‘Trump Fires Christopher Krebs, Official Who Disputed His Election Fraud Claims’

Paragraph of the day (via the New York Times):

Mr. Krebs, 43, a former Microsoft executive, has been hailed in recent days for his two years preparing states for the challenges of the vote, hardening systems against Russian interference and setting up a “rumor control” website to guard against disinformation. The foreign interference so many feared never materialized; instead, the disinformation ultimately came from the White House.

Four years. That’s how long it took to become our own worst enemy — a truly Trumpian achievement.

Christopher Krebs’ response:

Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow. #Protect2020

November 17, 2020

Judith Butler: ‘Is the Show Finally over for Donald Trump?’

As a US-born Hong Konger, I’ve found it difficult to peel my eyes away from the debacle of Trump’s refusal to concede. Butler’s op-ed describes my feelings exactly:

When we went to the polls, we were not voting for Joe Biden/Kamala Harris (centrists who disavowed the most progressive health and financial plans of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) as much as we were voting for the possibility of voting at all, voting for the present and future institution of electoral democracy.

Feels weird to say it out loud, doesn’t it?

Those of us outside of carceral institutions lived with a sense of enduring electoral laws as part of a constitutional framework that gave coordinates to our sense of politics. Many of those who had not suffered disenfranchisement before were not even aware of how their lives rested on a basic trust in the legal framework. But the idea of law as something that secures our rights and guides our action has been transformed into a field of litigation. There is no legal norm that cannot be litigated under Trump. A law is not there to be honored or followed, but as a potential site of litigation. Litigation becomes the ultimate field of law’s power, and all other kinds of law, even constitutional rights, are now reduced to negotiable items within that field. […]

We are still frightened to have seen the fragility of the laws that ground and orient us as a democracy. But what has always been distinctive of the Trump regime is that the executive power of the government has consistently attacked the laws of the country at the same [time] that he claims to represent law and order. The only way that contradiction makes sense is if law and order are exclusively embodied by him. A peculiarly contemporary form of media-driven narcissism thus morphs into a lethal form of tyranny. The one who represents the legal regime assumes that he is the law, the one who makes and breaks the law as he pleases, and as a result he becomes a powerful criminal in the name of the law.

No wonder Trump admires Xi Jinping.

Trump has been neither a Hitler nor a Nero, but he has been a very bad artist who has been rewarded by his supporters for his wretched performances. His appeal to nearly half of the country has depended upon cultivating a practice that licenses an exhilarated form of sadism freed from any shackles of moral shame or ethical obligation. This practice has not fully accomplished its perverse liberation. Not only has more than half of the country responded with revulsion or rejection, but the shameless spectacle has all along depended on a lurid picture of the left: moralistic, punitive and judgmental, repressive and ready to deprive the general populace of every ordinary pleasure and freedom. In that way, shame occupied a permanent and necessary place in the Trumpian scenario insofar as it was externalized and lodged in the left: the left seek to shame you for your guns, your racism, your sexual assault, your xenophobia! The excited fantasy of his supporters was that, with Trump, shame could be overcome, and there would be a “freedom” from the left and its punitive restrictions on speech and conduct, a permission finally to destroy environmental regulations, international accords, spew racist bile and openly affirm persistent forms of misogyny.

That, there, there is the essence of Trumpism. It really is a kind of perverse liberation theology. This video shows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such “freedom.”

November 13, 2020

An Architecture Critic on Four Seasons Total Landscaping

Justin Davidson offers some delicious commentary on this all-too-perfect episode:

But the president was mistaken; the press conference was in fact scheduled to take place at a different, unrelated business ten miles away: Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The name itself is magnificently Trumpian, goosed by that meaningless, grandiose modifier, total, which suggests that the firm is in the business of dynamiting mountains or, on a different scale, will mow any patch of body hair its customers desire. […]

The end of an administration marked by episodes of sordid sex, wishful thinking, and mass death took place next door to a dildo-and-porn store named Fantasy Island and across the street from a crematorium. If you were hunting for such a symbolically rich stage, how would you even Google it?

Feels like the coda to a chapter from the book of Kings.

November 9, 2020

‘Night Fell: Hong Kong’s First Month under China Security Law’

Xinqi Su and Jerome Taylor, AFP News:

Despite assurances that the law would only target an “extreme minority”, certain peaceful political views became illegal overnight and the precedent-setting headlines have come at a near-daily rate. […]

Schools and libraries pulled books deemed to breach the new law. Protest murals disappeared from streets and restaurants. Teachers were ordered to keep politics out of classrooms.

Local police were handed wide surveillance tools — without the need for court approval — and were given powers to order internet takedowns.

On Monday Jimmy Lai — a local media mogul and one of the city’s most vocal Beijing critics — was arrested under the new law along with six other people, accused of colluding with foreign forces.

At this point the article essentially becomes a list. You can almost hear the reporters struggling to keep up. Each of these developments is heartbreaking in its own right, but there’s no time for details — it’s just one blow after another. A tactic straight from the authoritarian playbook, of course.

Here’s one anecdote you shouldn’t miss:

In July, authorities announced 12 prospective candidates, including four sitting legislators, were banned from standing in upcoming local elections.

They were struck off for having unacceptable political views, such as campaigning to block legislation by winning a majority, or criticising the national security law.1

Imagine that: politicians trying to effect change by winning a majority. The nerve.

  1. Emphasis mine.

August 11, 2020

‘If You’re Black in America, Riots Are a Spiritual Impulse Not a Political Strategy’

Carvell Wallace expands upon Dr. King’s insight that “a riot is the language of the unheard”:

A riot is not a tactical decision for political gain. It is a liturgy. It is a spiritual grasping for emotional justice, for an assertion of self. It is an attempt to bring back into wholeness that which has been split. It is meant to reify the dual senses of life and death, hope and fury, that circumscribe the black experience. The flames of a riot are dramatic and angry. They are destructive and a violation of the most core aspects that bind our society together. And yet they are honest and true, dispassionate and inevitable. And by the time they arrive, they have been crying for centuries to be set free so they can do the work of consuming every little shop and bank, every receipt and toy, every pencil and photocopied government form that has played a part, no matter how small, in your continued oppression. When Jeremiah in the Old Testament was told he must not speak the name of the Lord for fear of persecution, he remarked that “his word is in my heart like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” In our days of darkest rage, the word of the Lord comes in the form of fire. In our days of darkest rage, fire is the only thing that makes sense.

Hong Kong last November (don’t miss the comment at the end):

June 28, 2020

Carrie Lam’s ‘Truth’

Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: the author of this post has asked to remain anonymous.

When Chief Executive Carrie Lam named her May 15th press conference “The Truth About Hong Kong,” I couldn’t help but recall George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. When I first read it in 1974, the term “dystopian” hadn’t appeared yet. We called it political satire then, and I used to wonder if what Orwell depicted would become a reality in 1984. I guess I needn’t wonder anymore — Orwell’s prophecy has come true in Hong Kong today.

Carrie Lam’s uncannily Orwellian press conference, May 15, 2020. Via Lo Kin-hei on Twitter

In the novel, there are various ministries in Oceania controlling the people: the Ministry of Love, the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Truth, and one more which I’ve forgotten. The Ministry of Truth is the propaganda department that decides what is true. It controls what people see, hear, and think, and it also oversees the media and education. One of the most important tasks of the ministry is to rewrite history to conform to what Big Brother says. In the future, this eventually becomes “the truth.”

The controversies surrounding Lam’s press conference may have been the product of human design, demonic schemes, divine providence, or even all three. But they were not coincidental.

For example, the “Independent” Police Complaints Commission’s farcical report on the triad attacks of July 21 is an attempt to rewrite history in front of our eyes. It concludes that there was no evidence of collusion between officers and the attackers, while also admitting that it had no powers to investigate. It categorically denies what the majority of Hong Kongers saw in person and through extensive media coverage. The massive influx of 999 emergency calls was interpreted as “irresponsible and destructive, obviously to paralyze the 999 control tower.” One should ask why anyone would want to do this. Following this logic, were the 150 million 911 calls on September 11 intended to paralyze emergency services while the Twin Towers crumbled in New York?

We could go on, but it’s clear that the IPCC is rewriting history not just for the present, but for the future. In 20 years their report will be treated as an official, accurate account of what happened on July 21 2019.1 As Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Likewise, the Hong Kong Education Minister’s public objection to a question about Japan in this year’s history exam also plays to ridiculous nationalistic sentiments. I’m not here to discuss whether or not the question is appropriate as many others have already shed light on this. Nor am I saying that the Japanese invasion of China was acceptable — and I’m certainly not forgetting the atrocities committed, either.

But what the minister’s accusation does is to pave the way for Carrie Lam to implement changes in our education system that control what people see, hear, and think. Anything that deviates from the narrative of Big Brother must be banned and silenced. This is exactly what the “Thinkpol” does in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Is it a coincidence that Lam named her press conference “The Truth About Hong Kong”? Was she aware of Orwell’s portrayal of the Ministry of Truth? I guess we will never know the “truth” (pun intended). But whether this happened by her own design, by cooperating with the devil’s schemes, or by divine providence (which exposes all schemes), one thing is certain: she and her officials are unwittingly carrying out what the Ministry of Truth is expected to do — rewriting history, creating false narratives, suppressing, punishing, and even criminalizing dissident voices and thoughts.

  1. Dr. Antony Francis Neoh, chairman of the IPCC, said in his press conference that “Perhaps after a period of time, this [report] will become a kind of ‘historical material,’ so to speak.” See 3:50–4:07 for original comment:「可能若干的時候,這個變成一個所謂歷史的一些材料。」

June 26, 2020

A Theological Statement From the Black Church on Juneteenth

Rev. Eboni Marshall Truman, Gary V. Simpson, Dr. Adolphus C. Lacey, and co-signers from over 400 black churches — “one for every year of our righteous discontent”:

The Black Church was born as slave religion in spite of the American slavocracy and in resistance to the degradation of Black life by white arbiters of power. In opposition to the gods of white theology, namely, white power, white supremacy and white capitalist acquisition that bought and sold the Black bodies of our forebears, the Black Church proclaimed by night as an invisible institution that Black lives matter to God. […]

We have been demonized by obstinate pseudo-scientific theories that have asserted Black biological inferiority. We have been dehumanized by the persistent logics of enslavement that constitutionally cast us as three-fifths of a human being. We have been bestialized by the enduring logic of Jim Crow that slaughters us like dogs in the street and we have been criminalized by the neoliberal logics of a new Jim Crow that builds prison cells based on third-grade reading levels in Black communities and that has exchanged a white hood for a gold badge, a burning cross for a taser, a horse for a cruiser and a noose for a gun. […]

There is no doubt that the Black community is “troubled on every side”; that we are persecuted and we are “cast down.” But we are not destroyed (II Cor. 4:8–9). As we stare down the barrel of this 21st-century iteration of white racist demonarchy propelled by the grandsons and granddaughters of old Jim and Jane Crow; and while the adversary roams around (I Peter 5:8) guiding the insidious political machinations of the highest offices of the land, the Black Church holds fast to the theological vision and social witness of those who came before us on the long arc of the Black Freedom Movement to irrevocably contend that God, the Crucified One who was lynched on a tree at the hands of the Roman empire, is Black (Gal. 3:13).

Glorious. Read the full statement here.

June 21, 2020

‘From 2047 to a Week’

It’s been a month since this was announced, but those of us from Hong Kong are still reeling from the news. Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, and Tiffany May in ”China Moves to Tighten Its Control of Hong Kong”:

China signaled on Thursday it would move forward with laws that would take aim at antigovernment protests and other dissent in Hong Kong. It is the clearest message yet that the Communist Party is moving to undermine the civil liberties the semiautonomous territory has known since the 1997 British handoff.1 […]

In the Communist Party’s view, tightened security laws in Hong Kong are necessary to protect China from external forces determined to impinge on its sovereignty.

“External forces.” Right, because the current protests couldn’t possibly be linked to China’s odious human rights record, megalomanic leadership, party-controlled judiciary, or Orwellian security apparatus.

Security rules proposed by the Hong Kong government in 2003 would have empowered the authorities to close seditious newspapers and conduct searches without warrants. That proposal was abandoned after it triggered large protests.

This time, China is effectively circumventing the Hong Kong government, undercutting the relative autonomy granted to the territory. Instead, it is going through China’s rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which holds its annual session starting Friday.

As Elson Tong put it, “The countdown timer has been accelerated from 2047 to a week.”

Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said at a news briefing on Thursday that delegates would review a plan to create a legal framework and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong. […]

“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of the country,” Mr. Zhang said. “Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, Hong Kong compatriots included.”

Funny how this “security” is making Hong Kong’s citizens — er, compatriots — feel less secure than ever.2

The protests in Hong Kong started in June last year after the local government tried to enact an extradition law that would have allowed residents to be transferred to the mainland . . . Though the Hong Kong authorities later withdrew the bill, the demonstrations continued over broader political demands, including a call for free elections and an independent investigation into police conduct.

The Hong Kong government and protesters have both adopted largely uncompromising positions, and demonstrations often descended into clashes between protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Hold on. “Uncompromising” may be accurate, but it also implies that both parties stand on equal moral footing. To the contrary: the protestors have pushed for five moderate demands and been met with tear gas, torture, and sexual violence at every turn. There is no “both sides” here: an authoritarian superpower is throttling a thriving, democratically-minded city, and its people are struggling — often literally — to breathe.3

The legislation to be put forward in Beijing is . . . “a necessary means to plug some glaring loopholes in Hong Kong’s national security laws,” said Lau Siu-kai, a former senior Hong Kong government official who is now vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, an elite Beijing advisory group. […]

Beijing blames much of the unrest in the semiautonomous territory on interference by unseen foreign forces, and the focus of the upcoming legislation would be to stop that meddling, he said.

I believe the clinical term for this is “blame-shifting.” Also: I’m guessing these “glaring loopholes” include a free press, an independent judiciary, and other constitutional limits on state power, yes?

Almost immediately, the move by the Chinese legislature prompted concerns about the ramifications for Hong Kong and condemnation by the city’s democracy advocates.

On internet forums and chat groups frequently used to organize protests, some people expressed concerns about whether their past conversations could implicate them should the new laws be passed. Others urged users to download virtual private networking services to cloak their identities, while some debated whether to delete their chat histories and disband the discussion groups.

Free speech and critical thinking are integral to Hong Kong’s DNA. That such precautions have become necessary is a tragedy beyond words.

  1. Minor correction: we’ve had these liberties since well before the 1997 handover.

  2. Also, this ideological fantasy of “all Chinese” as some racialized, monolithic mass is just gross. It’s Aryanism with Chinese characteristics.

  3. Here the Times falls into the trap that Adam Serwer so eloquently describes. “When those in power are caught abusing that power in ways that are morally indefensible and politically unpopular, they will always seek to turn an argument about oppression into a dispute about manners. The conversation then shifts from the responsibility of the state for the human lives it is destroying to whether those who object to that destruction have exhibited proper etiquette.”

June 20, 2020

‘Woh Yuhng’ by Lam Yik Fei — Final 24 Hours on Kickstarter

The award-winning photographer Lam Yik Fei has captured some of the most riveting images of the Hong Kong protests thus far. Here’s one of my favourites:

Because China. Lam Yik Fei | New York Times

See also his wry comment under “Risks and challenges”:

The risk for backers is trivial and low. […] After all, the most risky and challenging part — photographing under tear gas and bullets — has been completed already.

Unfortunately, it looks like things are about to get a whole lot riskier. All the more reason to back this project while you can.

UPDATE: Missed the Kickstarter campaign? Check out Lam’s photo essay in the New York Times. You’ll thank me later.

May 21, 2020

‘A Day When Mothers Wept’

Benedict Rogers on this week’s tumultuous Mother’s Day in Hong Kong:

It was a day when the Hong Kong Police Force fired pepper balls at shoppers, threatened a woman with a baby in her arms, pinned a ten-year-old child to the ground, chased a 17-year-old first aider and arrested a 12 year-old boy called Luk who was courageously and enterprisingly pursuing his dream as a cub reporter.

It was a day when journalists were assaulted en masse, when passersby were insulted and threatened, a woman was sexually harassed and detainees forced by the police to kneel and crawl on the ground.

It was a day when an elected legislator, Roy Kwong Chun-yu, was attacked by the police after he intervened to mediate between them and protesters. . . . It was a day when dozens of male police officers barged into the ladies’ toilets and hauled away a group of terrified, screaming women.

Breathtaking, really. And to think that just a few years ago Hong Kong’s police were revered as “Asia’s Finest.”

If the international community does not move rapidly — and robustly — Hong Kong itself will be killed. Hong Kong is an international financial hub that matters to the world, but its success depends on its way of life — the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, transparency, accountability, freedom of expression, autonomy. One by one these characteristics that have made Hong Kong are being dismantled with alarming speed.

The rest of the world is, understandably, focused on the Covid-19 pandemic. Presumably that is why the Chinese Communist Party is moving fast, in the hope that its actions will go unnoticed. We must not let this happen. This cruel regime inflicted the pandemic on the rest of us as a result of its repression and mendacity. We cannot allow them to take advantage of the moment to destroy Hong Kong.

There are three steps that are urgently needed.

Smart, concrete suggestions. Not a bad start.

May 15, 2020

Martin Lee: ‘I Was Arrested in Hong Kong. It’s Part of China’s Larger Plan.’

Cogent, poignant op-ed from the 81-year-old “father of Hong Kong democracy”:

When seven police officers came to my door to arrest me on Saturday, I had just finished my morning walk around Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak. . . . They took as evidence my cellphone and the T-shirt I wore to a demonstration last August that drew 1.7 million people — about a quarter of the population. We were protesting an extradition bill that would, if passed, have allowed for trial in China where there is no due process.

On Hong Kong’s geopolitical significance:

The novel coronavirus pandemic is Exhibit A for how damaging the subversion law would be to Hong Kong — and to the rest of the world. Hong Kong’s unfettered media was vital in alerting the world to the coverup by mainland officials and to the stories of front-line health workers such as Li Wenliang, a doctor who was reprimanded for warning about the outbreak. Indeed, Hong Kong was the only place in China that could publicly mourn Li’s death from the virus. […]

Hong Kong operates as an oasis of freedom because our people have long fought off China’s efforts to import communist concepts such as “subversion,” which in China is frequently used to send peace-loving political critics to jail.

“Our people.” Powerful words, these.

May 6, 2020

Beijing Tightens Its Grip on Hong Kong

A rough week for the city. Gerry Shih at the Washington Post:

The constitutional crisis engulfing Hong Kong expanded dramatically on Tuesday as the Chinese government voiced its support for the seizure of more than a dozen pro-democracy activists and asserted Beijing’s “rights and responsibilities to maintain the constitutional order” in the city.

With the statements, the Chinese government explicitly doubled down on its position that Beijing has the power to intervene politically in Hong Kong. The move threw further doubt over the credibility of the Hong Kong mini-constitution [the Basic Law] that ostensibly guaranteed the city a high degree of autonomy from Chinese meddling until 2047 […].

What this “Chinese meddling” looks like:

Long-standing questions about the efficacy of the [constitution’s] autonomy provision, known as Article 22 of the Basic Law, were sharpened last week after Beijing’s liaison office said Friday it was not bound by the noninterference law and was legally permitted as a supervisory body to voice its criticism of legislative affairs in Hong Kong […].

A day later, on Saturday, Hong Kong authorities arrested some of the city’s most strident anti-China voices in a coordinated and unprecedented operation, taking in figures such as the former legislators Martin Lee and Albert Ho and media tycoon Jimmy Lai on grounds of leading protests last year that did not receive police authorization but dominated world headlines.1

Makes sense to do this while the world is focused on the coronavirus. Dirty, effective, and very on-brand.2

  1. Minor quibble: these voices are far from the “most strident.” To quote Justin Tse: ”Um, these are the moderates.”

  2. See also: ”Under Cover of Coronavirus, Hong Kong Cracks Down on Protest Movement” (New York Times), and ”Explainer: Beijing’s 5-Day Crackdown on Hong Kong’s Opposition During COVID-19” (Hong Kong Free Press).

May 2, 2020

On the Poetics of Trampling Death

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from celebrating Pascha this year, it’s that Orthodox liturgies aren’t terribly suited to online streaming. It’s hard to beam nearly five hours of sensorial overload through a maze of choppy audio, frozen pixels, and mercurial Wi-Fi. Our liturgies — at least as I’ve experienced them in the Kyivan Byzantine Catholic tradition — are more akin to live theatre than big-budget TV shows. They’re built for bodies, not screens.

While I was reconciling myself to this new liturgical reality, this line of Greek text in the service booklet suddenly caught my eye. Reading the words was like an electric shock:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν!
Christos anestē ek nekrōn!1

Or: “Christ is risen from the dead!” The letters themselves looked alive. Then came the next line:

θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας
thanatō thanaton patēsas

AKA “trampling down Death by death.” That’s when it hit me — this was the Paschal troparion (i.e., the Orthodox Easter hymn) that I had been singing in English over the past several hours! Here it is in full:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christos anestē ek nekrōn
Thanatō thanaton patēsas
Kai tois en tois mnēmasi
Zoēn charisamenos!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down Death by death
And to those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

I’m seldom moved by words I can barely read. But the elegance of the second line, Thanatō thanaton patēsas (“Trampling down Death by death”), is difficult to miss. Compact and alliterative, it packs a satisfying punch — much like the long-awaited victory it describes.

  1. My own transliteration. And yes, I’m aware that ἀνέστη is usually rendered as anesti.

April 24, 2020

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’ Play Will Stream Online Until Tomorrow (April 24)

Chris Wiegand reporting for The Guardian (on April 6):

Fleabag [the play] is available to stream from today in the UK and Ireland on Soho theatre’s On Demand site. From 10 April it will be available for a two-week period in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as on Amazon Prime Video in the US and UK.1 The production will be available for a 48-hour download for £4, with the option to donate larger amounts of money.

The TV series ruined me, and I expect the play to do the same. For the love of all that is good and holy (and heartbreakingly bleak), go rent this now.

UPDATE: Saw it. Am ruined.

  1. If my calculations are correct, that means it’ll be available until April 24. (Emphasis mine.)

April 23, 2020

‘This Is Such a Womanist Gospel; I Love it.’ Or: The Gospel of Luke, Live-Tweeted

My favourite thing about Justin Tse’s epic tweet threads is seeing how the Gospels diffract as they encounter, in real time, a thinking, feeling human being. As Justin himself puts it:

A friend mentioned recently that he thought this live-tweeting of the Gospels was [an] ‘intriguing and, I think, not untrue, vector for meditating,’ and I feel he may be right. But it’s not meditative; it’s disciplined free association.

That’s why I appreciate this exercise. I tend to avoid reading the Scriptures when I can’t give them the scholarly or meditative attention they deserve. These tweets remind me to relax — to just read. They’re a great way to ease into Holy Week.

April 9, 2020

The Independent: ‘Televangelist Kenneth Copeland “blows wind of God” at Covid-19 to “destroy” pandemic’

Speaking of magical thinking (and incredible headlines1):

American televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who recently claimed that the coronavirus pandemic will be “over much sooner you think” because “Christian people all over this country praying have overwhelmed it,” has summoned the “wind of God” to destroy the novel coronavirus during a recent sermon.

Ah, the wind of God!

Before blowing at the camera, he said: ”I blow the wind of God on you. You are destroyed forever, and you’ll never be back. Thank you, God. Let it happen. Cause it to happen.” […]

In a sermon last month, the pastor “executed judgment” on Covid-19, which he declared ”finished” and “over” and made the US ”healed and well again.” He also demanded “a vaccination to come immediately.”

That’s certainly one approach. Reducing the mystery of faith to a form of spiritualized technology is as old as the books.

  1. When it comes to Word of Faith leaders, the headlines write themselves.

April 8, 2020

Reclaiming Grief: On ‘Counter-Commemorations’

Geremie Barmé, renowned China scholar and editor of China Heritage:

On 4 April 2020, the government of China’s People’s Republic held a formal national ritual of mourning for those who had died as a result of the 2019-2020 coronavirus epidemic. The following anonymous work is one of the numerous parallel or ‘counter-commemorations’ that appeared on the Chinese Internet in which people remembered, without government fanfare or ‘messaging’[,] victims of the Covid-19 epidemic that started in Wuhan, Hubei province in December 2019 . . .

Here’s how it begins:

We remember:

That woman who beat a drum on her balcony protesting her illness.


The person who ran after the hearse soulfully crying ‘Mother!’


The fellow who was reading [Francis Fukuyama’s] The Origins of Political Order in a detention centre that had only one toilet for a thousand inmates.


The lorry driver who was left to wander the highways unable to go home.


The person who died seated and they were embraced by family members as they waited for the body to be collected.


That person in enforced isolation who starved to death.


And so on. If this isn’t a litany, I don’t know what is.

April 5, 2020

The Gospel of Matthew, Live-Tweeted for Holy Week

Justin Tse of Orthodox-in-communion-with-Rome fame:

Should I livetweet my reading of the Gospels? It feels a bit perverse, but the forbiddenness of such a thought makes it all that much more appealing.

Where Buffy the Vampire Slayer, psychoanalysis, magical thinking, spiritual discernment, and Chinese evangelical uncles and aunties meet. Pure fireworks.

UPDATE: Here’s Mark.

April 5, 2020

Consider the Hazelnut

It’s fascinating to see the dilemmas that charismatic churches are facing in the midst of the coronavirus. Chief among these is the question of whether to stay open or not. Does cancelling services imply a lack of faith? Are preventative measures bad optics for an omnipotent God? “Sensible precaution” seems to fly in the face of a tradition whose identity is built on bold, miraculous healings.1

As a charismatic who once scrawled “MORE FIRE” onto a bright orange t-shirt (an act of devotion which only Pentecostals will understand), I’m surprised at how foreign these debates feel to me. Faith-healing hasn’t been on my radar for some time. These days I find more comfort in the truth that Christ suffers with us. When we can’t breathe — either due to police brutality or a lack of ventilators — neither can he. We do not suffer alone.2

All this to say: when the reality of the current pandemic began to set in, I found myself reaching not for Kathy Kuhlman or Paul Cain, but for the fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich. For years I had rolled my eyes at many of her best-loved quotes, dismissing them as kitsch. Then I took a history class and discovered that she lived through the Black Death. What once was camp took on a new incandescence — her words were anything but cheap.

Below are a few excerpts from Julian’s visions, which she received “at the point of death.”3 I’ll let her set the scene:

And when I was thirty and a half years old, God sent me a bodily sickness in which I lay for three days and three nights; and on the fourth night I received all the rites of Holy Church, and did not expect to live until day.

Not exactly “her best life now.” Julian’s body begins to fail “from the middle downwards” and darkness envelops her vision. Death is near:

After that I felt as if the upper part of my body were beginning to die. My hands fell down on either side, and I was so weak that my head lolled to one side. The greatest pain that I felt was my shortness of breath and the ebbing of my life. Then truly I believed that I was at the point of death.

With the end in sight, she prays for one of her lifelong desires: to see a vision of Christ on the cross (“I wished that his pains might be my pains, with compassion which would lead to longing for God”). God does not disappoint:

And at this, suddenly I saw the red blood trickling down from under the crown, all hot, flowing freely and copiously, a living stream, just as it seemed to me that it was at the time when the crown of thorns was thrust down upon his blessed head. Just so did he, both God and man, suffer for me. I perceived, truly and powerfully, that it was himself who showed this to me, without any intermediary; and then I said: Blessed be the Lord!

Not a vision for the faint-hearted. Held (and beheld) in Christ’s suffering, Julian offers a word of comfort:

And at the same time as I saw this corporeal sight, our Lord showed me a spiritual sight of his familiar love. I saw that he is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, for he is that love which wraps and enfolds us, embraces us and guides us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw truly that he is everything which is good, as I understand.

And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and I perceived that it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought: What can this be? And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that it was so little that it could suddenly fall into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what is that to me? It is that God is the Creator and the lover and the protector. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have love or rest or true happiness; until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me. And who will do this deed? Truly, he himself, by his mercy and his grace, for he has made me for this and has blessedly restored me.

“It lasts and always will, because God loves it.” Hazelnuts and all.

  1. See this account of a Pentecostal evangelist who refused to wear protective gear during the “Bubonic Plague” (sic—it was the Spanish Influenza). An entertaining read, and a source of debate in my former church circles. It’s also hosted on “Geocities.”

    See also Jerry Falwell’s insistence that students return to Liberty University despite the outbreak. Hint: it’s not going well.

  2. Crucifixion, after all, was death by suffocation.

  3. Julian of Norwich, Showings (New York: Paulist Press, 1978). This was the first book written by a woman in the English language.

April 4, 2020

Tear Gas in the Time of COVID-19

As if the latter weren’t enough, Hong Kongers are also having to cope with stuff like this:

A masterclass in aggressive pointing. Dickson Lee | South China Morning Post

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be “policed.” This photo — along with this roundup from the Hong Kong Free Press — bring us a little closer to that reality.

March 23, 2020