Monday, June 22, 2015

White Terrorism and What Love Can Do

More Than a Feeling

Tonight I went to an event called More Than a Vigil: A Community in Conversation for Healing & Change. People talked about their views, primarily on race, and reacted to the mass murder last week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Anyone who was so inclined was invited to speak for up to three minutes about their personal experiences.

I didn’t get up and talk because I’m chickenshit I wasn’t sure what to say, basically, and I think a lot better with my fingers than my mouth. If you don’t believe me, let’s spend some time together, and you’ll see how quickly my mouth runs away with my brain. Writing allows for a tad more circumspection.

At any rate, it was a pretty cool event, and hopefully the weekly follow-up meetings will lead to some good.

One of the things that I didn’t hear much (and maybe this means that I should have talked or not zoned out when people said it) is that acts of domestic terrorism of the sort committed by Assmonkey Shifflebrane* are pretty much a white people problem, and white people need to engage in order to prevent it.

Don’t get me wrong. Improving intercultural relations between people of different races is awesome, and I’m all for it, especially for tackling things like institutional racism and the like because those are ultimately even more harmful than the sort of thing that happened in Charleston. But eliminating redlining and having a just justice system and reducing police brutality and everything else won’t stop some evil little shit from arming himself (yes, himself...always a him) and murdering a bunch of people. Ditching the Confederate battle flag and outing people’s ties to hate groups will go a long way toward changing the culture. At the same time, mass murder has to be prevented one heart at a time, and that is something that individuals can do.

It's Only Terrorism When It's One of Them

These days, when we hear the word “terrorism,” it is almost always a synonym for terrorism connected to Islamic radicals despite the fact that domestic terrorism has done a helluva lot more damage to the country over the centuries than terrorist acts committed by Islamic radicals. As many commentators have pointed out, when brown people commit mass murder, it’s terrorism, and when white people do it, it’s mental illness, but that’s a different subject for a different ramble. When people talk about Islamic terrorism, the only workable solution to it is for moderate Muslims to win the debates within Islam and stop the radicals. Sure, better American foreign policy might lead to fewer opportunities for radicalism to take root in the minds of young men, but we can’t bomb or finesse our way out of the fact that a lot of people on the other side of the world are dangerous. Their coreligionists or countrymen or whoever need to change that.

In the same way, Americans who are committed to the idea of love as the ultimate good need to win the war against reactionary, dangerous, stupid, just plain wrong ideas. Good ideas are better than idiotic, malicious ones, and people with good ideas should engage in arguments in order to win them. The thing about armed white guys with bad ideas is that there are a lot of them—a lot of armed white guys, a lot of bad ideas that misguided white guys like, and a lot of armed white guys whose heads are full of said bad ideas. Love can do what ideas alone cannot. It can win arguments and transform lives at the same time.

I’ve known a few extremists pretty well, and they may not be a huge percentage of the overall population, but they’re very real and very scary. (Let's say that 1% of all white people are crazy racist radicals. That's 2.5mm crazy racist radical Americans. And I think that the percentage is considerably higher than that.) Despite going to integrated schools and having a lot of black friends, apparently Shifflebrane was radicalized by websites like that run by the Council of Conservative CitizensIt's not kalumny to point out that the CCC acronym is a krazy-klever wink-wink way of revealing the organization from which it evolved.

Love Does

Now, it's easy to go down the path of how terrible the CCC and other acronymized hate groups are, but I’m going to shift gears and talk about love. One of my favorite writers is a guy named Bob Goff, and he writes about how love does. Love is engaged. Love acts. Love does stuff. Here’s a video of Bob. It has nothing to do with this subject, but if you have 20 minutes, you should watch it. Basically whenever you find a video of Bob, you should watch it.

Tonight, I’ve been thinking: How can love do stuff that will prevent the next Assmonkey Shifflebrane from committing mass murder? If we take this belief that God loves us seriously, then we have to trust that love can do a lot, especially if we are willing to take risks and engage.

The thing is, adolescent males make a lot of bad decisions. I don’t know if it’s hormones or misguided sexual energy or just being horrible people because they’re adolescent males, but they just do. Sometimes they light bags of poo on fire on their friends’ porches because it’s funny to watch them freak out (I never did anything of the sort, naturally), and sometimes they join a gang because it gives them power or whatever, and sometimes they arm themselves and set out to change the world one corpse or congregation or community at a time. I think that a lot of them seek to feel strong and powerful, and it’s way too easy for them to get their hands on weapons.

I don't phrase it that way to excuse Assmonkey's actions. Nothing can excuse them. They're inexcusable and evil and monstrous and everything else. I phrase it that way as a way of talking out how to prevent the next evil Assmonkey from murdering innocents because he has a dark heart and a head full of hormones and horseshit.

If Christians are committed to loving others, then we must engage and help kids to know the power of God instead because it’s wholly different than this sort of power. I don’t exactly know how to do it, and I’m just trying to be part of the conversation and encourage people to think about it and try things.

Maybe we just reach out as best we can in all of our goofy human frailty to at-risk kids and adolescents and just love them. We do our best to be God with skin on just like Jesus was, which was part of the last thing that Jesus was recorded praying. Maybe we help to get them plugged in through mentoring or through churches and parachurches doing whatever else works. Or just hang out with them and help them to start asking who God is and why he loves them and everyone of every color and ethnic background. White terrorists are obviously not the same thing as kids in gangs, but they’re all young men with dangerous weapons and bad ideas, and maybe this kind of vague outreach can help all of them. I don’t mean outreach to win belt notches for Jesus or whatever. I mean just hanging out with whoever is willing to do so, loving them, and seeing if any of the God stuff rubs off on them.

Also, don't give your kid a handgun for his birthday unless he's turning 60 or something. Ass.

The Power of Man and the Power of God

Frederick Buechner has an excellent sermon called “The Power of God and the Power of Man,” which is published in his book The Magnificent Defeat. It’s more concise and more beautiful than anything I’ve ever written, so if you’re so inclined, here it is.

I’m not a great writer like Buechner. I like to look at things from pop culture and show how they illustrate our ideas, and there aren’t a lot of popular, recent, kick-ass illustrations of the power of man versus the power of God. Interestingly, Superman provides both, shown below in clips from the unfortunate film Man of Steel and the superb tv show Smallville, respectively. Both of them are heavily laden with Superman-As-Christ imagery, and in the clips below we see him battle with General Zod, a fellow Kryptonian who has the same powers as Kal El/Clark Kent/Supes (warning: spoilers).

The Power of Man

Man of Steel spends a decent amount of imagery on Superman-as-Christ, but gets its Superman mythology and its Christ mythology wrong in the end (Side note: It gets a lot wrong, but this is not a movie review). This is the version of Supergod that appeals to the adolescent male. He defeats Zod using the power of man. This is American Jesus. This Superman is seriously dangerous iconography.

The Power of God 

Smallville, on the other hand, gets Christ right over and over and over again. It even has a multi-episode story arc that seems to illustrate the power of the Holy Spirit in transforming the heart of one of the show’s most evil characters and making him good. So it’s no surprise that when Clark defeats Zod, it's by using the self-sacrificial, self-emptying power of God. Ultimately (spoiler) love—not brute force—conquers, and if we want to take on and conquer white domestic terrorism, then I suspect that it is how we will do so. One heart at a time.

*I refuse to call the murderer from last week by his name because he wants to be a hero. I will only do so in hindsight if this particular event was a turning point that did the opposite of what he intended. The only way he gets to keep his name is if his ideas lose. Otherwise I’d love to see it relegated to a footnote in the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The End of Politics

Cyrano De Bergerac was probably, at least in part, a political animal. He was fictional, obviously, at least as we know him, but one didn’t live as he did—able to navigate among fellow aristocrats—unless one was a creature with some political instincts.

When I was a child, I loved the movie of Cyrano starring Jose Ferrer, and I memorized huge chunks of the play (the Brian Hooker translation), a paperback of which I carried around far too frequently. I memorized lots of things back then, including all of the non-sports-related Trivial Pursuit questions (I’ve never been able to retain information about sports), Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky, the cast and crew of every movie that played on HBO (back when HBO only played movies at night), and heaven knows what else. I have forgotten the sorts of things that I used to remember.

It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that no one remembers Cyrano for his ability to articulate his position vis-à-vis royalty, taxation, and whatever else might have been the topics du jour in mid-seventeenth century France. People remember him because he had a huge nose. And he wrote poems and loved with a perfect mixture of heroism, valor, and absurdity.