March

What good is a march? Critics will say it’s just a ritual that a century of activism has taught authorities to control. The state looks tolerant—even open minded—when it provides space for a march. And in the meantime the government—especially this government—goes about its business.

But there is, in fact, nothing empty about a ritual. Ritual brings unification. It points to a shared history. It symbolizes a dense and thoughtful conviction. It allows for physical affection, even if that comes only from the press of the crowd. It lets the ministers take their stoles for a walk. It lets people declare, in public, their love for both home and neighbor. “I love Cedar Rapids!” said a Congolese immigrant at yesterday’s march. “And I’m running for mayor!” Marches are congregations. And at this time in our lives, they show there are more of us then there are of them. They show this so handily, in fact, that our opponents like to lie about them.

(Originally posted August 14, 2017)

Alliance

Nevertheless She Persisted.jpg

Through a string of errands, I ended up at an out-of-the-way coffee and fudge shop. Not a bad place to be on a Monday. The clerk was the only other person in the store. She was maybe sixty, and had a soft, serious face. She told me, quietly, that she liked my She Persisted shirt. We talked some politics then, as she mixed the espresso. As I left, I told her to take care—and I realized that I really meant it. I mean, more than usual, I meant it. And I realized, further, that there is a consolation in all these Trumposities. And that is the fact that we’re building a community—a camaraderie, even—among those of us who would otherwise be total strangers.

(Originally posted May 15, 2017)

Trumpence of Doom

So there’s a religious-right magazine called Trumpeters that talks, somewhat fittingly, of the rise of Trump. My mother read this magazine while she was in a waiting room, because she does her best to learn what motivates such a dangerous portion of the population. Trumpeters says that God is using Trump to bring about the End Times. That is, Trump is an instrument of God’s punishment to a world that, through liberal hypocrisy, has fallen away from the Truth.

Let’s shelve the dispute over whether liberals or conservatives are more hypocritical. Even if we could agree on a measuring stick, the data bends whichever way you squeeze it. So instead, let’s look at the spirit behind Trumpeters’ theology. First off, Trumpeters’ very name evokes the End Times. At best this shows that the magazine springs from a faithful stance. But that faith itself should point to the difference between accepting God’s will and accepting destruction. One thing that liberal and conservative Christians overlook is their agreement that people are supposed to love those who oppose them–to feed them, to heal them, to forgive them, and to grant them justice. Under no circumstance are we supposed to aid their destruction. In fact, we aren’t even supposed to turn away from it. If we cling too hard to the idea that the Trump era is the time when our enemies are going to get it, we adopt a mindset that grants the world permission to harm our enemies. That means that we have judged our enemies by leaving them to the harm that we’ve decided God has meant for them. And once we’ve reached this threshold, only semantic and degree distinguish our religion from ISIS.

ISIS has been hoping for the End Times, for years. They want us baddies to bring about annihilation, so we can have a big war, until Jesus (yes, Jesus) can rescue the true Muslims by brandishing a spear. Poor Jesus. Make way for the new Caliphate. Make way for the new City. Such stances are so exclusive and so identical—which is to say that they’re all so very tragic.

It would be reasonable to think that if the only thing two fanatics can agree on is the hope for destruction, then our chances of that destruction essentially double. But I suspect that the End Times will come only when they’re supposed to. Rushing them seems as fruitless as it seems self-righteous and selfish. It is a stance that hates the very world who, despite all, has held us like a womb. The mutual hope for the world’s end might not create the Apocalypse, but it can inflict enormous suffering. This progression  from adulation of God, to adulation of ourselves, to condemnation of our enemy is the worst we have to guard against. It is the most dangerous thing. Because how sad—and how human—it would be for us to maim our world, but not kill it, so that we could all persist in a way even darker and farther fallen, for having decided that our enemies weren’t worth their place upon it.

(Originally posted December 20, 2016)

Kryptonite

So the top story today is that an ex-CIA operative is releasing a book that claims how Obama could have stopped ISIS in 2012 by allowing the CIA to train more rebels to oust Assad. I don’t know much about covert ops, covert coups, or the ancient landscape that is the Middle East. Nor will I claim that Obama has maintained a perfect foreign policy. But in terms of this book, I will say that hindsight and discontent are old partners. And I will also say that back when this chance arose, ISIS hadn’t even emerged from a-Quaeda. And I’ll say furthermore that if you want to play the game of who started what, we should talk about how al-Quaeda itself came about from our supporting the rebels in the Afghan war against the Soviets. And speaking of removal of dictators, let’s not forget how well things turned out after we toppled Hussein. 

I just heard that the Silver Age Superman arose in the fifties as a champion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. He’s become edgier since. He’s given Batman some kryptonite so Batman can stop Superman if Superman ever loses his way. Since WWII, we’ve been a superpower, but we’ve never been a superhero. We don’t have that wisdom. We don’t have it about the future or the present, or even the past. It borders on imperialism to say that the American way is best for anyone else. And it borders on hubris, of the old Greek blend, to think we can look at a mire of ancient enmity and know which spots to drain. Did Obama do the right thing about ISIS? I don’t know. Do we ever do the right thing about the Middle East? Our record is poor. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that caution frequently saves the day–even if it doesn’t always win it.

(Posted on April 2, 2016)