Bring Them Down!

Victor Chininin Buele

We have a lot up in the air! Things going up, things coming down. Outrage on the left and outrage on the right. Put them on, keep them off. My body, my choice. Don’t tread on me.

I would like to propose to you that these all are just fruits of the same root.

We do not know how to repent.

And we do not know how to repent because we’ve been pretending for too long that there is no such thing as sin.

You see, if everyone can be simultaneously right about everything, it is only a matter of time before one wants to fly a Confederate flag and another wants to take down his great grandpa’s statue downtown. And we can no longer push the discussion any further into Never Land. The time of judgment is here. And we do not know how to repent. We can’t keep pretending our problems, our sin, don’t exist.

My focus here today is rather narrow. If people were truly repenting, what we are seeing would look like kids’ play because of the number of things that would be going up and coming down because of true repentance.

You see, the Christian gospel is not about coercion. Most people believe a caricature of the Christian gospel—that we are here to force you to believe things. That we are here to make you comply with how we want the world to be. Do this, don’t do that, say this, don’t say that, love this and not that, love in this way and not this other way. That is absolutely not what the gospel is.

Also, the Christian gospel is at the same time the most inclusive and exclusive message. It calls everyone to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord—no exceptions, no preferences. We are all called to bend the knee to Jesus: the lawyer, the landscaper, the Mexican, the Indonesian, the Hindu, the Muslim, Trump, Biden, my mother, your mother, me, you. No distinctions, no barriers, no excuses. Everyone must have access to the gospel. They must hear. We can’t force you to hear. We can’t force you to repent. God has to do that work in you. And if you remain in your sins, that is quite a tragic story with a different ending that none of us should want.

But if you do believe, a miracle happens, where everything changes inside of you. That which you once called good is shown for what it truly was all along. And you want to change.

You will have to die to self. You will want to be freed from your chains. And some of those chains are thick and heavily secured over a lifetime of doing that which is not pleasing to God. You may have to deal with the marks on you and some of their weight even until the moment you leave this life. But, you will be increasingly, every day freer and freer.

You see, I don’t buy that Donald Trump is a Christian. I know many people I love deeply and care and respect a lot believe he is. My point is not to fight, but I want to share why I don’t buy that. Why don’t I believe he is a Christian? Because I have not seen Trump get hit by a Mack truck, figuratively, please Secret Service, don’t read that literally. I have not seen President Trump hit by the cost of discipleship yet. I have not seen President Trump broken and contrite saying good bye to the old Donald Trump. Why would a redeemed man hide his tax returns? Why would a redeemed man not speak the truth about so many things? Why would a redeemed man not count others as more significant than himself?

But it is important that I take you to him because one of the most critical things that are happening, if we are paying attention, is that he has caught your attention! Were it not for Donald Trump at this key moment in history, you would still be happily walking to Never Land without having to deal with the sober reality of truth. You see, somebody had to come and lie so much that you would have to admit that the world of relativism that we built is a lie. Somebody had to come and be so immoral that you would have to come and admit that there must be some semblance of morality somewhere.

And that’s where we need to come and reckon with our own sins.

I know what it is like to miss out on going to to an elite university on a scholarship partly because the school board of a small town in rural America did not give me a class rank. I don’t dare to directly associate that to my national origin because that would definitely be a Title VII violation, and that would be unthinkable, right? It didn’t matter that my dad fought for me. I know what it is like to walk into fancy restaurants and be asked if I’m there not to dine in because I’m brown. I know the looks of a bathroom shared by at least a dozen undocumented immigrants paying far more for renting a room in the outskirts of Newark than I was paying for renting a luxurious apartment in Nebraska. I know what it is like to be taken seriously by somebody until I open my mouth with my accent. I know what it is like to be assumed to not be a U.S. citizen and treated with disdain. I know.

You see, I used to cross the street whenever I saw a man from Esmeraldas walking in Loja. Let me translate that for you, I used to cross the street whenever I saw a black man walking towards me. I AM NOT WHITE! But we all sin in forming our own little tribes, groups, and excluding others. And that’s just the root. The fruits are awful—we call them names, we mock them, we ridicule them, we can do all sorts of things. We can exclude them from everything and reach awful places. If you read the history of the Jews, you know what Hitler did. This is deeply embedded in us. We are rotten. This is also not new at all. We see this in the New Testament:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

1 Timothy 5:21 (ESV)

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory[…] But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

James 2:1, 9 (ESV)

Racism is a flavor of this. I have repented of that. I have been changed. It is a miracle. I cannot imagine what my life would be like had God not changed me in this way. I treasure the blessing of friends and brothers and sisters from all kinds of backgrounds. I have brothers and sisters in Bangkok. I have brothers and sisters in Mexico. I have brothers and sisters in Brazil. I have brothers and sisters in France, the UK, Spain, several countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas. It is amazing to hear them, to know how they think, to have had my theology tried and tested and improved and pushed upwards by them and their realities and lives.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10

That is what’s coming. That’s what eternity looks like. Variegated. Diverse. Rich. In complete unity. Worshiping the Lamb who was slain for every evil word, thought, and deed I have committed against every human being, Caucasian, African, Latino, Asian, everyone. My sins are truly many. I still cannot comprehend entirely how in the world I can dare to approach the throne of mercy with all the sin in my life. But I do know it is because of Jesus. Jesus Christ, the One who had to destroy my life, my so-called hopes and dreams, my aspirations, and become the “gracious Savior of my ruined life.” He came that I may have life and that I may be an “instrument in the Redeemer’s hands.” I am not my own. I was bought for a price, the price of the precious blood of Jesus.

And it is in Him, through Him, and by Him that we can have true peace.

But it does require us all to die to ourselves. To lay down all our sin, all our trash. All of it. Far more than Confederate statues and monuments to materialism and the worship of ourselves.

Until then, just remember, if this were true repentance, we would be seeing a coming down of statues and idols of a truly cosmic magnitude, and we would start to see the glimpse of the glory of the Lord filling the earth.

And that is where this cancel culture fails us. There must be redemption. True repentance leads to true redemption. The beef is that since we can’t acknowledge our sin (personally first, then collectively, etc.), we can’t rightly repent, so we can’t be redeemed. And we all know that. That’s why people get canceled as permanently irredeemable. Because when this is left to fester, it becomes a main propeller for seeking vindication by ourselves. Until we get that it is God who is offended first and foremost, we will keep trying to get people to make atonement to us. And this will never get fixed. And what is worse is that those who feel canceled are going to be able to vilify their ‘cancelers’ (is that what I should call them?) as seeing them as irredeemable because they are spotting the fake repentance.

Let’s be clear. True repentance will be seen and known. Loud and clear. All deadly, idolatrous, cheap substitutes MUST COME DOWN! Bring them down!

The Great Persuader?

Victor Chininin Buele

One of the most important books that I read during the aftermath of the last presidential election was Scott Adams’ Win Bigly. Scott Adams makes the argument that Donald Trump is a master persuader. And he, trained hypnotist that he is, walks us through a plausible explanation for Donald Trump’s hold on people that resulted in his rise to the office of the President of the United States. Adams argues that everything serves a purpose: the third-grade playground “nickname” insults given to his competition, the lies (truthful hyperbole from The Art of the Deal). Some quotes to let the man himself speak:

If you have ever tried to talk someone out of their political beliefs by providing facts, you know it doesn’t work. That’s because people think they have their own facts. Better facts. And if they know they don’t have better facts, they change the subject. People are not easily switched from one political opinion to another. And facts are weak persuasion. So Trump ignores facts whenever they are inconvenient. I know you don’t want to think this works in terms of persuasion. But it does.

People are more influenced by the direction of things than the current state of things.

Facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel. And when you watch Trump and Pence fight and scratch to keep jobs in this country, it changes how you will feel about them for their entire term. This is a big win for Trump/ Pence disguised as a small win.

If you want the audience to embrace your content, leave out any detail that is both unimportant and would give people a reason to think, That’s not me. Design into your content enough blank spaces so people can fill them in with whatever makes them happiest.

What mattered was that people saw Trump agree with them on an emotional dimension—that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. Once he agreed with voters on an emotional level, he was free to tweak the details of his policies, and people followed him.

Whenever there is mass confusion and complexity, people automatically gravitate to the strongest, most confident voice. We humans don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers, even if the answers are wrong or incomplete.

Trump used his mastery of the news cycle to create the impression that he was the most important person running for president, even if you hated him.

If you are trying to get a decision from someone who is on the fence but leaning in your direction, try a “fake because” to give them “permission” to agree with you. The reason you offer doesn’t need to be a good one. Any “fake because” will work when people are looking for a reason to move your way.

Another important book I read was Amanda Carpenter’s Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us. She shows a pattern of behavior that we can use to trace back through many of the big media events mediated by the President’s Twitter account and see the gaslighting at work. She herself was gaslighted by the campaign while live on CNN as one of Ted Cruz’s supposed extramarital affairs.

The benefit of embracing the lie ultimately outweighs the sacrifice required to cling to the truth. Sometimes, more often than we’d like to admit, lies are easier to believe than the truth. Especially in politics.

He learned that people actually love it when he lies. He loves it because he gets stories about his prowess—whether it be sexual, business, or political—in the press. The media loves it because it keeps people reading the papers, watching their shows, and clicking their links. And his enemies love it because they keep thinking that this time will really, finally, truly be the time Trump does himself in with his jaw-dropping yarns. We’re all suckers.

Questioning everything is exhausting.

You may hate his lies, but Trump sells them with unshakable confidence. He forces us to pay attention. Trump even keeps those who don’t believe, as he has said, “in suspense.” We are a captive audience, living in constant anticipation of his next move.

You see, when Trump is gaslighting, he rarely tells an outright lie. When pressed, he avoids specifics but keeps everyone chattering away with speculation on the topic.

This is the pattern Carpenter observes:

STAKE A CLAIM: Trump finds a political issue or action that competitors are unwilling to adopt and that will ensure a media frenzy. Such as: “President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.”
ADVANCE AND DENY: Trump casts the issue into the public realm without taking direct responsibility. He does this by raising questions about or discussing what other people are saying, reporting, or thinking. Tabloids, YouTube videos, tweets from unknown origins, and unverifiable Internet news stories are often used as sources.
CREATE SUSPENSE: He says evidence is forthcoming that will soon get to the truth of the matter. Trump can remain in this mode for weeks, months, or even years.
DISCREDIT THE OPPONENT: If critics gain traction, Trump attacks their motives and personal character.
WIN: Trump declares victory, no matter the circumstances. This step usually takes a long time to reveal itself, and Trump will often engage it when he is ready to drop the matter.

Can either one of them actually prove they are right? No. They can’t. This is an important point. And neither can I. And in some sort of super sick and weird way, that is precisely the point.

That’s the allure of this situation. People are super convinced that Trump is a liar and the worst scum of the earth or the most hard-working, accomplished president. Disgusting or hero. Satan or Messiah. Either he is complete trash or the King set in place by the Lord God Almighty. That’s the polarization we go through. And the thing is that somehow, as I’ve said before, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head 72 degrees counterclockwise… Confirmation bias abounds.

But either way, we follow his agenda. He controls us. We talk about what he wants us to be talking about. I find it absolutely fascinating, like a sociological experiment at a massive scale, that Democrats cannot make any headway with their agenda but are constantly responding to Trump’s tweets. Tantrums. Whatever you call them. And the Republicans have given over their platform entirely over to the President at the price of some judges, a couple of justices, and who knows what else. Trump wins. The media loves it because it fuels our interest in them through this. And don’t think I mean just CNN or Fox. There are all sorts of other opportunists there ready to capitalize in our ever-thirsty desire to engage with the crazy! It is obvious that the massive amount of content produced by trolls and bots is shaping discourse—I doubt people had a ready copy of Bill Clinton’s picture while he was holding a Bible back in the day. Some of the phrasing in what I see in people’s feeds, I know did not originate with them. It came from elsewhere.

We are facing a battle of manipulation. And we are at the center of it. And we love it! But nobody is actually talking about what we need to do to truly move forward. And that is because we are all still too enamored with our flesh.

I don’t think Trump is a master persuader, I believe he is.

What? Precisely that. It’s a walking contradiction wrapped in an enigma. I don’t think he is smart enough or wise enough to the degree Adams gives to him. I don’t think that there is a master plan, or even a plan. But because I know how big of a sinner I am (iOS keeps autocorrecting that to winner), I know he is a master persuader because these things work. I know this stuff works on us because we, like Trump, care about ourselves the most. I find it is entirely plausible to assert that he doesn’t care about you, your faith, your religious freedom, aborted children, the second amendment, your convictions, Covid-19, Dr. Fauci, international relations, the national debt, the future of the Supreme Court, police abuses, racial tensions, polarization. He does not. He cares about himself, and that is why he takes an interest in whatever will allow him to remain seated behind the Resolute Desk, much like you or I do. He is a master persuader because the feeding of his ego demands it. And face it, facts don’t come close to changing anyone’s mind. The most frustrating job in America is to be a fact checker for Trump’s speeches. Probably the second most frustrating job is to be the one transcribing the speeches. Have you seen the poor fact checkers on TV? They are desperate to change your mind by showing you evidence.

It doesn’t work. We are facing a master provocateur, and that has unfortunately come at a time when our sin leaves us lacking critical strength not just in the area of discernment but in the area of foresight.

While we are distracted, a massive number of forces are in conflict. What is the point of taking your time to read this? There is more at play than BLM, the Coronavirus, the November election.

Cancel culture is choking us to death. We do not live as if redemption existed. We cannot possibly see how redemption is possible for someone like Trump or any of his favorite enemies of the day.

But there is redemption, and we need it. We must recognize first and daily our continued need for redemption and salvation. And that will be the only way out of cancel culture. Why share segments from the Scott Adams and Amanda Carpenter books? Because seeing is helpful. Because seeing how much we don’t see if helpful. But most importantly:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

You, too, dear traveler, can be redeemed, forgiven, and saved. And so can even Donald Trump. Our problem is the same. The solution is the same—the real Messiah, Jesus Christ.

On the Day My Daughter and I…

Victor Chininin Buele

Shortly after moving to Johnson County, Kansas, it became clear to us that our phones were not working very well.  In the process of figuring this out, one day my daughter and I walked into a very special place.

I very soon realized I must not have looked like I fit there because nobody said hello or helped me.  My daughter and I left without buying a phone from such a slick place.  I realized what may have happened.  I was wearing a Mexican soccer jersey and old jean shorts.  She was wearing play clothes and non-matching shoes.  Her hair was unkept.

When I came to the United States, almost twenty years ago, I made two “promises” to myself in an attempt to survive the cultural change: (1) I was never going to allow myself to be homesick, and (2) I was never going to allow myself to participate in self-racisim.

You can see my delusion of godness there thinking I had more control over things than I did in reality.

Addressing homesickness came because I observed these big plans of my fellow Lojanos to go to big places, but very shortly thereafter, I would see them back in the streets of Loja with dreams unfulfilled.  My 17-year-old self was too proud, too selfish, and the wrong kind of ambitious to desire against all obstacles to avoid going back to Loja.  But what about the self-racism promise?

My 17-year-old self developed this theory that it takes two to tango.  If I would refuse to see myself as fundamentally different than the rest of the U.S. population, no matter what other people would think about me, I would not be contributing to the development, brooding, and systematization of racism.

In other words, I banked the foundation of my survival in America in this–that a white person may choose to look at me as whatever they would want to look at me, but I would not reciprocate that by acknowledging it, fearing it, acting differently because of it, living up to any stereotypes, or changing my plans because of what they may say, think, or do.  In other words, this was self-esteem on steroids.

And as one of the very, very, very few Hispanics in Nodaway County, Missouri, back then, there were far more than a handful of interesting encounters that would have crushed my soul had I not had this front up the whole time. And wearing this mask was exhausting, I must confess.

Yet, none of these encounters threatened my life. They are actually pretty comical in retrospective. Beside the usual high school mockery and sidelining, a few strange questions about whether we have cars in Ecuador, a date asking me if Ecuador was in Texas, none of these things put my life in danger.

Most of my life in the United States I have lived as a coconut, which is how they would call it in that Netflix show Gentified. Brown in the outside. White in the inside. And in God’s kindness of His providence to me, He has shown me a glimpse of another world I had always succeeded in avoiding. White/brown relations were always very simple for me because I‘ve had the means to live mostly as a white person. There are only a couple of places where I’ve really felt out of place–Monroe County, Illinois, and Johnson County, Kansas.

Yet, in the last four years, a number of strange incidents have continued to occur where I’ve been seen and treated differently. And also, in God’s kind providence, we have discovered the joys and challenges of gathering with the saints in a Spanish speaking immigrant church. We’ve edged towards a different circle of influence, and we’ve felt and seen different things than before.

I was only partly right as a teenager, imagine that—yes, I can compound the problem by responding to racism, which is a real problem, and to systemic inequality, which is a real thing, by making my identity largely a response to real and perceived racism. My identity is not founded in this, and it cannot be. If it were, it would be soul crushing. What I did not account for and what I was largely blind to as a result of living in different socioeconomic circles than the majority of Latinos is that racism dos remain a big sin in our country, a very real struggle, and a foundational roadblock for peace. And the King of Kings specializes in the solution for this sort of thing.

Donald Trump did not create racism. He is an opportunist who has leveraged sin in people’s hearts to rise to power and try to hold on to it. That’s what he does. And it is vile. But if we didn’t love it, if we didn’t desire that sin, we would not fall for it. The racism in our hearts must be put to death.

We have to deal with our sin.

There is no other way. We can keep putting it off and only make it worse. It’s time to wake up and really get woke. Not as the popular use of such a term but as in “I have my eyes open, what must I do to be awakened to this? What must I do to be saved?”

First Peter 2:11: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” We wouldn’t be racists is we didn’t have this passion inside our flesh for it. We wouldn’t be entitled looters if we didn’t have this passion for entitlement inside our flesh for it. If we don’t love it, we don’t fall for it.

We have to face the evil desires within ourselves. We must put that sin to death. We, minorities, must destroy the sin within our hearts. The traditionally not thought of as minorities who are becoming the minority, must destroy the sin within their hearts. We are both a very entitled people. We demand to have. We are envious. We hold grudges and are not quick to repent. We loot and set things on fire. We play the victim. We oppress, we abuse, we victimize. We do not foster opportunities for true advancement of those who don’t look like us. We do not make it a point to actually incarnate, to pitch a tent and live among those who do not look like us. We do not make any efforts to truly understand those who are different than us: What is their plight, what is their sorrow, what is their joy?

In short, by becoming more like the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, we can put to death these sins that are destroying us. This is not a mere call to “act like a Christian” or to “do Christian things.” The gospel is not about mere behavioral change, but it is about a radical transformation of the heart that only God can bring about. A man being turned into the image of Christ will be made more and more like Him every day—every day the sin within the heart that leads to murder, to abuse, to looting, to rage will be put to death a little bit more.

It is time to seek the Lord while He may be found and heal this land.

There is no other way. We keep trying what looks like other paths. And here we are again, it’s not even June of 2020, and the sad story repeats itself. George Floyd is the name today. Will you wait until it is your name to turn and seek Christ?