Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Rethinking 'Resistance': Avoiding Fixating on D***** T****...

It has been extremely difficult to be on social media this week. I’ve been exposed to an endless torrent of hate, bigotry, ignorance, and hysteria…

And that’s just from my friends.

What I mean is this: way too many of my friends are posting links- sometimes up to a dozen per day- that, cumulatively, become one long shriek of 'Look at this! And look at THIS!! AND look at THIS!!! He's been President Elect for a WEEK and he's STILL vile!!!!'

I do truly understand the motivations behind most of this. People are worried. I’ve met people who are literally terrified, like Native Americans, human rights advocates, Jews, and Muslims…

But from others, it seems like some rather naïve venting, as if the existence of the structural racism that helped to undergird this nation from its inception was just becoming visible to them, or at least visible to them in an extremely concrete way that they hadn’t thought remotely possible.

I don’t want to denigrate those emotions in any way. We’re all on a learning curve, and this upcoming one might be extremely, arduously uphill. But trust me on this: Native Americans, rural blacks, undocumented fruit pickers, and the newly-arrived Jordanian family down the block have not been nearly as shocked by this week as some of my friends obviously have been…

It’s been just over a week since the election, and I want to say to many of these friends, trust me on this- you will burn yourself out if you try to maintain this level of outrage for any extended period of time.

I'll be glad when the novelty wears off. I'll be glad when the outrage by no means ends but begins to resemble, not so much gasoline thrown in a fire, but good coals that we can cook over...

And to that end, I want to say that some of my social media torrent has been very positive, suggestive of ways to get involved, be proactive, who to call, where to send letters, ideas big and small to help us all stay strong, communicate with each other, and what can be done locally.

To these positive missives, I’d like to add a brief theological note that I’ve been thinking about.

The language of ‘resistance’ has been heavy within a good deal of the more positive stuff I’ve been getting, and it’s been very often phrased around how we can resist Trump- resisting this man specifically.

Again, I do understand why it’s phrased this way, and the President-Elect is certainly a perfectly serviceable focal point for people’s desire to stand up to egregious acts of bigotry, misogyny, and hate that have become much more pronounced in the wake of his candidacy and election victory.

But I’m concerned that the more we talk about Trump, even when we talk about resisting, the more we’re simply, well, talking about Trump.

Trump received billions of dollars’ worth of airtime absolutely free by saying outrageous things, and the media reported all of it because, hey, how do you not report something outrageous? This didn’t weaken Trump at all; indeed, he was strengthened. His core supporters loved his outrageous-ness and delighted in the feckless tut-tutting of the media in their reporting of it.

If one of the things people are angry about is a corporate media elite, what better sight is there than a corporate media elite in a near-constant state of consternation and being made to look like fools?

Who bought all those NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T, and other ‘gangster rap’ albums in the early-90s? Not urban African-Americans, at least not enough to account for the level of sales they all did. It was well-off, white, middle class suburban teens and college students, very often drawn to the dangerous imagery, the transgressive lyrics, and the huffy outrage of politicians and religious gatekeepers…

The more the 'elites' ranted about how sick and disgusting it all was, the more the kids ate it up.

So… The image of resistance is good; it’s powerful and empowering.

But when we say ‘resist Trump’, we’re talking about Trump, and I suspect he’s perfectly fine with that…

Honestly, I’m tired of getting twenty posts a day with his enormous picture on them.

If we look at the example of Jesus in the biblical text, particularly at the beginning of his ministry, he doesn’t use the language of resistance, certainly not of any human political actor like the Emperor in Rome or Herod in Jerusalem. He begins by quoting the Hebrew prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.’

The prophet doesn’t mention who specifically is doing the oppressing, locking up the captives, or blinding the people… and neither does the Gospel text record Jesus doing so.

There is a positive emphasis as opposed to a negative one; ‘do what is right and good’ as opposed to ‘resist those who does what is wrong and evil’. The inter-relationship is there, of course, but there's a subtle but important difference in emphasis. 

The biblical text records nothing about Jesus’s feelings or opinions about the Emperor in Rome, nor anything about Herod’s regime, other than the one time in the Gospel of Luke 13, where he refers to Herod as a ‘fox’- a scavenging, destructive animal- and declares that Herod’s threats against him won’t deter him from his ministry.

Likewise, when we read the Sermon on the Mount, neither the Emperor nor Herod ever comes up. Jesus lays out his vision of the Kingdom of God and the righteousness, justice, peace, and deep spirituality that it embodies completely from the standpoint of the people to whom he is talking, as opposed to framing it as a personal repudiation of this or that earthly ruler.

Now, as the life and subsequent death of Jesus affirms, it is impossible to seek the Kingdom of God in any way that Jesus described it and demonstrated it with a neutral posture toward a socio-political or religious status quo. Jesus deeply unsettled the religious establishment, the local government, and the imperial forces which eventually executed him.
But he did so in a welcoming, inclusive, earthy, and spiritual dynamic, through relationship, communion, healing, encouraging, teaching, eating, and drinking;

He did so through a fundamental ethic of peace, righteousness, and justice, which he insisted were possible to obtain in the power of God and God’s community of people;

‘Resist Tiberius’ never came up;

‘Resist Herod’ was never overtly spoken of;

Jesus demonstrated a new way of being and living rather than a new way of campaigning or organizing.

As I mentioned in my last post, we can live out this Gospel of Jesus- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless- regardless of who is in power. The shape of our activity, as well as those who need life, sight, food, or a voice, will change depending on the circumstances, but our remit to make it happen will not.

This is what the people of God will do- or at least should do- now, without fear, without fanfare, with dedication and determination.

I personally won’t be framing it around the person of Donald Trump. I’ll be hiding posts to my social media that do so, and un-following those that excessively post them. 

Live a life of goodness and solidarity, without being all fixated on, well, that guy…

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