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My day job involves collaboration and consensus building. To make myself as effective as possible in my professional roles, I've learned to keep my thoughts about sex, politics, and spirituality strictly to myself. Of course these three are my favorite (some say, only) topics when my friends and I get together, but that's why they call it work.
I woke up on the first Saturday in Lent, wanting to get some thoughts off my chest. I thought to myself, I might not be able to say all that, but Earthquake could. Thanks, eq! As with all rants, this was more important for me to write, than it is for you to read (so please feel free to go read some erotica instead--I strongly recommend this option), but I'm posting it here for, um, reasons of historical curiosity. Yeah, that's it.
What I Try Not To Think About
Are those my boxcars rumbling in the night?
Perhaps that phrase requires some explanation.
I'll start by confessing that I'm a Christian, of a sort, and that I was trained as an historian. (I assume that everyone here already knows I'm heavily into sex and erotica. It's sometimes complicated to be a Christian feminist mystic leather dyke pornographer, but someone has to try to do it, or at least enjoy the struggle. Sex and spirit are two names for the same ultimately indescribable energy. But I digress.)
As a trained historian, one way I cope with news is to think, "How will this seem to historians thinking about it one hundred years from now?" The duct tape nonsense made me think of the fad for bomb shelters (and John Crowley made a wonderful movie about that, using archival footage, that I wish everyone could see) and you know how useful they were. This distancing helps me try to discern activities that are truly useful, from those that are not, and even if I'm proved wrong (history teaches that almost everyone IS proved wrong, so I'm philosophical about the likelihood that I'm also wrong), it helps me get through the day. My goal is to get some work done whether or not others are panicking. If there's a "stupid bomb" with my name on it (actually there's one with all our names on it, and it's in the White House, oh God I wish I were joking) at least I'll have made some forward progress before I go down.
Now that you've got Christian+historian, you can probably guess what I mean
about the boxcars. One of the things some of us Christians mourn, is why the
moderate Christians in Hitler's Germany -- with the notable exception of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer --
didn't speak up (let alone act) to oppose the Holocaust. Many people knew
on some level that boxcars full of their neighbors
were rumbling towards the camps, and yet did nothing.
It's one of the spectacular failures of the community of faith.
Anyway, I learned a lot of things from studying history in the specific context of the United States (hereinafter US - I avoid the name "America" as it's rude to my neighbors in Costa Rica and Brasil), and so I'll just list a few things I've noticed in relation to the history of so-called "foreign policy":
Robert Coles says it's not possible to write about anyone's "plight" except one's own. In that spirit, on this obscure web page, I will state what is to me obvious:
There are a few of us in the States who never got over the last Gulf War: (1)
veterans of the conflict, who have all kinds of health problems stemming from
exposure to depleted uranium and other noxious substances, and (2) those of us
who have not, in the intervening decade, been able to
stop thinking about the effect of U.S.-led sanctions on the health
and nutrition of the Iraqi children who weren't even born during the conflict.
I am in group (2), while staunchly supporting group (1); our section of the
movement strongly opposed the the authoritarian regime in Iraq while
working to publicize the effects of the
sanctions and ask our fellow USians whether this is truly what
we want our tax money to be doing. My own part in this was sadly small, but
I took heart from the fact that as of this writing the last two U.N. officials in charge
of the so-called "Oil for Food" program resigned in protest at its effects
on the civilian population, and recently former weapons inspector
has been the most vocal discussant on the sanctions and Iraq policy in general...
I am a Marine Corps officer. We never operate outside our code of honor and
integrity. The truth is paramount. This is not a nation that should be building
on a body of lies. As the inconsistencies of consecutive American
administrations' policies on Iraq start to emerge, my position is starting to
become recognized as a sound position. People start to recognize that much of
what the U.S. has done has been outside the international law, outside the
framework of United Nations Security Council resolutions, that Washington
purports to support.
Personally, I gained a lot of weight during the first Gulf War. I was married to a U.S.
Muslim at the time, and we used to get together with other friends who were
Muslims from various cultures, or Zionists, or secular supporters of Israel --
really, anyone who didn't want the Middle East to be blown up -- and eat, and eat.
I've only just now gotten the weight off.
Digression about demonization of Muslims: I don't have to tell you that practitioners of classical Islam (="submission") are not The Enemy, right? It's important to separate all faiths from their cultural baggage (another shame of Christianity is its failure to do this in its own case; I'm thinking now of the missionaries who went to the South Pacific islands and told the women to wear Western undergarments) and Islam per se is a very interesting spiritual path. There are a zillion reasons why I married my partner (upon whom be peace) -- to start with, he is a delightful lover -- but specifically in regard to his faith, I thought it'd be nutritional to be on the receiving end (theologically) of the kind of things Christianity says to Judaism, specifically, "We have a later revelation that explains and completes your scriptures." I've always felt a bit bummed out about how The People of the Book (Islam's name for Jews, Christians, and Muslims together) relate to each other, so perhaps I was trying to do a bit of penance there...EQ gets these quixotic notions...
There are specific groups of both Muslim and Christian fundamentalists who terrify me and who must be opposed by any means possible: the ones who are most exultant about wanting to go to war with each other right now. But as for demonization of all Muslims generally, including Muslim members of our great U.S. melting pot experiment (which I remain profoundly excited by), don't get me started about how important it is for all of us, believers and skeptics alike, to live in mutual respect for each others' practices.
I was cheered up by Robert Byrd's speech,
of course, and then as I was working on my rant about the boxcars, above, one of my
favorite bloggers (and editors, for that matter) was also thinking about
some of the same historical parallels. I'll let him have the almost last word;
Nielsen Hayden's full blog entry is here, and the relevant quotation is:
We are led by knaves, criminals and morons. Bullies, sadists, and fools. Even
by the standards of everyday politics, this Administration is made up of notably
ghastly and hapless human beings.
I've been trying not to think about all this - but it's not working - and
maybe that's a good thing. The last word for now comes from the book I'm using for Lenten
meditation this year. The author is Martin L. Smith and the book is
A Season for the Spirit;
take it away, Martin. (I've pulled just two paragraphs out of the meditation
for Monday after Lent 1.)
There really isn't a nice way of saying this. The people we are are being led by are stupid, vicious, and crazy. We all want to avoid acknowledging this, and we're all wrong. The rest of the world can see it perfectly clearly, and they're increasingly disinclined to be polite about it. Like the Germans of the late 20th century, we will spend the rest of our life explaining to one another how we got here and how we let it happen.
...a primary obstacle to overcome. This is our habitual condition of being
under an anaesthetic. Most of us have a primary defense mechanism against being
overwhelmed by the pain of the world and our own pain. It is as if we administer
to ourselves an anaesthetic to numb its impact. The price we pay is that it also
numbs our capacity for joy, but until we surrender to the Spirit of God we
reckon the price to be worth it. The strongest sign of the Spirit working
within us is simply that the anaesthetic begins to wear off. We start to come
round and become vulnerable not only to the experience of joy at being found,
embraced and indwelt by God, but also vulnerable to pain, our own stored up
pain and the pain of the world.
I wish for everyone who celebrates Lent, a thoughtful and meaningful season this year.
And for all of us (regardless of our spiritual paths), I wish peace on earth, starting
with our own lives and spreading outwards.
Experience of the Spirit of Jesus always has a paradoxical, two-fold character. There is always joy and pain. Joy at our undeserved embrace by love, and the hope of being completely healed. Pain in sharper empathy with the suffering of a world which is so far from being unified and healed...