"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Black comes in many shades"

At a rally in 1984, some of those farmers arrived wearing paper bags over their heads, to obscure their faces. It wasn’t until later that Jackson learned they were trying to hide their identities from farm bureau officials. “I looked out there, all these guys in hoods. Sort of a little moment there,” Jackson recalled a few years later in a conversation with farmer and supporter Roger Allison, as recounted by Frady. “But our people have always had more in common than other folks supposed—right, doc? We’ve both felt locked out. Exploited and discarded. People saying about the family farmer exactly what they say about unemployed urban blacks, ‘Something’s wrong with them. If they worked hard like me, wouldn’t be in all that trouble.’ Fact, more you get into this thing, more you realize that black comes in many shades. We’ve found out we kin.”

The only question is:  how long will we wring our hands, and when will we start looking at who we have common ground with?  The vilification of the Trump supporters has begun.  But is that the shortest course to victory, or just the shortest route to personal satisfaction?

Maybe the starting point is to recognize that "Black comes in many shades."


Blogger trex said...

Ok, stipulating arguendo that your premise is correct, I need some practical real world guidance here on finding common ground. Those friends and acquaintances of mine who voted for Trump:

1) Have been voting for years against the very Democrats who've been trying to enact legislation to improve their financial situations, pay and benefits, tax situation, job possibilities, etc. And when the Republicans stymie these efforts and fail to govern or improve their lives - they complain about the Democrats even more.
2) Have voted against Democrats for the reasons you might imagine: fear of terrorism, hatred of immigrants, envy of welfare recipients, greed for promised Republican tax breaks, pride over being a "real" American, and finally, and I think most importantly, sloth - the definition of which I will expand here to mean: not taking responsibility for one's life or decisions. Looking at this (admittedly editorialized) list, does it bring any kind of theme to mind?
3) The Trump voters I'm personally acquainted with range from less advantaged individuals who literally believe that Hillary Clinton was a wicked precursor to the antichrist - to colleagues making over $250K a year who will have pensions, 401k's, and already own retirement homes. In particular, my wealthy Republican colleagues voted for a mix of reasons ranging from a hope for Trump to cause a housing market collapse so they get a steal on another retirement home on the backs of the suffering, to Hillary being "crooked" to, I think, a thinly veiled racism they hoped would be enshrined in social custom if not public policy making it clear once and for all that brown people and foreigners are their social inferiors in rank and entitlement, and no longer need to be catered to.

Getting back to acedia or sloth, if I were to have to point to the one commonality among all the Trump voters I know, is that their refusal to admit responsibility for their own failures (even if they are relatively successful) and project them onto others. While sometimes all it would take is a small effort to improve their fortunes - limit spending on frivolities, don't eat out as much, don't spend $120/month on your hair, don't lease the most expensive vehicle - they just deny themselves those easy pleasures. For instance, a married couple I know who voted Trump who are doing very well financially but aren't quite rich enough to retire yet at age 52 because of their profligate and uncontrolled spending on material goods (the scope of which is so epic you might not believe me if I told you, like $1000/month cable bills for starters) have convinced themselves that people on welfare are the source of their problems. They can't put a finger on the mechanism -it's something something taxes something - they just know that it is true.

[continued below]

2:19 PM  
Blogger trex said...


I know a guy who struggles with depression and can't keep a job and so he survives, barely, on handyman work. His wife doesn't work either, I'm presuming for similar reasons. He turns down jobs to go hunting or spend time with his father, doesn't look for work because he's down. While I've offered what help I can in terms of encouragement, friendship, and throwing business his way, he just can't seem to order his life. Since Trump has won he's become vicious and crule on social media, making it clear that he feels he is finally going to get what he is entitled to and everyone else better shup up - or else.

So while I'm seeing a dizzying array of ostensible reasons people voted for Trump, with a couple of exceptions most of the people I know who voted for him are doing fairly well to very well financially...they just think they could be doing better. And it's not for lack of trying on their part, they say, it's because of something the Other is doing that is preventing them from achieving. While their lives are free of really bugs them that black people "riot" (protest) and complain about unfair treatment. While they've never even seen an illegal immigrant, they are convinced they are also ruining the economy. While the Muslims and middle easterners they know are generally polite and warm...why won't they just quit being so foreign-acting? And so on.

So while this post may SOUND like vilification, and maybe subconsicously it is, I would genuinely like to find common ground with these people in order to make society better and avoid the looming horrors awaiting us. But I can't imagine what that common ground is. Facts no longer mean anything to them, they belive the media is all lies except right-wing websites and chain emails, logic is out the window, and the America of the last four years has been pretty damn good for them anyway. This looks to me like the emergence of a mass psychosis, and I don't have the faintest idea how to breach the dark, violent cloud that surrounds it.

Your thoughts? And please, feel free to criticize me if you think I'm being unfair or blind in my characterizations.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Not being at all glib, but: like this?

Some people you can't talk to. My sympathies are for the manager who must talk to this woman because she can't walk away from it and the police aren't there to remove her. It is a psychosis of some kind I've never seen before. People like this, no one can talk to. Interesting she insists she only wanted to get her purchases and leave, and then she stands there screaming for several minutes.

This would be like me trying to educate an on-line atheist about religion: why should I bother? I don't even put up with obnoxious people in my comments. Again: life is too short. Do I have to make common cause with atheists in order to live in the basiliea tou theou? Well, I don't have to make them enemies, but that doesn't mean I need to convert them to my way of thinking, either.

I think we find our allies where we can, and white privilege cuts two ways: it not only privileges whites like me, but we are blinded by the privilege and don't see how this is business as usual for at lot of non-whites (Asians, somehow, are "white" enough to pass). My suggestion is: find common cause with those people, which will mean humbling yourself (if you aren't one of those people). Recognize the difference, and don't imagine you can "join" it (that was the mistake white radicals made in the '60's; and then their whiteness allowed them to escape the problems of being a minority race in America).

You make allies where you can, and you love your enemies. But you don't have make allies of them.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

And, to be a bit more direct:

"I know a guy who struggles with depression and can't keep a job and so he survives, barely, on handyman work. His wife doesn't work either, I'm presuming for similar reasons. He turns down jobs to go hunting or spend time with his father, doesn't look for work because he's down. While I've offered what help I can in terms of encouragement, friendship, and throwing business his way, he just can't seem to order his life. Since Trump has won he's become vicious and crule on social media, making it clear that he feels he is finally going to get what he is entitled to and everyone else better shup up - or else. "

Been there, done that, my ownself. Don't get me started. I avoided deep depression and self-pity, but I understand where he's coming from. I also understand he needs professional help. Were I his pastor, that's what I'd tell him. And for the viciousness he presents: love your enemies is not a command to make him your burden. It is first for you, that you don't dwell in hate and resentment. We are all broken, we all need care. May he find his healing, but he won't do it the way you describe him going.

So don't hate him; but don't make him your responsibility, either. People love to believe their problems are someone else's fault, which is one reason I failed as a pastor: I didn't agree with them. "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all." That's why so many people don't have religion; not really.

And they don't want it; not really. But that doesn't mean religion makes us responsible for them; it just means we have to be responsible for ourselves, towards them.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Gordon Laatz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:46 PM  
Blogger trex said...

I really appreciate your thoughtful and painfully honest response, as well as your sound advice. It actually speaks to directlysome other situations in my life even more than the ones I mentioned, and I will contemplate it further. As you counseled, my wife and I have been trying to strengthen our relationships with friends and family who share our values, and have reached out to neighbors and acquaintances a little better, despite the fact that we are essentially introverted hermits. I'm hoping to be able to get permission to visit a local mosque, in the spirit of ecumenism, and after decades roaming in the desert think I'd like to find a Protestant congregation, though I was raised Catholic, both for fellowship and to find ways to be of service to the community.

I have read you faithfully and gratefully for 10 years now, believe it or not, and benefited from it immensely; not only from your knowledge, which is estimable, and your talent at alchemically combining philosophy and scripture to illumine current events and cultural issues in a meaningful way, but also from your wisdom....which is always dispensed modestly, sometimes wryly, but never polemically.

So based on my own experience, let me just say respectfully, if I may, that I don't believe you failed as a pastor. On the contrary, I believe your congregation failed you - or rather they failed themselves, and by consequence you, who were trying to get them to understand certain painful spiritual truths they were just not ready for. They wanted milk, not meat, to paraphrase a prolific New Testament author, and when people are in the grip of self-centered desires and emotions they can resist and refuse dying to those desires at all costs - resorting to open conflict and even violence if need be.


8:48 PM  
Blogger trex said...

It seems trite to even note but it's nonetheless depressingly true, starting with Christ himself, that Christian history is replete with examples of the evangelist or reformer being expelled or worse for teachings that are too much for the ordinary person to bear, as the quote on your blog masthead from Terry Eagleton keenly observes. Mankind wants form, not substance; wants ritual and habit as a shield - or wall -against the terror of disruptive, transformative situations. Against the furious and stubborn resistance of these blind, unconscious psychic forces no one can stand for long. We sing as long as we can and hope at least a few are freed by the song.

So, at the risk of attempting to mimic your style and pulling it off poorly, at the end of the schmaltzy remake of "The Jazz Singer" from 1980, when Neil Diamond as the errant cantor-cum-popstar is trying to reach his estranged Othodox Jewish father, played by Laurence Olivier, who has disowned him for finding a life outside serving in the synagogue, he grabs him and says, "Pop, I've got my own congregation now and they love my music."

Because, you know, he was reaching a much wider audience than he would have...well, you get it.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Thank you. Really. I needed that. Really.

9:47 PM  
Blogger June Butler said...

I second Trex. My community is where I find it, especially since I'm no longer part of a church congregation. Rmj, you are a member of my community, and, indeed, one of my pastors. You have been for a long time, even when I attended church. It's a pity there's no money in it, but there it is. It's still true. ;-)

11:59 AM  

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