Articles, Essays & Sermons

Hong Kong, Britain’s 19th century war to save its drug cartel in China, and escalating US-China relations

To understand the present, you have to know some history

by Ken Sehested

US-China relations have deteriorated dramatically in recent months. Once an outspoken admirer of Chinese President Xi, President Trump is now laying much of the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic at China’s door, further exacerbating the preexisting conflict over balance of trade.

Some of China’s blame, for delaying news of the pandemic’s spread, is merited. Then again, CNN has identified 37 instances where Trump praised China’s handling of the coronavirus between 22 January and 1 April. Then, as the pandemic began to spread widely in the US—and the US government’s inaction became apparent—the president began looking to deflect responsibility.

Until this past week, when China pushed through Hong Kong’s legislature an act severely penalizing criticism of Beijing, Trump has remained neutral on the ongoing civil unrest there. Now both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are making very public threats against China. Read more ›

In the future, here are seven things I’ll recall about our present COVID pestilence

by Ken Sehested

        If specific moments can serve as memory triggers for a larger historical period, I would nominate seven current headlines to characterize this COVID-19 season in US history.

        1. The death by suicide of Dr. Lorna M. Breen, a renowned emergency room doctor in New York City, who, with her colleagues, bore the brunt of treating massive numbers of COVID-19 admittances.

        She eventually fell victim to the virus, took off 10 days to recover, returned to the emergency room, collapsed on the floor, then went to live with her sister in Virginia to recover. She had no history of mental illness; was active in sports and an avid salsa dancer; was a deeply religious person who volunteered weekly at a nursing home. Read more ›

Holy hell week

In the panic, be still; in the ordeal, take heart

by Ken Sehested

“Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.
Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you
that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest.
That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together,
to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.”
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes Read more ›

Things are not getting worse—just getting uncovered

COVID-19 and apocalyptic imagination

by Ken Sehested

The root meaning of “apocalyptic” is not “catastrophe” but “unveiling.” That which was hidden is now revealed. It is not the brutal, final flourish of history, but the opportunity for renewal, the chance to begin anew.

Simply typing the word—apocalypse—makes my fingers feel awkward, clumsy, hesitant, requiring uncommon coordination. “Apocalypse” is a tricky word. It evokes memory of the surreal 1979 film (“Apocalypse Now”) by Francis Ford Coppola and the mind-bending roles of Brando and Sheen and Duvall. Not to mention the glut of more recent dystopian movies and television shows featuring zombies and the trail of gore they dramatize.

“Apocalypse” is one of those “don’t-go-there” words for me and mine. Its associations are best left to the Left-Behind crowd, quarantined behind their cruel glee at the prospect of getting to cut in line among the lucky few refugees escaping the final sadistic revenge of a ghoulish god. Read more ›

On the character of persistence

Elizabeth Warren and the schooling of US politics

by Ken Sehested
5 March 2020

I’m glad that Senator Elizabeth Warren did not cry in her press interview outside her home this afternoon, announcing she was dropping out of the race for the Democratic nominee for president. Because I was already on the verge of tears.

I have supported more losing candidates for political office than I care to admit. The immediate, sensory evidence of victory—for those pursuing the Beloved Community—is typically piecemeal and prelude. Read more ›