The kind of wholeness I’m describing as the Universal Christ is a forgotten treasure of the Christian Tradition that our postmodern world no longer enjoys and even vigorously denies. I always wonder why, after the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment, Westerners would prefer such incoherence. I thought we had agreed that coherence, pattern, and some final meaning were good. But intellectuals in the last century have denied the existence and power of such great wholeness—and in Christianity, we have made the mistake of limiting the Creator’s presence to just one human manifestation, Jesus.
The implications of our selective seeing have been massively destructive for history and humanity. Creation was deemed profane, a pretty accident, a mere backdrop for the real drama of God’s concern—which we narcissistically assumed is always and only us humans. It is impossible to make individuals feel sacred inside of a profane, empty, or accidental universe. This way of seeing makes us feel separate and competitive, striving to be superior instead of deeply connected and in search of ever-larger circles of union.
I believe God loves things by becoming them. God loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?
God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.
In the heart of Virginia coal country, the people of Buchanan County gave candidate Trump some of his biggest majorities, and they remain loyal. The big reason: a local rebound.
Mr. Trump’s voters here largely dismiss the critics. Many say that they love him even more since he took office and see the flak that he faces as evidence that he’s standing up for them against a power structure they distrust. “By his tweets and everything, he agitates people, but I think that’s good,” says Larry David Sr., 71, a retired civil engineer.
.. “Bluntness, speaking your mind is an Appalachian trait,” says Rev. Brad Napier, the minister at Buchanan First Presbyterian Church, who also heads the county’s ministerial association. “The attitude, ‘you can kiss my ass’—people admire that.”
.. In Buchanan County, the improving economy is what Trump supporters mention first. At the time of the Virginia primary, the county unemployment rate was 11.8%, and mines were closing; the number of mining jobs had fallen by about one-fifth in the previous 12 months. Since the primary, unemployment has fallen steadily to 7% in November, the latest month available. Local coal production jumped 15% by mid-2017, mirroring a national trend. Moody’s Analytics, an economic consulting firm, estimates that Buchanan’s economic output expanded in 2017 for the first time since 2010.
.. Buchanan’s median income is just $30,000, roughly half the national average. The population has shrunk by nearly half since 1980 to 22,000, and is expected to keep falling, according to University of Virginia demographers. Opioid addiction is climbing, and the county’s high death rate from the drugs put it on a federal watch list in 2016 for risk of HIV and hepatitis outbreaks.
.. They praise Mr. Trump for canceling some regulations that they say would have hobbled coal-fired plants and driven up costs for protecting streams that flow above underground mines. They say his election has given the industry confidence to invest in new operations because they can be sure that Washington won’t turn against coal again for at least the next three years.
.. “The month before the election was our lowest point,” says Jeff Taylor, a local mine operator. “We were close to our entire industry going out of business. I give all the credit to the president” for the revival.
.. Economists examining the coal turnaround say that the reasons are more complicated. A pick-up in the global economy in the summer of 2016 began to boost demand. U.S. coal exports started to recover in the last quarter of 2016—just before Mr. Trump was elected—and shot up 68% in the first six months of 2017 compared to a year earlier. Over the same period, global prices doubled for metallurgical coal, the kind used in steelmaking—and the kind that Buchanan produces.
.. deregulatory moves—in which the Supreme Court and Congress also played roles—didn’t change the economics of coal. But he did say they may have given coal operators a shot of confidence: “Psychology can’t be discounted.”
.. The American Coal Council credits “a combination” of market factors and Trump policies
.. Buchanan County was until recently heavily Democratic, a legacy of the New Deal and decades of organizing by the United Mine Workers. Al Gore carried the county handily, despite his environmentalism, as did John Kerry in 2004.
.. He liked the fact that Mr. Trump “doesn’t beat around the bush” and stands up to people like North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. “You shouldn’t let a little country like that push around the U.S.”
.. Although Buchanan is very dependent on government aid—one in four adults in the county gets Social Security disability checks—many residents are vociferously anti-government. Locals blame Washington for regulations that hurt the coal industry and for favoritism toward what they see as undeserving minorities.
.. The tax bill? Complicated, many say. But if it helps the rich the most, that’s fine with Robert Collins, a local trucker, who figures that middle-class workers will also benefit. “In order to keep jobs and provide things that employers need, the wealthy have to have breaks too,” he says.
.. Residents like to say that “Virginia ends at Roanoke,” a city 180 miles east with a trendy downtown, or “You need a passport to get to the other side of Roanoke.” They are jokes, but they underscore how separate voters in southwest Virginia feel from the rest of the state and from nearby Washington, D.C.
.. Buchanan residents believe that outsiders unfairly dismiss people from the Appalachian region as racist and that Mr. Trump gets the same treatment. They figure he was misquoted in the recent flap about Haiti and African countries. As for his comments about the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville this past summer, a number of his supporters here agree with him that there was “blame on both sides.”
.. Cultural issues weigh heavily. When President Trump talks about striking back at the so-called War on Christmas, many people here nod in affirmation.
.. They believe that’s the case in blue-state areas of America, especially coastal cities.
.. Ms. Raines, people felt they were losing their place to others who were “pro-abortion and pro every other vice.” Now she says, “you’re beginning to see the mood of the country change.” She points to public prayers at cabinet meetings, Mr. Trump’s embrace of evangelical ministers and his conservative appointments to the courts as evidence of the change.
.. Though often profane, insulting and bombastic, Mr. Trump registers here as a religious champion.
.. “I’m a Christian,” he says, “I don’t think he represents my views.” But he says that he understands how religious and cultural issues cement Mr. Trump’s support.
.. “He is a strange messenger,” says Ms. Raines, the high school teacher. “The Lord can use anybody to accomplish his purposes.”
But who’s laughing now? Upon exiting his job he apparently had his pick of posh lecture-circuit agents, one of whom told Mike Allen of Axios that Spicer scoffed at the suggestion that he might be worth only $20,000 to $30,000 per speech, which is what other former press secretaries made.
.. Ask Anthony Scaramucci. He was sent packing after just 10 profane and ignominious days as the White House communications director, and what do you suppose he did? Change his name and enter the political equivalent of witness protection? Retreat to a monastery for prayerful atonement until the shame dissipated?
.. For decades, it has been customary for the former attendants of presidents and presidential candidates to cash in. The Clintons were a money train with no shortage of passengers, and Bill and Hillary themselves never shrank from turning political pain into financial gain. She’ll mint fresh millions from her new book, “What Happened,” and from engagements to promote it.
.. They weren’t idealists in grateful thrall to some coherent vision or exalted principles that he was advancing. They were more or less flunkies for a bully whose top priorities have always been an immense fortune and immeasurable celebrity, though not necessarily in that order. Spicer and Scaramucci are paying their onetime boss the highest of compliments. They’re emulating him... Mike Flynn .. He’s weighed down by actual scandal, while Spicer and Scaramucci are weighed down only by their volitional debasement, and that’s apparently no drag at all... The ethos of enrichment in this administration starts at the very top, with Trump and his family, for whom the presidency represents the ultimate branding opportunity... This separates Trump from his predecessors, none of whom had or held onto the array of business interests that remain in his possession, managed by his flesh and blood. And he’s hardly shy about advertising that empire. He and members of his cabinet swan and sup at the Trump International Hotel in Washington whose earnings since his inauguration have handily exceeded expectations... Of course the initiation fee to join Mar-a-Loco doubled shortly after his election, to $200,000.. To judge by what has happened in only its first seven and a half months, the office’s degradations under Trump may well include its commercialization beyond anything seen before... And the marketability of the Trump clan and those around them proves anew that visibility and notoriety are their own rewards, regardless of how they come about.. No matter what people thought of him, they wanted to ogle him, and he’ll be merrily monetizing that for some time to come.
So will Spicer, who at least had the good sense to turn down an offer from “Dancing With the Stars,” which is more than Energy Secretary Rick Perry can say.
.. “His name ID is massive,” said the speaking agent who talked with Mike Allen, referring to Spicer. “He’s obsessed with that.”
.. Spicer bragged to Allen about how his White House press briefings had been nightly prime-time viewing in parts of Europe. “I’m one of the most popular guys in Ireland,” he crowed.
.. So what if he trashed his previous reputation as a reasonably straight shooter? Who cares if he spread the lies of a serial fabulist? That’s entertainment! And it’s lucrative.
I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money,” Scaramucci told reporters as Spicer left the White House. What a poignant farewell. And what a perfect tell.
Most religious searches begin with one massive misperception. People tend to start by making a very unfortunate, yet understandable, division between the sacred and the profane worlds. Early stage religion focuses on identifying sacred places, sacred time, and seemingly sacred actions that then leave the overwhelming majority of life unsacred. People are told to look for God in certain special places and in particular events—usually, it seems, ones controlled by the clergy.
.. In Franciscan (and true Christian) mysticism, there is finally no distinction between sacred and profane. The whole universe and all events are sacred, serving as doorways to the divine for those who know how to see. In other words, everything that happens is potentially sacred if we allow it to be.
.. As the French friar Eloi Leclerc (1921-2016) beautifully paraphrased Francis, “If we knew how to adore, then nothing could truly disturb our peace. We would travel through the world with the tranquility of the great rivers. But only if we know how to adore.”
.. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.
God’s plan is so perfect that even sin, tragedy, and painful deaths are used to bring us to divine union, just as the cross was meant to reveal. God wisely makes the problem itself part of the solution. It is all a matter of learning how to see rightly, fully, and therefore truthfully.