Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dispatches From The Closet, Part Two

I.               The Walking Dead

I keep trying to put my finger on it, and it’s not working. What’s wrong with my show? Tim’s bad attitude is infiltrating our TV time. He kinda huffs and puffs, letting me know he’s not thrilled. Carl’s exposed eyeball socket leaves him untouched. Where once our disbelief was fully suspended and we were ensnared in zombie-lore, we are now hyper-aware of our role as viewers. The lovely artifice is cracked.

But what is it?

Is it Negan? It must be Negan.

I thought it was him.

His larger-than-life, cartoonish hyperbole? The all-too-clever Bad Guy was working against the reality of human nature?

But I think it's something else.

The persistent low-morale?

Daryl is still Daryl, apparently. Carl is trying, and it’s the first time we’ve ever liked him. Michonne is Michonne. So it’s the persistent failure of Rick, which is too much to bear?

The hopelessness. We can’t take it.

We cannot take it.

There’s a lot to say about this, and I could probably get all nutty and pretend to possess some scholarly insight about TV. I’m thinking, for instance, that—despite my insistence on a Television Renaissance—the medium just can’t sustain prolonged tragedy. Films have ends in sight. Novels have ends in sight. Television? The end is out there, ephemeral, intangible.

The prolonged subjugation of Rick is going to be the ruin of the show.

Who can take it?

II.              Good Always Wins

Which is what I believe.

Which is what my interest in The Walking Dead is premised upon.

Which is what good old Jessie Jackson must’ve meant when he said, “Keep hope alive” (check out the last minute if you’re not interested in the whole thing).

Which is what MLK spoke about: I have decided to stick to love . . . Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 

I’m writing for a friend who wonders why God would allow all this festering racism and xenophobia and refugee-hatred to have voice. Good always wins, I tell him.

This Brave New World—or what I like to call “The Anti-Intellectual Military Dictatorship”—happened for a reason. Look, let’s not mince words. The Left needs to clean itself up. The Right needs to do the same. Why would God let this happen? Maybe so we can get our house together.

Is this the end of America? Read about the shakedown of the American Dream here.

So we need to fix the American Dream!

Maybe this is our opportunity to get it right. Look at what happened in Phoenix when a Middle Eastern restaurant was repeatedly vandalized post-election.

I guess the question is this: How far down do we have to go before we go back up? I don’t know.

But hope is our best option.

III.            Trump Is The Man Of The Year

Well, is he responsible for the Far Right-Stirrings in other parts of the World? Is he responsible for the hate festering on American soil? Are his voters responsible? Who is responsible for this? Who is willing to take responsibility?

Are you?

It’s the cultural violence problem. This is my drumbeat, my mantra. This election resulted in cultural violence. While it would be hard to put all responsibility in any one place, I think this is something we may need to confront over and over: who is responsible for the cultural violence?

I write from a unique spot, maybe; I’m somewhere on the precipice of two worlds. I live in the White Evangelical world. But I simultaneously exist elsewhere, too: among the writers, the readers, the Secular Humanists.

Ultimately homeless, I guess I get a bird’s eye view!


Leftwingers, the Right is so upset with you that they opted for a nutjob. This is what might get me the most. OMG.

Rightwingers, did you really think you could correct wrongdoing by doing something wrong?

Did you see this meme?

I’m, like, As long as I live, I’ll never understand how anyone could’ve thought we’d fix one problem by creating another.

But here it is. It happened. We have no other option but to get to work and do so vigilantly, hopefully.

Trump is the man. The Man of the Year. Don’t get mad at TIME if they go for him.

I’ve learned much already.

I’m sad to say that the Church is not doing so well. You guys should hear the world! I keep wondering if you know what people are saying about you, if you really have your finger on the pulse of the planet, if you can do any better than offer up another kind of idol. I could deal with the incessant Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby war cries. I knew how to talk to my children. But this is more difficult. The liberals understand things you don’t. The White Evangelical Church is now infamous for a couple things: They got Donald Trump into office and they flip out over Starbucks’ cups on the Holidays.

Oh, boy!


Hand it to Donald for revealing the fractured lines in the Church!

Why did God let this happen?

Maybe for the Church’s sake?

But so much harm will happen? Will it be worth it? Will grace abound? Will widows and orphans and refugees be cared for?

We’ll pull through this.

IV.            That Mormon Guy!

I remember the last election when all my friends were skittish about electing a Mormon. Now, so many of them are begging, begging, for Romney.

But that’s not the Mormon On My Mind. I’m thinking about Evan McMullin. Who would’ve imagined some Mormon CIA guy would emerge as the voice of reason for the Republican party?

McMullin offered this advice on what to do now:

"In response to Donald Trump's Twitter post this morning (screenshot below), Evan has given us a list of ten things Americans should do if Trump continues to make authoritarian moves.
1. Read and learn the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Know that our basic rights are inalienable.
2. Identify and follow many credible sources of news. Be very well informed and learn to discern truth from untruth.
3. Watch every word, decision and action of Trump and his administration extremely closely, like we have never done before in America.
4. . Be very vocal in every forum available to us when we observe Trump's violations of our rights and our democracy. Write, speak, act.
5. Support journalists, artists, academics, clergy and others who speak truth and who inform, inspire and unite us.
6. Build bridges with Americans from the other side of the traditional political spectrum and with members of diverse American communities.
7. Defend others who may be threatened by Trump even if they don't look, think or believe like us. An attack on one is an attack on all.
8. Organize online and in person with other Americans who understand the danger Trump poses and who are also willing to speak up.
9. Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now.
10. And finally, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, have "malice toward none, with charity for all" and never ever lose hope!"

Enough said. Here’s his recent editorial in The New York Times.

V.             Reading is political.

Reading widely, diversely, about people who are not you. I’ve had numerous conversations about reading during this Post-American Season! Reading is political. Get a book.

Writers, we got this.

VI.            Keep the faith, and don’t let up.

We’ve got this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dispatches From The Closet

Well, I came out of the closet, and now I want back in.

So I’m picking up my pieces. (For others, this is not easily done.)

Really, just when I’m thinking now is the time to let go, something crazy happens. Let’s talk in tweet-speak, in sound bite savvy, powerpoint-appropriate language. My random dispatches from the dark of my closet.

How do I possibly seek reconciliation with all those I offended while maintaining my positions? Must I relent? What if I can’t? What if I just can’t?

Must they?

Thanksgiving was a familial pause, a respite of sorts, albeit Jill Stein lurked in the background, auditing votes. Though not explicitly forbidden from bringing up the election at the dinner table, I could tell my political discourse was not something that anyone was looking forward to hearing. Actually, Tim and I almost came to blows in the mini-van—kids in back—because I wanted to let loose with my Deplorable Speech.

For the record, I never called anyone a racist.

Deplorable. I called them Deplorable.

Now, reconciliation.

Can we just get on with this reconciliation business?

Let’s put it out there: I know that many of you are not deplorable. I understand that many of you are fiercely opposed to abortion. I understand that many of you are not racists.

What if that’s the best I can do?

May I—for fun and convenience—keep calling the other contingent, the other half, by this moniker, The Deplorables?

Is my reconciliation-offer false if I hold onto the deplorability issue?

We’ve spent a lot of really horrible time asking, “What’s worse—abortion or racism?” I’m going to reject this entirely. Entirely.

I’m going to suggest that this awful dichotomy ruined this election, and it’s going to send me back into the closet where I truly belong, anyways.

Woody Allen, who all of my white Evangelical friends would never dream of electing for president, has an awesome little movie called Crimes and Misdemeanors. I think we might call our last presidential “election” Crimes and Misnomers. Pitting racism against abortion is the biggest misnomer around.

Rather than emphasizing the dichotomy, might we emphasize platform and character? This is what I think (about the non-deplorable voter in both parties):

1.     Some vote for the party platform. Many, many people I genuinely respect told me how they supported the Republican platform, and not Trump. Most of this had to do with abortion, but also political philosophy on small government and individualism and capitalism. These Republicans were mostly, if not exclusively, white evangelicals. The White Evangelical crowd. And it’s their closet from which I emerged. I went public this election as a writer, who identifies as a Christian. (I’ve written elsewhere about why I prefer the closet, most reasons having to do with the fact that secular humanists seem to make better Art.) Now, despite their non-deplorability—most white Evangelicals really aren’t racists, guys—I want back in the closet. Sorry I came out. I don’t want to be associated with this guy.

2.     Some vote on the basis of character. For me, character was super important, though I concede entirely that I truly do not know Hillary Clinton’s character. I will say that I found her, like, 100% less repugnant than Trump. Character, in essence, was necessarily reduced to presentation. My vote was connected to this. Presentation. I kept picturing Trump hosting a Japanese or Turkish diplomat at the White House, Melania and Barron  making noises in the next room, or Trump holding peace talks or negotiating trade deals around some great big wooden table with stacks of unread reports before him. Maybe a little gold crown skewed on top of his head. An Alec Baldwin pucker on his lips. A bevy of military generals whispering directions for the coups d'état in his ear. That vision was enough for me (not to mention the other stuff). My guess—is this true?—the non-Deplorable Trump-supporters do not value character over platform.

Am I right?

And this is the only proper dichotomy to offer up—in speaking specifically of White Evangelicals. Some of us value the platform more; some of us value character more.

With these ideas, is reconciliation possible?

As I already said, I hate that the life of the unborn is somehow pitted against the born.

I hate that my Christianity is somehow questionable because I opted for character/presentation over platform.

We watched 13th, the documentary, this past weekend. I'm wondering if there will EVER be any sense to an argument to save the unborn, if there's no equal dignity for the born. I really think the logic is suffering here, and the weird pro-life recourse is to deny systemic racism and carry on, or appeal to legislative actions already in place against racism. Racist stuff is illegal. Abortion is legal. Go after the legislature!

Sounds smart, right?

What if I reject this?

What if I tell you that I think this idea of privileging legislation as the force of cultural change sounds a little naïve about the real forces behind cultural change?

What if I tell you that this is why I’m going back in the closet? Over the forces of cultural change?

This privileging of legislation is premised on the idea that the government is the most basic, most foundational way to combat ideas. I do wholly support legislation meant to protect all humans; I do not think it is foundational. I think—really, truly—philosophical contemplation and cultural milieu-shaping forces are more weighty than legislation.

I have my own predisposition towards privileging Art as the most important force behind cultural change. I’m not going to say it is; I will, however, say that it’s more forceful over political legislation in shaping humanity.

So, well, I kinda find the White Evangelicals, um, artless.  

I spent some time banging on my drums during the election, talking about the potential cultural violence of a Trump presidency. No matter what I said or how eloquently I put it, my rant on “cultural violence” was rejected.

(Allow me to explain what I mean by cultural violence: Supporters keeps telling me how Trump may be uncouth, and he may be an idiot, and he may not be super sensitive—but he’s probably not really a racist himself. This is beside the point. I might even agree, barely. The point is that he unleashed the Deplorables. Hate-crimes, white supremacy sentiment, anti-Muslim frenzy. We didn’t need this. The country didn’t need this. This is a kind of cultural violence. This is the real danger, in my opinion, of the casino-thing, the trade-in wife habit, the handholding with the porn industry; I do not fear legislation; I fear cultural violence.)

The battle against abortion has been reduced to a legislative battle.

Racism has been dismissed as non-existent, or as a “sin problem.”

“A Sin Problem”
May I tell you a secret? I hope I don’t get in trouble for this one. I think I’d say that one of the most damaging things the Church has done has been the tongue-clucking, eye-rolling, lumping-together of miscellaneous issues under the ubiquitous heading of “a sin problem.”

This is how I’ve often heard racism discussed. The rhetoric, with which I’m very familiar as a White Evangelical insider, goes something like this: “Racism is sin, the failure to acknowledge God, the failure to recognize that all humans are made in the Image of God.” With that being said, we know what we need to do: focus on God.

Damage done.

I’m sorry.

I do not want to disregard this need to focus on God; I am going to assert that the unintended result of saying that racism is just a sin problem is that sin is dismissed, minimized.

That people are left hurting and vulnerable.

American racism warrants our unique American attention.

Yes, sin is sin. But America is uniquely American. How do we come to terms with our Americanness? In the same way that Monet was definitely French, or music that came out of Castro's Cuba was distinctly Cuban, are there distinct American aspects to our cultural phenomena?

Racism is racism is racism?


It is, then, only part of the story when we call racism “a sin problem”? Though racism is global, American racism should not be reduced to other kinds of racism. We are not talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis. American racism is uniquely American.

We are talking about American racism.

Systemic Racism
Too many naysayers. Watch 13th. Study history. Read some books. Please, read some books.

The American Narrative
I’ve become increasingly interested in this idea. I’ve always been interested in the notion of the Great American Novel, primarily because I wanted to write it. Was it The Catcher in the Rye? The Great Gatsby?

Well, every American writer—lowly me included—is eventually confronted with this quote from Ernest Hemingway, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that.”

Folks, he was right. This is our literary history. Other topics are worried over. The United States is vast and allows for a multiplicity of subject matter. But this is our theme, our central—inescapable—narrative. Racism is our literary legacy. Our shackles, our chains. The American Story. And it demands reconciliation.

I’m going to make an offer to the White Evangelical crowd. I won’t push it. I’ll see if I have any takers. I’m going to offer to lead a college-level free class on this American Narrative. I’m serious. The workload will consist mostly of reading, some film, and discussion.

The readings will be as follows:

James Baldwin:  Go Tell it On the Mountain
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me
Ralph Ellison:  The Invisible Man
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing
James McBride:  The Color of Water AND/OR James McBride:  The Good Lord Bird
Toni Morrison:  Beloved
Solomon Northup: Twelve Years A Slave AND/OR the film
Harriet Beecher Stowe:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Mark Twain:  Huckleberry Finn (at the end!)
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
Jaqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming

I need some more women on there. Maybe a little Maya Angelou. I’m absurdly unqualified. A white girl, altogether. (This probably upsets some people; who better to talk to White Evangelicals?) Not a literary scholar. No African-American lit focus.

Just someone peeking out of the closet.

Reconciliation, anyone?