Onward Christian Soldier
Onward righteous Christian soldiers. Onward with the blame. We will blame uneducated white men and women. We will blame southerners and hill people. We will blame black folks for not getting out to the polls. We will blame Hillary’s emails and the people who investigated her emails. We will blame her Iraq war vote. Her endless “scandals.” The speeches at Goldman Sachs, the attacks against her husband’s accusers, the unlovely tenor of her voice. We will cast aspersions against the racists, the haters, the xenophobes. We will loose our fury at unwashed Midwestern counties.
We will blame Omaha where I was born and Oklahoma where my dad is from and Indiana where my mom was born. We will blame my cousins and neighbors and high school classmates: the farmers I went to church with, the Young Republicans I played soccer with, the burly caretaker of the Jesuit villa on the Chain-o-Lakes in northern Wisconsin, with all the souped-up hot rods on the front lawn.
We will blame the wealthy, the privileged, the out of touch, the ones who would like to goddamit once and for all just run this country like a business and clean up all this mess. We will blame the ones who felt like they had nothing to lose so why not throw the dice and see what happens?
As usual, we will look at everyone but ourselves.
Outright racism and xenophobia and sexual harassment is clear, visible and wrong. We all know it. The campaign of Donald Trump has been horrific, some of his political positions unthinkable and his sheer behavior despicable.
Donald Trump ridiculed a female journalist about menstrual blood rising up to her eyes. Donald Trump made fun of a P.O.W. because he got captured. Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. Donald Trump said he will deport 11 million immigrants. Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women by their vaginas. Donald Trump said he would "torture so hard" other human beings. Like a third world dictator Donald Trump promised to jail his political opponent once he got into power. Donald Trump is a millionaire but for years paid almost no taxes. Donald Trump was endorsed by K.K.K. leaders. Donald Trump attacked the Muslim parents of a son who died in combat.
I could go on. Much of what Donald Trump stands for—let alone the content of his character—is the cold face of evil. Evil that has found a formless void of unbridled and sociopathic ego.
And yet (and yet!) in the sense that we Christians are many parts of the one body of Christ, we have done all these things, too. For Christians, it’s a true thing.
Probably few things you or I have done matches up to what he has done. In no way can we say the wrongs we inflict carry the monumental, world-shaking effect that his do. But when one member of the body of Christ sins we have all sinned. If my arm sins against me shall I cut it off? Shall I say that is not my arm?
Shall I say that this is not my vote? It was only the Romans and the leaders of the Jewish people who put Christ on that cross? Really? It wasn’t—as the church has always taught—ourselves as well? Christ has been on the cross around here for a long time, and it is now stunningly visible, and we have done our part.
We haven’t cared for one another. Personally and politically. “The government,” at its best, is just “us.” It’s us acting together. Blaming “the government” is blaming us. Blaming the Trump voters, too is blaming us.
We have stopped listening to the other, walking with them, stopping for a second and considering how someone else lives and what we can do about it. (Maybe we never really did.)
We have stopped (or never began) actually believing in and acting out what Christians believe: that the poor are our brothers and sisters, and the rich, and the barbarians next door. That my actual brother and sister is my brother and sister. Though not as dramatic as Trump’s words and deeds, there are real and monumental consequences to what we do, and fail to do.
I have taken too little care, said King Lear. We have taken too little care. It shows.
The great flaw of nearly all social justice movements is they fail to critique themselves. They are never self-reflective enough to say where did we go wrong, how are we complicit in social sin, where have we not taken care of each other? They are not humble.
We believe our cause is so right, our powerlessness and poverty so complete, the injustice so vast, the need so urgent, that it is defeatist and a waste of precious time to engage in self-reflection; to even think of examining with cold clarity the hurts we have inflicted on others and ourselves.
We who “combat injustice!” rarely sift through our own stances and actions and ask where have we failed. Where we have failed not just those outside the movement but within as well: Our anger at injustice turning into cynicism, transubstantiated into a bitter poison that spills over into everything we say and do. Such as denying, for instance, that any Trump voter has even the least shred of empathy, humanity or basic common sense.
But, really and truthfully, you might say, I am not complicit. I’m not racist. I’m not sexist. I believe in welcoming immigrants. Spring break junior year I dug latrines in Honduras. I watch documentaries about black incarceration. I engage in the difficult yet courageous work of posting anti-Trump videos on Facebook. I was devoted to the anti-establishment charisma of Jon Stewart and with some mourning but a brave front deftly switched my allegiance to Samantha Bee.
I believe in the seamless garment of life. I have attended, or even given talks in church basements and justice conferences about “abortion-economic justice-death penalty-peaceful natural death.” I even campaigned on the ground for progressive candidates. I organized in the streets with the people, con la gente. I went into the homes of the poor, and the churches of the disenfranchised. I have done my part.
It is other people who are short-sighted, ignorant, racist, hating, agrarian, abiding in unreality, latter-day fascists. They don’t realize how good they have it. Try living in a hut in Bangladesh, or the gang-infested streets of El Salvador, the wastelands of Haiti or the living hell of Allepo. You’d find out real quick you have nothing to complain about. Your anger would dissipate, your sense of American entitlement would melt, your voting pen would skip on over to the correct oval, the one I filled.
I wonder. The greatest sinner is the one who thinks he has not sinned. Is not like other men. Whoever thinks he or she has not sinned, for all intents and purposes has dethroned God. And dethroning God, the sin of Pride, it goeth. It goeth before the fall, and hard.
It was a dark night and a bleak next morning. And then grace came. I don’t say that lightly. I rarely say things like that, “grace came,” unless it is forced out on a retreat or in a scented leather journal. But not long after I woke up something became clear to me, and I wrote my anarchist friend Dimitri. I said at least we have clarity now. We know what needs to be done. Saying that out loud, something shifted in me.
Christ flips everything. The dark flips to light, even as soon as it comes, if we let it. I came to believe that today is a beautiful day. I don’t say that to be willfully shocking or abrasive. I actually believe it. It is a great day because we have hit rock bottom. A man with long recovery looks back at the day he hit rock bottom as the day in his life he is most grateful for. Because it was then he knew with blistering truth he had no other choice but to lean on other people. To lean on other people and the God who created him. He got to God in a way nothing else could get him there.
America has become unmanageable. At last we can realize that only a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Only when you find out you have cancer, or realize how wretchedly you have failed in treating your cancer, can you defeat it. We know how bad it is now. It has all been exposed and we know what we have to do.
If we believe God is God, there is hope. Faith has to become real. There are no two ways about it.
Is all of this too facile an allegory? Is this “spiritualizing” the election and politics? It is all just a matter of praying harder and sinning less? I don’t think so. Faith becoming real does not save my soul alone. Faith becoming real does not only send us into church for hours of prayerful gratitude before the Blessed Sacrament. It also sends us out into the streets to deal with the blessed sacraments out there. The ones hustling to work, yelling at their kids, pushing their split ends from their face, getting laid off and laying people off, crouched on the sidewalk drinking wine from a paper bag, eating kale in a concrete plaza under a hideous modern statue.
I would be disingenuous if I said I wasn’t still nervous or scared about what might happen. If I said even that I wasn’t in a low-grade mourning.
At the same time, though….
If I told you it will be O.K., it really will be all right—here, now, U.S. of America, Trump our commander in chief—might you reply that I am being willfully naïve? Would it be “O.K.” if you were an immigrant about to be deported? A woman who has been violently sexually assaulted? In other words, if you were anyone who will continue to suffer in the sickness of American culture that was just solidified that much more last night?
I can’t speak for other people. But it is a natural fact that suffering people are not helpless to claim their power. To say otherwise is to dismiss out of hand their inherent dignity. The most hurting people have the ability to take charge of their lives, no matter what the world has done to them.
Writing this, I am a bit surprised to find the sincere dramatic 23-year-old Dorchester street organizer, flannel around the waist, listening to Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy,”—I am surprised to find that earnest young guy still quite alive. I wasn’t sure that I still believed in all this stuff.
But I do. It really is on us to build from the ground up the culture we want. No one has true power over us unless we give it to them. Not even a president.