticism of his behavior, anyway.

The more interesting questions to me stem from the observation that we, as a collective, voted a person with the distinct characteristics of Donald Trump (or name a predecessor, if you prefer) to be our president. Assuming we can agree he is narcissistic, we can begin to consider what about us put him in such a high office (including those who did not vote for him). For starters, I would argue that we are a narcissistic nation. Further, the vast majority of us are narcissistic individuals. There is something within me that always focuses on me. How will this event affect me? How can this person enrich my life? How can I turn this situation to my benefit? It is self-preservation, and it is necessary to a point; but have we carried it too far?

Where does our narcissism originate? One interesting allegory is found in Genesis 3:4-5, where the serpent tries to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit: But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This story is at the heart of what some Christians consider the original sin. Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly need in the Garden of Eden. Only one thing was forbidden – eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. To do so would make them like God. Does our narcissism stem from a craving to be like God? Do we desire power over our circumstances? Do we want to be the judge over who and what is good and evil? Do we need to be set apart from and over others? I think our political realities suggest that may be the case. Every day in Washington, DC, we find our elected representatives promoting their political parties and ideological leanings over working together to address the pressing problems in our country and our world. Political ideologies have become the idols of our age, and too often we find ourselves worshiping at the feet of divisive dogma while children starve, addicts overdose, our environment decays, and civil wars rage. Has our need to be right – as we define it and to the exclusion of what others believe – overridden our desire to live in peaceable relationship with others?

At least in part, Donald Trump represents a large group of people who feel left behind, unappreciated, disenfranchised, and forgotten. My observation is that every four or eight years, the delighted and disappointed groups trade places. We swing back and forth like a pendulum, preserving our dualistic obsession with believing if one thing is good, the other thing must be bad. There is no effort to make the pendulum move in an ever-widening circle, where all ideals and peoples are included, honored, and respected.

My friend, Bryan Welch, commented that “the explicit anti-narcissistic message implicit to Christianity is missed, altogether, by (so many of us) who self-identify as Christians.” If we are to move our country and our world forward, no one can be left behind – no nationality, no culture, no religion, no age group, and no orientation. We are all in this together, and the Trump conundrum is this: When we look in the mirror and see Donald Trump, what aspect of ourselves is being reflected? More importantly, seeing ourselves exposed, what are we going to do about it?

Note: Next week I will return to the series, The Faces of God. 

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 8: The Bible is My Story

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible is difficult for me to read. It is hard to relate to, and harder yet to apply to my life. I am troubled by the violence that is sought and celebrated in the Old Testament, not to mention the apparent support for slavery, the lack of standing for women and children, and the over-the-top laws governing human behavior. Even the New Testament seems dated. I find myself justifying my casual attitude by saying it was written for another time, and times have changed. I now believe the problem is not the Bible, however; the problem is that I have not recognized myself in its pages. I have always read it as someone else’s story.

The first decades of my life were spent building my identity – who I am, what I do, my place in the world. It has been about me, me, and me. This is a common and necessary focus for most of us early in our lives. I shared the life of Greg with others, of course – my wife and children, co-workers, and friends, but it was still my kingdom I was building, my nation, if you will. I dedicated significant energies to winning, even with the awareness that for me to win, others would lose. I believe the Old Testament can be read as the metaphorical story of the first half of our lives. The focus is on nation-building. It is full of win-lose scenarios. A nation is either the conqueror or the conquered, the persecutor or the persecuted, the slaveholder or the slave. I am not proud to confess that has been my story, too, constantly seeking to triumph over others. The Old Testament is my story whether I claim it or not. The Old Testament is also the story of our world today, as is illustrated daily at sporting events, in board rooms, elections, international relations, and on our streets.

The Christian Bible, however, moves to a new covenant, an invitation to abandon nation-building, past win-lose situations, and on to something greater than the individual. It invites me into us. The New Testament is about community and what we can accomplish together. It invites us to look to the good of the group – the family, the community, and the world, and to trust that as the group prospers, so will each member. It encourages us to join a larger body which the apostle Paul calls the Body of Christ. We are each gifted in different ways to serve as various parts of the body, and when we all do our part, the entire body prospers. We need to be careful, however, how we limit our definition of the collective body or we fall back into our Old Testament ways. For the promise of the New Testament to manifest, the body must be all-inclusive or it will be incomplete and vulnerable. As soon as we begin excluding other groups, we tear away parts of the body. It does not matter if they are LGBTQ, Muslim, communist, or left-handed, inclusion is necessary. Some behavioral accommodation will be required on all sides, but not excommunication. Whenever we wonder if someone is worthy of inclusion, we can ask, “Who would Jesus exclude?”

In the second half of my life, I find I am not so much interested in the nation of Greg as I am the Body of Christ. The nation of Greg will fall, as do all nations, and another nation will consume it for its own narcissistic purposes, unless the nation of Greg surrenders and devotes its resources to building the Body, as described in the New Testament. We can and must do better. One place to begin is to accept the Bible as our story.

The Bible is my story. It is your story, too. How did I miss that?

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