I’ve been participating in the “Photo-a-Day Challenge” where people are invited to post photos they’ve taken to social media that relate to the theme assigned for each day. Today is the 19th day of Advent and the word assigned is “Name.”
We all have names and many of our names have meanings. Some contend that our names are actually part of our identity – that consciously or not – we often end up demonstrating and exemplifying qualities that are associated with the meanings of our names.
Our current president has been in the news a lot lately – the understatement of the year. This led me to be curious what the name “Donald” means. My jaw dropped when I googled it – “Ruler of the World.”
Every source I came across had versions and variations of this. Dòmhnall is a Scottish/Gaelic given name derived from the Proto-Celtic Dumno-ualos – “world-ruler” or “world-wielder.” Some versions, as “proud chief.” I wonder if his Scottish mother was aware of all of this when she and his father named him. Again, conscious may not matter, that’s what they named him.
Donald is an 8 on the Enneagram – “The Leader” type. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that the 9 types within the Enneagram aren’t personality types so much as they are different styles of defensive armor that we each adopt and take on in order to navigate and survive the container of our early childhoods – particularly our families. At some point in our lives, we ideally come to realize that the armor that may’ve worked for us when we were young has run its course, has become dysfunctional, and we do well to grow and evolve toward being less identified with our original armoring and to instead shift toward healthier ways for us to relate to others and the world.
To the extent that Donald is a leader – he’s showing signs of being more of an authoritarian, dictator, monarch, Emperor – than a democratically elected public servant and president of a secular nation that has a Constitution with clear divisions – and limits – of power. Trump has an obvious admiration of dictators around the world and apparently yearns to govern as they do. Dictatorial leadership is unhealthy and Trump’s desire for unfettered power suggests an Enneagram 8 who is currently in one of the dysfunctional levels within that type.
My name is Roger and it means “famous sword bearer” or “famous spear.” Martial terms. Weaponry. I never joined the military but I did study two Korean martial arts for several years – Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. During those years, I also deepened in my sense of being a Christian disciple and when I got to the levels in those arts where I was being taught how to quickly handle multiple opponents – involving the breaking of throats, knees, and even ..necks – I bowed out as I felt an internal disconnect with my intention to follow the non-violent Way, teaching, and example of that man from Nazareth.
It’s been said that “the pen is mightier than the sword” and, though less violent, I’ve since been rather ardent and prolific in my writings, sermons, and talks advocating for greater social justice, and seeking to get more people caring about human aggravated global warming. At times I’ve been biting with my words, brash, ..harsh even. I can, however, be gentler in my wielding of my keyboard which I think lands better for people and is ultimately more effective in conveying what I seek to impart.
Most of my writings center around stories about someone else who had a name, a poor person who was born on the far eastern fringes of the ancient Roman Empire – Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the Latinized version of Jesu, which is the Greek version of, Yeshua/Joshua – a Hebrew word meaning “God saves.” He’s also referred to as Immanuel – which means “God with us.”
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25
Now, whether or not any of those details actually happened in exactly that way, that’s the story as told by the author of the Gospel known as Matthew. When Jesus was around 30 years of age, he went out to the Sea of Galilee – which had been renamed Tiberius – to show that Rome now occupied that region – and he recruited some highly oppressed and exploited fishermen to join him in recruiting others to join in a radical and daring new communitarian way of living – to live into a new kingdom – into literally a new “empire” (baselia-Βασιλεία) of God that was in obvious subversive and counter-cultural contrast to the Roman Empire. And Jesus said, you “can’t serve two masters,” it’s either the buying into or collaborating with the violent, exploitive, and oppressive ways of mammon (wealth and ways of the empire/world), OR following and trusting in the seemingly foolish and vulnerable, non-violent, and liberating way, teachings, and humble example of Jesus. Proclaiming this rivaling empire is why Rome killed him.
The first creed of the early Christians was simply – “Jesus is Lord!” – and that carried with it the Roman empire-rejecting “treason” that “...and Caesar isn’t!” It was thumbing their noses at the Emperor. For many years prior to Jesus’s birth the Roman Caesars had been referring to themselves as “God,” “Son of God,” “King, “King of Kings,” “Lord,” “Lord of Lords,” Savior, and “Prince of Peace.” To claim that a peasant from Nazareth – and an executed one a that – was Lord was treason and blasphemy. It was a clash of faiths – between the cult of Caesar’s claim of the emperor as “God on earth” – and the irrational faith of an oppressed and occupied Hebraic people in their faith that their “God saves” i.e., the faith of “Jesus.” It was outright, brazen defiance. And it’s why the early Christians were persecuted. (scholarship of the late Marcus Borg, & John Dominic Crossan)
Back to Donald – and back to Scotland.
There’s a movie from the 1980s called Highlander in which the hero, a Scot named “Connor from the Clan MacLeod” battles his way to the top, traveling through the centuries – beheading all rivals with a sword and famously saying, “There can be only one.”
Our current president is Donald – “World Ruler” – from the Clan MacLeod. This is surreal. You can’t make this stuff up. It reminds me of the two rivaling Jesus’s at the end of the Gospels. “According to all four canonical gospels there was a prevailing Passover custom in Jerusalem that allowed or required Pilate, the praefectus or governor of Judea, to commute one prisoner’s death sentence by popular acclaim. In one such instance, the “crowd” (ochlos), “the multitude” in some sources, were offered the choice to have either [Jesus] Barabbas or Jesus released from Roman custody. According to the Synoptic Gospels the crowd chose Barabbas to be released and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. Pilate reluctantly yields to the insistence of the crowd. A passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew has the crowd saying (of Jesus), “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.”
To make this point clear, their choice was between Jesus bin (of) Barabbas or Jesus bin (of) Joseph. Both were named Jesus. One of them lived-out a zealous, violent, might makes right, brute force, terroristic, dominating, get them before they get you, dog eat dog, vindictive, retributive, subversive way of “God saving” – and the other manifested and invited a humble, nonviolent, vulnerable, restorative, subversive way of “God saving” – that has us loving our enemies. It’s the ancient myth of redemptive violence vs. Jesus’s new myth of redemptive non-violence.
Bottom line: American evangelical Christians are facing a moment like those ancient people in occupied Jerusalem did – a choice between two Saviors. Two Jesus’s. Two Donalds. Two world rulers. Two worlds.
Donald himself seems to be fine allowing people to think he’s effectively Immanuel – God with us, “perhaps one of Trump’s most disturbing steps came Wednesday, when the president, who claims to be a Christian, tweeted quotes of and therefore validated radio host Wayne Allyn Root’s words that “the Jewish people love [Trump] … like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.” Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, has referred to Donald as “the Chosen one to lead the United States, just as he chose the kings to lead Israel in the Old Testament.” And Rep. Barry Loudermilk compared Trump to Jesus during a floor speech before the House of Representatives as the House of Representatives debated impeaching President Trump.
A progressive Christian, I’m not known for using Christian language as it is most typically and conventionally used by most Christian pastors in the U.S., but this is a time to bring it forth in terms they can understand: “Donald” means “proud Chief” and scripture tells us that “pride comes before a fall.” That was an insight from the Proverbs, and Jesus shows us that it’s okay to fall. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to lose everything. It’s okay to be rejected, defeated, stripped of everything, and despised by the masses. This is a time for Donald and his followers to repent – to repent from their pursuits in seeking all out power and ruling with an iron fist and doling out scorched earth policies. Those demonstrations of power are futile in comparison to the tender, self-effacing, self-emptying, sacrificial way of the true Donald. The Christ that can live in Donald if he’s willing to sacrifice his empire and let a new way arise.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“ Paul, Galatians 2:20
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus, John: 12:24
Donald, brother, I see you. I see your supporters too. I see me in you. I see the fear. I see the apprehension of being humiliated. Annihilated. I’ve got my own versions of it taking place in my life. I get it. But surrender is the way. It’s time for us to walk our talks and to practice what we preach – to embrace our real inner “Donalds” – the authentic ones, the prodigal ones, the one who is Jesus, the one who is willing to give it all up and start over for the sake others. The one willing to really live. Willing to thrive – in community, with egalitarian, shared leadership, bearing fruit, with justice, with love – and caring for the Earth. Amen!
…That sounds far fetched, I know. In order to feel content in life, Enneagram 8s need to feel that they’ve “won,” that they’ve triumphed over great odds. So, let’s try this analogy. In the card game Hearts, there are two ways to win, to try to have the lowest number of points basically getting rid of all of your cards before everybody else does, or, when you’ve been dealt a crappy hand with many cards with high points – to “Shoot the Moon.” It’s when a player acquires all of the Hearts and the Queen of Spades. To Donald and his ardent supporters – this is your way to win. It’s the way that America wins. It can mean you staying in office or not – but either way, there has to be a change. A big one. The death of the old way that’s run its course and no longer working. This may not be not the conventional way of winning – but it’s the way.
It’s risky, and it’s kinda bad ass. Go for it. We are cheering you on. We want you to have the hearts.
And… there’s a third way to win, that’s even more bad ass yet — fold and stop playing the game. You’ll have our hearts for sure. If we liberals are at out best, we’ll fold too and not seek our own power plays. Domination and reprisals are so 20th Century.
XX – Roger
Update: Since I wrote this, Trump has not only been impeached, but in a state of defiant delusion that there’s “no way the Senate will indict him,” he uttered some truly ugly and offensive things about the late Rep. Dingell. In response, Christianity Today, a prominent conservative evangelical magazine issued a statement saying that Trump is not fit to serve as president. This was a water-shed moment in the evangelical world. It’s evidence of the adage “Give ’em enough rope and they hang themselves.” Trump’s armored “strength” (an unhealthy 8’s self-perception of divine like indomitable untouchability and unaccountability) will be his downfall. The statement by Christianity Today is a game-changer and it will create a split among evangelicals between those who care about the well-being of the nation and the world – and those who are beholden to one political party or figure. Massive appreciation to that magazine for taking that brave stand and adding their voice to our nation at such a time as this. American Christians need to have their moral compass restored. – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is a certified Spiritual Director, United Methodist pastor, and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity
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