Yes, I refer to myself as an ‘American’

Hello, friend! If I or someone else sent you a link to this blog post, you probably objected to the use of the term ‘American’ to refer to a citizen of the United States of America. If so, I just wanted you to know my thoughts on the matter:

First, I am fully aware that there are many people who live in ‘the Americas,’ who have, for that reason, just as much right to call themselves ‘Americans’ as I do. My wife is from Honduras (Central America), and I have lived in Ecuador (South America) and now in Mexico (North America). So I realize my use of the term is inaccurate, just as many terms I use are technically inaccurate, but I still use them anyway.

Second, I am not trying to be insensitive or imperialist by my use of the term. I am just conforming to what has been a fully entrenched use of the word for many, many years, a word used and recognized the world over. It is a term that communicates effectively, and rolls off the tongue much easier than “United States citizen” or even “U.S. citizen.” And in Spanish, americano is much easier to say than estadounidense and less offensive and/or ambiguous to me than gringo, gabacho, suco or güero. Also, if there are any non U.S. citizens trying to call themselves ‘American’ because they live in the Americas, I have never met or heard of any. So I don’t see any good reason not to use such a handy term.

Third, you would have much more justification if you were complaining about the terms I use to refer to groups you are a part of that I am not a part of. If you were an African-American, you would have every right to dictate to me the term I should use to refer to you. And out of courtesy I should abide by that. But by objecting to the word I use to refer to myself, you are interfering in my business with no right. People can call themselves what they want, and you just have to live with it. I may find “the n-word” so sensitive I can’t bring myself to type it out. But if African-Americans choose to call each other that, that is their right. And so I choose to call myself American and americano. And you are just going to need to accept it, rather than complaining and trying to correct me on it.

Finally, we Americans have plenty of flaws and sins worth criticizing. So criticize those, and leave our name alone. If you are the kind of person who feels the need to impose yourself as thought police for terms as innocuous as ‘American,’ you need to re-evaluate your priorities and find causes more substantial with which to occupy your time.  You may be using this issue to indirectly vent other frustrations of yours – anger, envy, resentment, or prejudice being potential candidates – and you should probably get those checked out and deal with them on a personal level.

Feel free to call me what you will. But as for me, yes, I will continue to refer to myself as an American.

Evil and good, love and hate

Evil people hate good people because they resent the twinge of conscience that the silent testimony of the good provokes in them. They secretly long for the innocence that the good enjoy, but they prefer the freedom of evil, and take out their inner frustration by resenting the good people. Good people hate evil people because they resent the tug of desire that the silent testimony of the bad produces in them. They secretly long for the indulgence that the wicked enjoy, but they adopt the limitations of the good, and they take out their inner frustration by resenting the wicked people.

Not that there are neat clean divisions between good people and evil people. We are all a little of both. I can see both hatreds in my own life. I can see in myself hints of resentment for all those – who clearly must be “libertines”! –  who get away with all the things I would never dare to indulge in. And I resent all those – who undoubtedy must be “Pharisees”! – who silently reproach me for doing the things that deep down I know I shouldn’t do. It can’t be just me. I have a suspicion we are all libertines and Pharisees in our own unique ways.

The better we become at being bad, the more likely we are to despise those who choose the good. And the surprising thing is that the better we become at being good, at resisting our impulses and choosing the narrow path, we are more, not less, likely to despise those who don’t do the same.

No matter who we are, and no matter who the other person is, hate will come easily. Love is the only way forward. And love will require work. Correction: love will require grace.

In the Gospels I see love. And I see that love moving in both directions.

  • I see Jesus sharing meals with sinners and prostitutes. But I also see Jesus dining with Pharisees and teachers of the law.
  • I read the story of the prodigal son being welcomed back by his loving father, and I hear the same father plead lovingly to the prodigal’s resentful, judgmental brother to come in and join the festivities.

Jesus loves those that society typically calls sinners – those who surrender to their impulses and desires and take no thought of self-control and godliness. But the love of Jesus is also a love for the other sinners, too: those who try to be good and live strict, conservative, religious lives, but find themselves divided on the inside, secretly wanting to give in, and judging those who do.

Jesus demands that both groups repent. But that very call to repentance means that all of them are invited and none of them are turned away.

How might we, who have a firm foothold on both sides of good and evil, become more like Jesus? How might we work on cultivating love toward the people in both directions from where we stand?



Some of the sentences we read are just that – if we believe them, they become life sentences that condemn us to whatever prison cells their authors wrote from. They captivate us – and send us into captivity.

Some words condemn us to the irresistible allure of their author’s outrage. Others beckon us into the dungeon of their author’s apathy. Some seduce us with the enticement of their author’s moral lapses. Some seize us and fill us with their author’s anxieties and despondency.

I wish it were easier to sniff out the emotional baggage with which authors write.

I wish it were easier to spot when an ancient author writes as a reaction to his own guilt and shame. This would allow me to reflect on whether I should believe what he says and thereby take on the yoke of guilt out of which he writes.

I wish it were easier to spot when an insightful tweet or a funny meme underhandedly promotes impatience, or resignation, or condescension.This would help me find a balanced way of receiving it.

But I get so gripped, so enamored by what the words say that I find it hard to step back and recognize the attitudes and perspectives behind them. And, swallowing author’s sentences, I too am sentenced along with them.

Reading and writing is ultimately a spiritual battle. The writer foists his opinions on the reader, hoping to dominate their hearts and minds. Behind every book, article or – yes, blog post – is the subtle message: “Love me! Find me clever, witty, or enlightening! Adopt my beliefs! Be a little more like me!” And the reader responds to this attempt at domination by deciding how much to submit and how much to resist. Some readers swallow ideas uncritically. Others respond with discernment or even resentment.

The goal of understanding the author in order to know how to respond appropriately sounds good in theory, and to a limited extent is doable and important. But ultimately it is impossible to fully get inside the other person’s head. You read John Calvin’s Institutes, then want to know more about Calvin himself, so as to know how to interpret his book. But to do that you have to read secondary works, which themselves are written by authors with distinct perspectives that need teasing out.

So appears the strange phenomenon of third tier literature, writers writing about writers who wrote about other writers. Paul writes about Jesus. Calvin writes about Paul. A historian writes about Calvin. And then someone writes their thesis about the historian’s interpretation. At what point can the reader rest, knowing she has finally heard the end of the matter?

Looking behind the text is important, but we can only do so much of it. A more practical goal is to look in front of the text, at ourselves, at the struggles which the sentences and paragraphs produce in us. Why does this chapter excite me or anger me? What kind of person will I become if I give in to its tractor beam, if I allow it to put me under its spell? What kind of person will I become if I reject the worldview of this text? What kind of person do I really want to be?

I recognize the irony of writing to readers about authors trying to dominate readers. I know my sentences will bind some of those who read them and provoke rebellion in others. As an author who cares about ethics, I can only hope that those who subject themselves to my ideas will find their captivity liberating, and that those who resist my ideas will find the struggle invigorating.

I hope my words will communicate

  • wonder and fascination,
  • discernment and discipline,
  • motivation and courage,
  • love and humility,
  • trust and grace.

And that they will inspire the same in those who happen upon what I write. Blessings.