Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Prince's Progress and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti


Source of book: I own the complete poems of Christina Rossetti

I recall, back when I was in single digits and first reading somewhat more grown up literature, reading a set from the 1950s from Collier’s, entitled The Junior Classics. My mom must have found it at a thrift store - they have gotten quite expensive these days. I “appropriated” the set when I got my own room, and took them with me when I moved out. Sorry mom. Sort of. I know you will be happy that my kids have read them too.


Anyway, the final volume of the set was dedicated to poetry, and it was through that book that I gained my lifelong love of poetry. I can even tell you the first poem that I truly loved: “The Bee” by Emily Dickinson. I don’t remember which poems specifically, but I also remember that I enjoyed Sara Teasdale, Robert Frost, and Christina Rossetti. My library lacks Teasdale, but I regularly read the others. While I have come to love many others, I still find that my first poetic loves speak to me in a special way.

When I started writing about my reading, first on Facebook, and then on my blog, I decided I was going to make a concerted effort to read poetry regularly, and more systematically, rather than the random and sadly infrequent way I had been. A few years back, I wrote about Rossetti’s first collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems. The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems is her second collection, written four years later.

I was a little apprehensive about reading Rossetti again. In the time since I last read her, I have gone through a spiritually traumatic time. We left our longtime church in 2017, after essentially being forced out due to our political beliefs. Our former religious tradition hitched its wagon to a white nationalist political movement and a man who embodies the opposite of Christ and His teachings in every imaginable way. In the runup to this, my wife and I started seriously processing our experiences in Christian Patriarchy. So it has been a bumpy ride. I was worried, therefore, because Rossetti wrote a lot of religious - devoutly religious - poetry. I’m not sure which worried me more: the potential triggers, or hating the poems finding myself disillusioned with one of my early loves.

Fortunately, neither happened. What did happen is that I discovered again how raw, genuine, personal, and compassionate Rossetti’s faith was. Even the ones that didn’t particularly speak to me were never self righteous, pious, or smug. She wore her lacerated heart on her sleeve. Rossetti’s emotionality and vulnerability are touching, and it is impossible to doubt her genuine quest for the Divine.

Also striking was just how personal some of the poems were when it came to her own sorrow: she was unlucky in love, and never married, despite her desire to do so. She turned down three different suitors, two because of religious incompatibility. One also wonders if she felt she would have to give up too much to enter into a Victorian marriage. Whatever the case, lost love and romantic disappointment are recurring themes throughout this collection. For example, the title poem is a long narrative of a prince who delays returning to his princess due to a series of temptations that he gives in to, only to find she has died. Some are similarly obvious about those themes, while others just hint at the cause of her heartache. Overall, I would say this collection tends toward the darker side of her writing.

Here are my favorites from the collection.

Let me start off with what was certainly one of the first of her poems I read as a child. It brought back memories of sitting and reading - and reading the poems aloud to hear the rhythm of the words.

Spring Quiet

Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

Where in the whitethorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs
Arching high over
A cool green house:

Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
"We spread no snare;

"Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.

"Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be."

That’s probably the most optimistic poem in this collection. Here is another that I remember from my childhood:

Summer

Winter is cold-hearted
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weather-cock
Blown every way:
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin's not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren's a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,
Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost,
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.

The next one is a bit darker, a conversation between two lovers - one living, and one dead yet not at peace.

The Poor Ghost
   
'Oh whence do you come, my dear friend, to me,
With your golden hair all fallen below your knee,
And your face as white as snowdrops on the lea,
And your voice as hollow as the hollow sea?'

'From the other world I come back to you,
My locks are uncurled with dripping drenching dew.
You know the old, whilst I know the new:
But to-morrow you shall know this too.'

'Oh not to-morrow into the dark, I pray;
Oh not to-morrow, too soon to go away:
Here I feel warm and well-content and gay:
Give me another year, another day.'

'Am I so changed in a day and a night
That mine own only love shrinks from me with fright,
Is fain to turn away to left or right
And cover up his eyes from the sight?'

'Indeed I loved you, my chosen friend,
I loved you for life, but life has an end;
Through sickness I was ready to tend:
But death mars all, which we cannot mend.

'Indeed I loved you; I love you yet,
If you will stay where your bed is set,
Where I have planted a violet,
Which the wind waves, which the dew makes wet.'

'Life is gone, then love too is gone,
It was a reed that I leant upon:
Never doubt I will leave you alone
And not wake you rattling bone with bone.

'I go home alone to my bed,
Dug deep at the foot and deep at the head,
Roofed in with a load of lead,
Warm enough for the forgotten dead.

'But why did your tears soak through the clay,
And why did your sobs wake me where I lay?
I was away, far enough away:
Let me sleep now till the Judgment Day.'

I love the ambiguity here. Has he really forgotten her? Has he married another? Or is he really still mourning her? Does she resent being summoned or not? There is a deliciousness in what is left unsaid.

The next poem is an interesting take on wind and the changing of the seasons.

A Year’s Windfalls

On the wind of January
Down flits the snow,
Travelling from the frozen North
As cold as it can blow.
Poor robin redbreast,
Look where he comes;
Let him in to feel your fire,
And toss him of your crumbs.

On the wind in February
Snowflakes float still,
Half inclined to turn to rain,
Nipping, dripping, chill.
Then the thaws swell the streams,
And swollen rivers swell the sea:—
If the winter ever ends
How pleasant it will be!

In the wind of windy March
The catkins drop down,
Curly, caterpillar-like,
Curious green and brown.
With concourse of nest-building birds
And leaf-buds by the way,
We begin to think of flowers
And life and nuts some day.

With the gusts of April
Rich fruit-tree blossoms fall,
On the hedged-in orchard-green,
From the southern wall.
Apple-trees and pear-trees
Shed petals white or pink,
Plum-trees and peach-trees;
While sharp showers sink and sink.

Little brings the May breeze
Beside pure scent of flowers,
While all things wax and nothing wanes
In lengthening daylight hours.
Across the hyacinth beds
The wind lags warm and sweet,
Across the hawthorn tops,
Across the blades of wheat.

In the wind of sunny June
Thrives the red rose crop,
Every day fresh blossoms blow
While the first leaves drop;
White rose and yellow rose
And moss-rose choice to find,
And the cottage cabbage-rose
Not one whit behind.

On the blast of scorched July
Drives the pelting hail,
From thunderous lightning-clouds, that blot
Blue heaven grown lurid-pale.
Weedy waves are tossed ashore,
Sea-things strange to sight
Gasp upon the barren shore
And fade away in light.

In the parching August wind
Corn-fields bow the head,
Sheltered in round valley depths,
On low hills outspread.
Early leaves drop loitering down
Weightless on the breeze,
First fruits of the year's decay
From the withering trees.

In brisk wind of September
The heavy-headed fruits
Shake upon their bending boughs
And drop from the shoots;
Some glow golden in the sun,
Some show green and streaked,
Some set forth a purple bloom,
Some blush rosy-cheeked.

In strong blast of October
At the equinox,
Stirred up in his hollow bed
Broad ocean rocks;
Plunge the ships on his bosom,
Leaps and plunges the foam,—
It's oh! for mothers' sons at sea,
That they were safe at home.

In slack wind of November
The fog forms and shifts;
All the world comes out again
When the fog lifts.
Loosened from their sapless twigs
Leaves drop with every gust;
Drifting, rustling, out of sight
In the damp or dust.

Last of all, December,
The year's sands nearly run,
Speeds on the shortest day,
Curtails the sun;
With its bleak raw wind
Lays the last leaves low,
Brings back the nightly frosts,
Brings back the snow.

The next one is a bit of an anecdote as a metaphor for Rossetti’s own lack of luck in love.

The Queen of Hearts

How comes it, Flora, that, whenever we
Play cards together, you invariably,
However the pack parts,
Still hold the Queen of Hearts?

I've scanned you with a scrutinizing gaze,
Resolved to fathom these your secret ways:
But, sift them as I will,
Your ways are secret still.

I cut and shuffle; shuffle, cut, again;
But all my cutting, shuffling, proves in vain:
Vain hope, vain forethought too;
The Queen still falls to you.

I dropped her once, prepense; but, ere the deal
Was dealt, your instinct seemed her loss to feel:
'There should be one card more,'
You said, and searched the floor.

I cheated once; I made a private notch
In Heart-Queen's back, and kept a lynx-eyed watch;
Yet such another back
Deceived me in the pack:

The Queen of Clubs assumed by arts unknown
An imitative dint that seemed my own;
This notch, not of my doing,
Misled me to my ruin.

It baffles me to puzzle out the clue,
Which must be skill, or craft, or luck in you:
Unless, indeed, it be
Natural affinity.

Of the more religiously themed poems, three stood out. (I’ll quote the final one later.)

What Would I Give

What would I give for a heart of flesh to warm me through,
Instead of this heart of stone ice-cold whatever I do!
Hard and cold and small, of all hearts the worst of all.

What would I give for words, if only words would come!
But now in its misery my spirit has fallen dumb.
O merry friends, go your own way, I have never a word to say.

What would I give for tears! Not smiles but scalding tears,
To wash the black mark clean, and to thaw the frost of years,
To wash the stain ingrain, and to make me clean again.

I’ve mentioned that I love sonnets - I love the rigid form, the balanced sections, the need to make ideas concise and yet linked. I even wrote some technically correct (but artistically amateurish) sonnets during high school. I can’t find them now, which is probably just as well. This sonnet is a bit of a riff on Ecclesiastes.

Vanity of Vanities

Ah, woe is me for pleasure that is vain,
Ah, woe is me for glory that is past:
Pleasure that bringeth sorrow at the last,
Glory that at the last bringeth no gain!
So saith the sinking heart; and so again
It shall say till the mighty angel-blast
Is blown, making the sun and moon aghast
And showering down the stars like sudden rain.
And evermore men shall go fearfully
Bending beneath their weight of heaviness;
And ancient men shall lie down wearily,
And strong men shall rise up in weariness;
Yea, even the young shall answer sighingly
Saying one to another: How vain it is!

The next poem is - in my opinion - one of Rossetti’s best. It is haunting, lacerating, full of agony - and nakedly honest.

Memory

      I.

I nursed it in my bosom while it lived,
         I hid it in my heart when it was dead;
In joy I sat alone, even so I grieved
         Alone and nothing said.

I shut the door to face the naked truth,
         I stood alone,--I faced the truth alone,
Stripped bare of self-regard or forms or ruth
         Till first and last were shown.

I took the perfect balances and weighed;
         No shaking of my hand disturbed the poise;
Weighed, found it wanting: not a word I said,
         But silent made my choice.

None know the choice I made; I make it still.
         None know the choice I made and broke my heart,
Breaking mine idol: I have braced my will
         Once, chosen for once my part.

I broke it at a blow, I laid it cold,
         Crushed in my deep heart where it used to live.
My heart dies inch by inch; the time grows old,
         Grows old in which I grieve.

                        II.

I have a room whereinto no one enters
         Save I myself alone:
         There sits a blessed memory on a throne,
There my life centres.

While winter comes and goes--O tedious comer!--
         And while its nip-wind blows;
         While bloom the bloodless lily and warm rose
Of lavish summer.

If any should force entrance he might see there
         One buried yet not dead,
         Before whose face I no more bow my head
Or bend my knee there;

But often in my worn life's autumn weather
         I watch there with clear eyes,
        And think how it will be in Paradise
When we're together.

While I think Rossetti is speaking of her rejection of her suitors, I think this poem resonates as a description of a certain kind of grief. The grief one feels when one has to make a horrible choice, one in which there is no winning, just losing less badly. One where one, perhaps, must make a choice to do the moral thing, even though the cost is devastatingly high. For her, marrying outside her religion (in an era when Protestants and Catholics were still deeply divided) was a bridge too far. Having had to make a number of my own hard choices on the basis of conscience over the last couple of years, I really felt this poem hit home. I’m still grieving.

The final poem is another devastating one, this time with a religious theme. It could be the theme of our own time, and our modern-day Pharisees who refuse to see the vulnerable as Christ in disguise.

Despised and Rejected

My sun has set, I dwell
In darkness as a dead man out of sight;
And none remains, not one, that I should tell
To him mine evil plight
This bitter night.
I will make fast my door
That hollow friends may trouble me no more.

'Friend, open to Me.'—Who is this that calls?
Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:
Cease crying, for I will not hear
Thy cry of hope or fear.
Others were dear,
Others forsook me: what art thou indeed
That I should heed
Thy lamentable need?
Hungry should feed,
Or stranger lodge thee here?

'Friend, My Feet bleed.
Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.'
I will not open, trouble me no more.
Go on thy way footsore,
I will not rise and open unto thee.

'Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see
Who stands to plead with thee.
Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou
One day entreat My Face
And howl for grace,
And I be deaf as thou art now.
Open to Me.'

Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace:
Fear not that I should crave
Aught thou mayst have.
Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,
Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.
What, shall I not be let
Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?

But all night long that voice spake urgently:
'Open to Me.'
Still harping in mine ears:
'Rise, let Me in.'
Pleading with tears:
'Open to Me that I may come to thee.'
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
'My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.'

So till the break of day:
Then died away
That voice, in silence as of sorrow;
Then footsteps echoing like a sigh
Passed me by,
Lingering footsteps slow to pass.
On the morrow
I saw upon the grass
Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door
The mark of blood for evermore.

When this collection came out in 1866, it was illustrated by Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I found a couple of them online, and figured it was worth including them in this post. 




Monday, September 17, 2018

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Sondheim, Shevelove, & Gelbart

This was my first experience at The Ovation Repertory Theater. It is another addition to our local arts scene, and uses the building formerly occupied by Spotlight Theater, some years ago. (I think I saw King Lear and The Tempest there before we had kids.) Anyway, it’s somewhat similar to the old one, but with a rather different type of theater, focusing mostly on musicals rather than older classics. One pet peeve to get off my chest: it is NOT a “repertory” theater, as my wife pointed out. It doesn’t have multiple plays in rotation at the same time, like, say, the Utah Shakespeare Festival. But whatever, it is still enjoyable.

My wife has a rather immense knowledge of classic musicals, from the stuff in the 1930s by the Gershwins that nobody remembers, to the more edgy stuff of her childhood. On any given day, you can find her dancing around the house singing something or other.

One of her favorites is “Comedy Tonight,” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. When we saw that Ovation was doing it, we figured we had to go - and drag the kids. Yes, there is plenty of bawdy stuff in the play. Yes, my kids - the older ones at least - got the naughty jokes. We’re a weird family.

The play is intended to be a modern update of a classic Roman art form: the farces of Plautus. Writing in the Old Latin period - roughly 200 BCE - Plautus was a controversial character. In addition to satirizing society, his characters are shockingly cavalier about the gods, rather casually irreverent. They were also right on the borderline of risque, carefully toeing the line of the Hays Code of ancient Rome. Pautus used a number of stock characters, much like the later Commedia dell’arte or the Melodrama. There were the braggart soldier, the lustful old man, the young virgin, the nagging wife, the pimp, the courtesan, the humorous lower class denizens - who usually got the best puns. But Plautus’ most famous contribution to the stock character pantheon was the “clever slave,” a role which has been reprised in various forms up through the present.

Sondheim, Shevelove, and Gelbart take these stock characters and make a modern Roman farce out of them. The story is pretty Roman. But a lot of the jokes are decidedly 20th Century. Certainly, the strata of Roman society are played for modern laughs.

To give a quick summary of the plot, Pseudolus, the clever slave, wants to gain his freedom. He sees his chance when his masters, Senex (the dirty old man) and Domina (the nagging woman) leave for a vacation, with their young adult son Hero (the naive young man) in the hands of Hysterium, the seriously uptight head slave. Hero is mooning over Philia, a lovely young woman who is one of the wares at the house of Marcus Lycus, the pimp. The problem is, Philia has already been sold to Miles Gloriosus, the braggart soldier. Getting them together will require all of Pseudolus’ cleverness - particularly after Senex returns and tries to seduce Philia, Domina returns and tries to catch Senex sleeping around, Miles Gloriosus comes to claim his property, and, well, it requires mistaken and assumed identities, gender swaps, and a faked death.

The play is quite clever, particularly when played by actors with a knack for physical comedy. I particularly liked the whole conceit of “Lovely,” where Philia sings about the fact that she has been raised to have no brains, but just be beautiful. Also great was the end of the first act, with Pseudolus in deep trouble, and down to one last word. Which is, of course, “Intermission!”

The cast included some of the usual local suspects. Jason McClain starred as Pseudolus. He has been a fixture of local theater for decades - I remember back when I used to play music theater in my single days, he was the younger apprentice in Hello Dolly, among other roles. He also has been a part of our local Nutcracker performances for years. He brought a properly sarcastic and jaded vibe to the role - the slave who has seen it all, and is ready for some freedom, finally. Derreck Reed preened and flexed as Miles Gloriosus. Princess Pellett simpered and bubbled as Philia. Mason Edwards was appropriately lugubrious as Marcus Lycus. But probably the most riveting was Tyler Vernon as Hysterium. I have to hand it to him for outstanding physical acting - he was wound tighter than a juiced baseball. As perhaps the only character in the play who did not realize it was a comedy, he shook, panicked, melted down, and generally acted hysterical in both senses of that word. General props to the rest of the cast, and also to the live band (backstage) - I’m always impressed when productions can mange live music.

It was a fun production, and the kids were in stitches as well. Between our local educational establishments and professional theaters, Bakersfield really does have an admirable arts scene. I wish I had the time to go to every production. 



In Search of Ancient Roots by Kenneth J. Stewart


Source of book: A gift from a friend from law school

Like my friend, this book is erudite, thoughtful, and well researched. The author, likewise, seems like a good guy who would be fascinating to have over for dinner and discussion. While he doesn’t say so, I am guessing he is a Calvinist (based on this book he wrote), which would make him, along with my cousin-in-law Todd, one of the very few Calvinists that I actually respect. Despite the fact that he writes for the Gospel Coalition, which I find one of the more loathsome Evangelical organizations. (Both because of their patriarchy and particularly because they continue to pal around with notorious White Supremacist and general asshat Doug Wilson.)

I would also go so far as to say that, had I read this book ten, or even five years ago, I would have agreed with virtually all of it.

After the experience of the last five years, however, I am afraid that, while I still agree with much of what is in this book, I also think the author has completely missed - or ignored - the giant elephant in the room of the discussion. As an exvangelical myself, while I cannot speak for all who have left, I think I have a bit better handle on our reasons than he does.

Before I get into all of that, let me start with what the book is about. 



I believe the book is largely a response to an exodus of a number of equally erudite (and obscure) theologians who left Evangelicalism and joined either the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church. More broadly, I think he intends to address a perceived exodus of younger Christians from the Evangelical movement to these older traditions. The goal of the book, therefore, is to argue that Evangelicalism has roots that are every bit as ancient as those of the churches of Rome or Byzantium. In this, he mostly succeeds - in a very specific and narrow way.

If you think of religion as a primarily theological and intellectual exercise, then I think Stewart is very much right. In particular, his argument that both Protestantism as a whole, and the 18th and 19th Century Evangelical movements as well, were a quest to “restore” Christianity to its ancient roots - to find a more pure, less corrupted form of faith. One more like the apostles and the early, persecuted church, and less like the later church which whored itself out to Empire and worldly power. I don’t think Stewart is wrong about this, although, again, this is about the intellectual and theological roots of 18th/19th Century Evangelicalism - and the more intellectual strains that are disappearingly rare these days.

In identifying the causes why people are leaving, I think Stewart does touch on at least a few truths. First is the problem of “provincialism,” as he puts it. Certain strains of Evangelicalism lack the overall worldwide vision of Catholicism, for example. I think Stewart does underestimate how widespread the problem is. I would, myself, say that the overwhelming majority of American white Evangelicals suffer from this provincialism, which is why there is little if any practical or political difference between their “faith” and Americanism and White Nationalism.

Stewart also correctly identifies sectarian expressions of the Evangelical tradition as problematic. Which is true. He names “emotional outbursts, speculation about end times, [and] legalistic tendencies” as problems, while denying that these were ever “universal Evangelical traits.” Universal, perhaps not. Widespread, endemic, and practically inescapable, are the words I would use to describe them, however. They are not a minor bug - they are the defining features.

The final issue that Stewart correctly identifies is the problem of the Fundamentalist takeover of American Evangelicalism, which began over 100 years ago, and continues to this day. Again, Stewart is correct that this is a problem, but he again minimizes the problem. At a couple of points in the book, he mentions Mark Noll and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind - one of the best books on religion I have read in the last decade. However, he manages to miss Noll’s point about the “catastrophe of Fundamentalism” - that anti-intellectualism has crowded out most chances for rational thought or exploration. Again, most of what Stewart is saying is actually pretty good as applied to the very best of the Evangelical and Protestant - and Catholic traditions. In this idealized, rarified world of pure theology, he makes some great points - ones I generally agree with on that level.

Also really good is his point that ALL Christian traditions change. Ideally, religion should evolve toward greater goodness, greater love, and greater holiness. Stewart quotes the Swiss writer Philip Schaff, in 1845:

“The Church, not less than every one of its members, has its periods of infancy, youth, manhood, and old age. This involves no contradiction to the absolute character of Christianity; for the progress of the Church, outward or inward, is never in the strict sense creative, but in the way only of reception, organic assimilation and expansion. In other words, all historical development in the Church, theoretical and practical, consists in an apprehension always more and more profound of the life and doctrine of Christ and his apostles, an appropriation more full and transforming always of their distinctive spirit, both as to contents and its form.”

There is a lot to like about this idea. Certainly the point of the Christian faith should be to become better and better at imitating Christ. And I love the idea that there is the allowance for change. Certainly around the time this was written, some Christians (though by no means all) were working to eliminate slavery - and expressly said that it was because slavery was incompatible with the teachings of Christ. (I agree with this!) Growth requires change - and sometimes that change isn’t just as to form - but as to content as well.

Stewart fleshes this out more in a later chapter, where he notes that ALL forms of Christianity have made significant changes in “externals.” After all, one of the criticisms of Evangelicalism is that it tends to chase cultural trends - including in worship. There is truth here. However, the problem isn’t that religion adapts to culture - it’s what ways does it adapt. Now, some, as Stewart notes, have found a spiritual connection in what they perceive as ancient styles of worship. I myself have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I play music in ancient styles - and I have a strong emotional and spiritual connection to the liturgy in my own way. (See my post about the Requiem service, for example.) On the other hand, I was raised with “contemporary” worship, both the 19th Century Evangelical hymns and CCM style worship. Back when I was a churchgoer, I was fluent in all of these, on multiple instruments. I have seen the “worship wars” from all sides, in that sense. And honestly, the traditionalists are so full of it on this one. A quick survey of musical style shows that church music - like all music - has changed over time, and the traditionalists and modernists have always been at war. And yesterday’s modernist becomes tomorrow’s traditionalist. Thus it has been since at least the days of Aristotle. It’s hard to find, but I highly recommend A Social History of Music, by Henry Raynor for a history of musical style, and the worship wars of the late Middle Ages. Also excellent on this topic is a much shorter blog post by Eric Pazdziora - one of the best I have ever read on the silliness of the Worship Wars.

I give Stewart major kudos for also noting that doctrine itself evolves, grows, and changes. This applies to all of the traditions - not just Evangelicalism. It shouldn’t be controversial to note that the Reformation eventually led to significant reforms in Catholicism - many of them for the better.

On a related note, I like that Stewart notes that the early church had far more diversity of teaching than either the Catholic or the Evangelical traditions tend to admit. For many of us, whether we left Evangelicalism or not, it was a revelation to read beyond the “safe” early theologians (such as certain parts of St. Augustine - but not others) - we realized that many “core” doctrines that we were taught were hardly universal beliefs. Just to name a few: Augustine’s views on creation would be heretical to most American Evangelicals, his views on poverty and wealth directly contradict current Evangelical positions on social justice, and the view of hell and damnation were far from universal. If I were to list one of the great Evangelical lies of my lifetime, it would have to be “all the true Christians back to Christ believed exactly as we do.” This is total bullshit. It was bullshit when the Catholic Church claimed their dogma and authority came straight from Christ via St. Peter. It is bullshit when Evangelicals claim that their pet dogmas (whether on the age of the universe or abortion) were universal - or even majority - beliefs. Stewart is strong in his argument that there is nothing unique about any of the traditions either in rigid continuity of beliefs or in their adaptation to new information.

I also decidedly agree with Stewart’s point that we tend to imagine some glorious past. Those who turn to Catholicism or Orthodoxy out of some idea that they are an untainted faith, linked to the golden past without tarnish are delusional just as much as those who think the 1950s were a halcyon utopia. In my view, there was never a truly “pure” faith, or practice of our religion. Since its founding, the true followers have been trying to honestly and faithfully follow Christ, but there is no magic to the past or to the present. I believe there is, so to speak, a Platonic “form” that represents ideal Christianity - but it consists in a heart yearning to follow Christ, not in the specifics of ritual, doctrine, or culture.

This theme recurred in the chapter on the myth of a unified historical Catholic Church. I was familiar enough with the competing popes - and the lurid history of the papacy - to have no illusions that the “unbroken succession” was anything more than a convenient falsehood. But Stewart also notes the fairly radical changes - including in doctrine - that resulted from the Catholic Church trying to recover from the loss of its political power and adapt to a radically changing world wherein Enlightenment ideas of government gained the ascendency.

Also in this chapter is a mention of the center of Christian thought in the early centuries after Christ being, not at Rome, but in North Africa. This is kind of a raspberry to the White Nationalists dominating modern Evangelicalism who claim that Africa was somehow dark and non-Christian despite the evidence to the contrary.

A few other miscellaneous mentions were fun: James Ussher comes in for something other than completely f-ing up the Evangelical doctrine regarding the age of the universe (and failing to heed St. Augustine’s warning on that account.) On the more positive side, he was one of the early moderns to discover and popularize the early writings of the church.

I also found the chapter on the Apocrypha to be quite interesting. I was raised with the belief that the Apocrypha was devilish Catholic hocum, and had no place in the Bible. Of course, later, I discovered that for most of Christian history, it was accepted - and that it was a dispute of Jewish tradition that was at the heart of the issue.

While I haven’t actually read much of the Apocrypha - with the exception of Judith, because of a friend’s blog about it - I have found the fact that it is cited in the New Testament to be at least interesting.

But perhaps most interesting on this score is that Protestants have generally objected to the Apocrypha on the grounds that some is pretty clearly “fantasy” and otherwise not historically accurate. With our 21st Century (or even 19th Century) eyes, we can see how, um, ironic this is. Much of the OT has historical accuracy issues - and some of the NT has likely false authorship claims. So we have issues with all of scripture if we are expecting it to be literally dictated by God and free from any error or falsehood. Stewart kind of dances around this issue, not really addressing it. This is too bad, because of all the “Fundamentals” of Fundamentalism, it is the view of an inerrant, literally dictated scripture that has been the one doctrinal issue that has driven many of us from Evangelicalism. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss exactly how inerrancy, literalism, and theonomy have combined to make for unnecessarily cruel and vicious theology, but I might try to write about that more in the future.

One last mention before I get into the Giant Elephant issue is that of Christian Humanism.

If anything was impressed on me by the Evangelical Industrial Complex and the Homeschool Paranoia Complex during the last 40 years, it was that the great evil of our time was “Secular Humanism™.” This was responsible for everything from Hitler to Stalin to [fill in the blank of whatever evil you wish.] As time went on, however, I realized - from strong evidence from their actions - that what the persons who pushed this narrative really were worried about. It wasn’t just (or even primarily) the “secular” part - it was the “humanism.” Because Humanism is about human rights, human dignity, and the common good. Which was directly opposed to the White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Theocracy that these persons - and groups - really wanted.

I hope to write about this in the future, but I am most definitely a Christian Humanist. If I were to pick one label to define myself, that would probably be it.

Stewart himself embraces that label, and mentions such luminaries as Erasmus. One could go further back and name Origen, Justin Martyr, Aquinas - and even in his own way, John Calvin. More modern names include C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dostoevsky, and Solzhenitsyn. Sadly, modern American [white] Evangelicalism is pretty much the polar opposite of Christian Humanism in practice.

Which leads me to my argument with this book.

This book was published in 2017.

What might possibly have happened in the year before this book came out that would be relevant to people leaving Evangelicalism? For that matter, what might have happened in the, say, eight years or so before that? Or the 40 years before that?

Let me start with this:

Religion isn’t merely an intellectual or theological exercise. Even more than that, it is emotional, cultural, and political.

Let me start with an intellectual exercise: imagine someone were to write about the theology of the Irish conflict over the last few centuries. Imagine they wrote that history and included a wealth of information about the history of theological differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. They may even have included the nuances of English and Scottish Protestant traditions, and the millennia-old Irish Catholic tradition.

But imagine that this book said nothing about the English conquest and longstanding oppression of the Irish. Imagine it said nothing about the question of Home Rule or “A Modest Proposal.” Imagine it didn’t even mention the IRA or Bloody Sunday.

Couldn’t we agree that the book completely missed the point of the Catholic versus Protestant wars in Ireland?

Come on. Let’s be honest. Does anyone really think that there has been violent conflict in Ireland for centuries because people give that much of a fuck over Transubstantiation? REALLY? That’s ludicrous on its face. Rather, religion is inseparable from and intimately connected with a political conflict. It is a proxy for racial identity, oppression, and hatred. The problem isn’t really a theological one - it’s much more than that.

Likewise, to understand why people like me have left Evangelicalism - and why all the money in the world couldn’t convince us to ever darken the door of an Evangelical church again, you have to look at the political meaning of the change.

I would guess it is really rare for anyone to decide to change religions based on some intellectual decision about a detail of theology. We don’t just wake up one morning and decide that the difference between, say, one view of the Eucharist/Communion, or the preference of reciting the Apostle’s Creed or singing “In Christ Alone” is so huge that we have to uproot our lives from one denomination to another. (BTW, I love both of these.)

Decisions like these are made at a different level. We leave because we feel we don’t belong. We leave because we feel the politics are toxic. We leave because we can’t support the Culture Wars™.  

And that leads me to:

The Giant Elephant in the Room™:

Donald Trump.

And, to be clear, Trump is a symbol of a deeper issue, which is the co-option of American Evangelicalism by White Nationalism, Social Darwinism, and Republicanity. This predates Trump by a good bit. I could go back to the founding of the Religious Right on a pro-segregation platform. I could go back to the founding of Fox News. I could go back to the racist anger at President Obama for “Governing While Black.” I could mention the various para-church cults and hate groups from Bill Gothard (which I survived - and had a strong racist edge to it) to the American Family Association, which is the single biggest reason we left our last church. (And I mean last in both senses - it was our most recent, and will probably be the last one we ever attend.) I could mention the series of “Statements” aimed at purging any commitment to social justice, the common good, or human rights from Evangelicalism. The list goes on.

Stewart, who is a transplanted Canadian, and thus might not quite grasp the significance of the moment he is in, fails to even mention the political component of modern American Evangelicalism.

In my opinion, the Evangelicalism he talks about in this book is a kind of “reverse strawman.” It doesn’t actually exist. To be clear: I love the “Evangelicalism” he talks about for the most part. There is a tradition of intellectual, Christian Humanist, Feminist, Abolitionist Evangelicalism! But it hasn’t really existed during my lifetime - or his either. It disappeared as a result of the Fundamentalist Catastrophe in the 1910s, the resurgence of anti-intellectualism in the 1960s, the racist Religious Right movement of the 1970s through today, and the Cultural Wars™ of my formative years.

People leave Evangelicalism for “older” traditions, not because they are reacting to the externals of the practice.

They are leaving because they want to find a tradition that pre-dates the vicious racism, misogyny, and colonialism that American Evangelicalism represents.

Stewart almost figures this out near the end, when he notes that this move from Evangelicalism to other traditions is a “North American” phenomenon. (And, although he doesn’t say it, it is really an American issue.)

Gee, I wonder why it has that geographical connection? Might it have something to do with United States racial and cultural politics?

Let me mention again that Trump isn’t a cause: He is a symptom of a deeper disease.

That Trump campaigned on the Ku Klux Klan platform and garnered 81% of the white Evangelical vote is a fact. That Trump has governed on the same platform, causing great hardship to people of color is also a fact. That Trump retains a 75% approval rating among white Evangelicals despite...I mean because of that...is the most damning fact of all. That white Evangelicals continue to defend his racist policies is merely confirmation of the fact that American Evangelicalism isn’t really about the nuances of theology.

It is all about politics - and about the politics of racism and hate.

For those of us who left, what we are looking to do is avoid the theology that led to the toxic politics of white Evangelicalism.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy represent an ancient (and geographically diverse) tradition in a way, yes. But that is attractive because it promises a faith that is more than just Slaveholder Religion. A faith that is more than Republicanity. Something that pre-dates the stupid war against modern human rights that American Evangelicalism seems intent on fighting to the bitter end.

Stewart makes the mistake of thinking this is all about theology. Theology is important - which is why some of us are trying to process exactly WHICH part of American white Evangelical theology is so unspeakably evil as to be essentially anti-Christ. But ultimately, it isn’t theology which drives this. The political and cultural movements for which theology serves as a convenient figurehead are the real story. Those of us who are Christian Humanists have been driven from American Evangelicalism.

Because as a political and cultural movement, American [white] Evangelicalism stands fully with Donald Trump: an obscene gesture against human rights, racial equality and reconciliation, gender equality, and the Modern Age in general.

Even those of us who, by our background and our personal preferences lean toward classical Evangelicalism know we are thoroughly unwelcome and have no future in American Evangelicalism.

So, we have the choice. Many I know have gone to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Others have joined mainline denominations. But many, like me, have left altogether. Some of us retain our faith in Christ although we have no connection to organized religion. But probably, more will simply leave the faith altogether. Stewart kind of, sort of, acknowledges this in the last chapter. He notes that people are also switching from Catholicism or Orthodoxy to Evangelicalism. Fair point. But the overwhelming exodus is from any sort of Christian affiliation to no religious connection whatsoever.

Again, to be clear, I actually liked Stewart’s writing. On an intellectual level, his book is spot on. I think he is likely one of the few non-toxic Evangelicals and Calvinists left. If every Evangelical luminary was like him, I would probably still be a proud Evangelical.  I see no reason I wouldn’t like to have him for dinner and a discussion. But I think he is living in an unrealistic bubble. The Evangelicalism he believes is the norm is, at best, a fringe movement of the few morally consistent Humanist intellectuals who haven’t been purged in the name of political purity.

Stewart seems to think that the Evangelical identity crisis stems from an ignorance of theological ancient roots. I think the real problem is about a different kind of ancient roots: 21st Century American [white] Evangelicalism has pretty much nothing to do with Christianity itself. The true representation of the values (theological and otherwise) of American Evangelicalism isn’t Jesus Christ at all: it’s Donald f-ing Trump. And an increasing number of us have no intention of kissing the fat ass of that idol.

***

I have to include some music here. I have been a fan of Chris Thile ever since his Nickel Creek days. Because certain parts of the Southern California homeschool community are pretty close knit, I know people who knew him as a kid. Anyway, he is in some ways representative of those of us who were expressly intended to “change the world” in what turned out to be a rather theocratic, retrograde-conservative way. And I think that is why he has expressed so well the way many of us late-gen-xers and Millennials feel about the Trump era. Three of the kids and I went down to see Punch Brothers in LA last month, and it was magnificent. Fine musicianship, of course. The very best. But also, a solidarity with The Resistance - those of us who stand against the hate and racism and troglodytic worship of the injustices of the past that Trump and American Evangelicalism represent.

So, I present, off of the fantastic album, Thanks For Listening, a song the speaks to the experience of many of us these days - and exactly what Stewart missed in his otherwise well-written book. 




***

Update September 19, 2018:

Kenneth Stewart sent me a gracious e-mail after reading this post, and we have been having an enjoyable conversation about the topics addressed in this book and in my post. It's always thrilling to make an unexpected connection like this. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

White Fragility: Discussing Racist Policies in the Age of Trump


I wrote this post after a few frustrating - and revealing - conversations with some older white persons of my acquaintance - but this is a microcosm of the experience of discussing race with many white people in the Trump Era. This has been particularly apparent when discussing anything related to either Black Lives Matter, or immigration policy.

Basically, the conversation tends to go like this:

I point out the glaringly obvious, that a particular policy of the Trump Administration or the Republican Party is openly racially motivated - and harming people. Something that is obvious to pretty much any person of color I know - and a large majority of those I know my age and younger.

A white person - usually older, but nearly always a Trump voter - gets all offended, claiming I am overgeneralizing, making accusations, or insulting them.

I point out that it takes an epic level of denialism to miss the obvious racism, and mention that this is common to white people - and to white people of a certain age and religious belief.  

Said white person takes this as a personal attack.

I have some observations about this. For what they are worth:

***

1. Denial runs so freaking deep.

I still cannot believe how impossible it is to convince Trump voters that his policies are racist. He practically BRAGS about it. The people he surrounds himself with (see: Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, to name just two) use White Supremacist arguments and terminology - plus they push the exact same policies as white supremacist groups. His former chief advisor is touring Europe stirring up hate against brown-skinned immigrants. His ICE director attends anti-immigrant hate group conferences. At some point (and it has passed um...several years ago) this becomes willful ignorance. This is people refusing to see what is right in front of their eyes.


I have also pointed out - with reputable sources - over and over again the many - and increasing numbers of people genuinely harmed by Trump’s racist policies. And nothing changes. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

2. White fragility is definitely a thing.

I will admit, I myself have this tendency, and I hadn’t really come to terms with it until relatively recently. My journey away from this way of thinking has been a process, significantly triggered by a series of events over the last 20 years. (Starting with my escape from the Bill Gothard cult after graduating from law school and moving out on my own. But particularly triggered by my wrestling with what it really means to love my neighbor as myself - including neighbors outside of my race and income level.)

But over the last few years, I have really started to notice white fragility. Any time I point out obvious racism, many white people in my life (particularly conservatives, Evangelicals, and Baby Boomers) get really freaking defensive. They take it really personally. In part, I believe this is because they voted for Trump. To vote for the KKK candidate and yet cling to one’s belief that Trump didn’t run on and isn’t governing on the KKK platform requires a lot of cognitive dissonance.

And, as I have come to understand, many Trump voters who would never consider themselves racist turn out to have really racist views - and political goals. (Particularly when it comes to immigration - that one is a real hot button.) So when I mention that Trump is pursuing racist policies, I implicate them.

In particular, my words and actions do the following, which trigger White Fragility (borrowed from the link above):

-           Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity)
-           Choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort)
-           As a fellow white not providing agreement with one’s interpretations (challenge to white solidarity)
-           Giving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white liberalism)
-           Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism)
-           Acknowledging that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy)

These predictably result in hostility, defensiveness, and accusations against me that I am not being nice, that I am being misogynist (if the person I challenge is female - particularly an older female), that I have insulted them, and so on.

More than anything, I break the White Solidarity Code™ by actually using the “R Word” - Racism - to describe what is happening.

In addition, there is a demand that I not group them with others of their race. Individualism allows whites to distance themselves from the actions of their racial group and demand to be granted the benefit of the doubt, as individuals, in all cases. Which is exactly what is going on here. They want the benefit of the doubt - to be seen as good, moral people - even as they defend inhumane policies directed at people of color. They feel threatened when I point out that this election was a white temper tantrum that has gravely endangered the wellbeing of people of color - and make my words out to be more serious than the very real threats -backed by government power - to life, bodily integrity, and other human rights that have escalated against non-whites.

A few years ago, before the last election, I probably would have disputed the existence of White Fragility. Now, its existence is thoroughly proven.

3. Our biggest problem in political discussions is a pathological lack of empathy by those on the Right for people who are not white, straight, middle-to-upper class, male, and born in the United States.

Boy, people bristle when I say this. But it is absolutely f-ing true.

When you see unarmed African Americans (including children) gunned down by the police, and you say “Black Lives Matter is a media creation, and racialized police brutality is a myth,” you have a pathological lack of empathy.

When the response to a law (that nearly passed - thank you John McCain…) that would have stripped health care from the disabled, the elderly, and 45% of children under age 5 and you say “they are all just lazy,” you have a pathological lack of empathy.

When you see children separated from their parents (often permanently) and put in prisons and cages, and your reaction is “serves them right for coming here when our laws say we don’t want them,” you have a pathological lack of empathy.

When your response to refugees and asylum seekers is “why do we have any obligation to take them in?” you have a pathological lack of empathy.

When your response to an administration going through and revoking passports (and citizenship) for people because a midwife might have lied on the birth certificate is basically, “what’s wrong with that?” you have a pathological lack of empathy.

I’ve said it, and I will keep saying it, even though it offends a LOT of people in my life:

If your approach to immigration - or other racial issues - does not start with “how can I love my neighbor” and a recognition that immigrants ARE our neighbors, then you do not have a recognizably Christian ethic.

That virtually everyone in my life who has said one or more of the above things is 1) allegedly Christian, and 2) white, is strong evidence that we have a serious problem with empathy and basic human decency.

It seems for some reason that they are incapable of actually putting themselves in the shoes of others, and realizing the catastrophic damage which their political agendas would cause. That is why I say “pathological.” Their inability or unwillingness to use empathy causes violence and damage to other people. That is a pathology.

4. As a result of the above, many white people I know are FAR more offended that I called them on their racism than they are about children in cages, separated families, US citizens being persecuted and forced to prove they belong here, or unarmed African Americans being murdered by the police.

I am serious. I actually had someone claim my pushback on their racism was the harmful thing, not the genuine and serious harm being done to people because of the color of their skin.

And that is why White Fragility prevents us from having an honest discussion about racial issues - and specifically the malevolent and harmful policies that are damaging millions of people.

5. Trump voters have zero willingness to take responsibility for the harm they have caused.

When I was a kid, I was taught that you don’t harm people. But if you do, you apologise and try to repair the damage.

Along with many others, I spoke out before the election warning people that Trump promised to harm whole groups of people: immigrants, refugees, brown-skinned people, African Americans, LGBTQ people, low income people on Medicaid, disabled people, children.

And guess what? He is doing exactly what he promised to do. So, if you voted for him, you are morally responsible for the harm. Stop trying to weasel out of your responsibility.

I have seen ZERO remorse from Trump voters. I can point out the damage being done to people all day until I am blue in the face, but it does no good. It is hard not to conclude that there is such a pathological lack of empathy (see above) toward people outside the narrow tribe that nothing can penetrate it. No amount of horror and carnage will convince them that they made a mistake. Maybe someday when it is people like them, they will care. But “those people” apparently don’t actually matter.

6. Many white people have zero interest in actually asking WHY they support harmful policies.

They have no interest in asking why we even have a “denaturalization task force.” As in, “why do we want to take citizenship away from people anyway?”

They have no interest in asking why we put children in cages.

They have no interest in asking why the Trump Administration wants to virtually end immigration from the developing world.

They have no interest in asking what the common thread is that ties all of the harmful policies together.

Why not?

Might it be that they wish to support those policies without admitting to themselves that the motivation is racism?

It’s much easier to simply take offense when I point out the blindingly obvious: yes, these policies are motivated by racism. Yes, they harm people - including a lot of children. And yes, supporting them is strong evidence that you too are racist.

Get over it. If you want to be thought of as a decent, compassionate, non-racist person...it’s time to start acting like one.

***

Just an illustration here:

Recently in the news is the fact that the Trump Administration has been revoking the passports of people who are United States Citizens. Why? Well, over a 40 year period, some midwives falsified birth certificates to show that babies were born on US soil, when they were born in Mexico, just across the border. Said midwives were prosecuted. Now, the Trump Administration wants to strip citizenship from the persons (many of whom are middle aged), and deport them to Mexico.

So, let’s think this through:

An infant is born. Presumably said infant has no choice in where, and no memory of the event.

Infant grows up in the United States believing he or she is a native-born United States Citizen.

Former infant goes to school, gets a job, has a family, makes a life here. Eventually, that person gets a US Passport. (BTW, if you have a US Passport, that means you have no drug convictions, no restrictions on travel as a result of a criminal conviction, no back child support, no IRS liens, and no defaulted federal student loans. These are not, shall we say, terrible people - they are ordinary people with ordinary lives.)

Suddenly, they get a notice - or even a knock on the door by ICE - that their passports are being terminated, and they are being considered for denaturalization (losing citizenship) and deportation.

Being deported would mean their lives would be destroyed. They would be evicted from the only country they knew. They would lose their jobs. They probably would lose their families. Everything they had would now be gone.

Remember: these people have committed NO crime. They have done NOTHING morally wrong. They are innocent.

What is your response to this situation?

Think carefully before you answer.

Will your answer look like this:

“According to the article 79 midwives in that corridor were convicted of selling fake birth certificates for babies born In Mexico. That's probably many babies. Those babies are adults now and so in 2008 the law was made more restrictive and the checks more comprehensive. I guess my question is, what else should they do? Should they make it an all over the country search or concentrate on the area where there has been a problem?”

That’s an actual quote from an older white person I know.

Let that sink in for a few moments.

The response to a policy aimed at destroying the lives of innocent people is….wait for it….wait for it….

Should we do this everywhere, or just in the places where most of the bad acts occurred?

Yes, I lost it at that point. Sorry not sorry.

Because that is not the response of a person thinking with basic human decency. That is a person acting out of a pathological lack of empathy. And I said so.

Now, compare this with the response from another person I know. (BTW, also white, but...and I think this matters: with a non-white child.)

“The people who issued the birth certificates falsely should be prosecuted and the people who have them be left alone as the citizens that they are.”

Succinct, to the point, and morally admirable. Punish those who did wrong, but leave the innocent people alone.

People, this isn’t that hard. It’s basically ethics 101. My youngest child can understand this - and could have as a toddler.

Don’t hurt people. Don’t hurt innocent people. Don’t punish people when they haven’t done anything wrong.

Why is this so hard?

Again, decent human beings do not conclude “destroy the lives of innocent people.” You can only come to that conclusion if something has stripped compassion and empathy from your soul.

What might that something be? My personal theories are 1) Fox News has been spewing xenophobia for decades, and this has led to a dehumanization of immigrants - particularly the brown-skinned ones. 2) Partisanship - the GOP is viewed by whites (mostly Evangelicals and Boomers) as always right, even when they go full White Supremacist. 3) White Evangelicalism has taught people that sin is “breaking the rules,” and that God will eternally torment people for doing so. This, combined with the dehumanizing of people outside of the faith, has led to an automatic vindictiveness toward anyone who is perceived as having broken a rule - particularly if that person is outside the white Evangelical tribe. We try to emulate our gods, and when they are cruel and vindictive, we become so too.

The combination of these factors is why a depressing number of white people in my life keep defending the indefensible destruction of the lives of others, and can’t seem to get basic compassionate ethics right.

Honestly, I feel like I don’t even inhabit the same moral universe anymore. Many of the people who taught me my morals and ethics turn out to...not really believe them. I was taught hurting people was wrong. I was taught racism was wrong. I was taught that good people didn’t stand by and let minorities get abused by the government. I was told by people that they would have opposed slavery and supported the Civil Rights Movement. That one turned out to be bullshit once an actual, real life civil and human rights issue affected them. I am ashamed.

***

Here is the other question that I asked - and have never yet received an ethically informed answer.

What possible good would come out of denaturalizing and deporting people?

Clearly, it is horrible for the people having their lives destroyed. But what GOOD does it accomplish? These aren’t dangerous, criminal people. (And if they were committing crimes, presumably they were arrested and prosecuted just like any other citizen. Okay, if they had brown skin, probably they were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted.)

How is this good for the United States? You just kicked out a productive citizen. You created fear and uncertainty for thousands of others - including plenty who were literally born here but who would get harassed anyway. You made it less likely that they will feel like they (and people with their skin color) will feel welcome here and part of our nation. You just made it less likely that they will report genuine criminals to law enforcement. You have torpedoed the good will that they felt.

How is this a good thing?

***

Okay, how about the elephant in the room.

There is a class of people for whom the response is definitely “destroy the lives of innocent people.” There are people who think that discouraging immigration from so-called “shithole countries” is a good thing. These are the people who think that preserving the ethnic makeup of the United States is a legitimate policy goal.

The term for these people is “Racists.”

I’m not going to sugarcoat that one. If you want to keep - and force - people out who don’t share your skin color or national origin, then you are by definition racist. And racism is not in any way consistent with the teachings of Christ. Sorry not sorry. That’s the truth, and I will keep saying it.

The core belief here is one that has plagued the United States since its founding - although it isn’t just a problem in the United States. It is a belief in the inherent superiority of white people of European descent. That’s also known as “White Supremacy.” It is also completely incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

And please don’t give me the fiction of “we have to punish innocent people so others won’t break our laws.” First, that’s ethically ludicrous - find a way to punish the guilty, not the innocent. Second, wouldn’t a better way to fix the problem be to give people a reasonably easy and available way to come here legally? As in, actually fix our laws so that hardworking people who wish to immigrate can actually do so without restriction? (Like most of our [white] ancestors did, remember?)

And at this point in virtually every conversation I have had about immigration policy, the person shifts to some variant of “but we already have too many of those kind of people here.” Thus revealing that it is, in nearly all cases, really about racism after all.

***

One of the things I purposed to do in the wake of the election of The White Supremacist Who Shall Not Be Named is that no longer would I let racism and hate pass without comment from people I know. I was not going to just let people defend policies that actually hurt people without saying something. I was going to speak up. Yes, that makes people (particularly older white people) VERY uncomfortable, and they get defensive and try to make it about my tone. Sorry not sorry. I’m going to keep using the “R word,” and I am going to call you out if you support cruel, racist policies, or say racist shit on my posts.

***

I’ll end this post with a couple verses from Proverbs 3:29-30


Hint: This verse isn’t about people who make you uncomfortable when you defend racist policies or candidates. It’s about ACTUAL harm to your neighbor. Like putting kids in cages, separating families, kicking citizens out of our country, harassing brown-skinned people, and murdering African Americans. That’s real harm - not just white fragility.

***

I linked it above, but I really think it is worth reading.


When I discovered it in the aftermath of the election (I believe an African American friend posted it), it really changed my thinking. I recognized the source of my own defensiveness - which I still fight against. It also explained why using the “R word” freaked many of my white friends and family out. Around the same time, I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” with my kids. Among other things, I was really struck by his view of the purpose of protest: to increase tension and discomfort. The enemy of reform isn’t angry racists - it’s white moderates who want to be comfortable and self righteous while quietly voting against reform. By challenging them, we make them take a side. They can either stop silently supporting the oppressors, or they can be exposed as racists. They can choose how to react, but the fault is not with those of us who make them uncomfortable.

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And this one too, which is pretty much how any discussion of racism goes these days (follow the link for the whole thread):