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London Calling


There will (probably) be no guitar-smashing in “War and the Christian Tradition,” but I encourage DDS students to sign up for it anyway.

The English talking heads are dignifiedly divided on the legacy of Lady Iron.  I skipped the big movie about her, choosing instead to replay favorite scenes from other movies (Billy Elliot, Brassed Off, The Full Monty) and to hula hoop to The Clash’s “London Calling.”  I recommend this intricate scene from Billy Elliot, set to “London Calling,” which draws me like a bee to blackstrap molasses to listen always again to “Clampdown.”  (A writer for Mother Jones posted this related gem.) Steve Nallon, a Thatcher impersonator from the popular English show  “Spitting Image” said on this morning’s BBC that she was fun to mimic because she was so straight forward .  She was brutally direct about the destruction going on under her name.

A line from The Clash’s “Clampdown” inspires me as I slog through my reading list for a class on war (next fall).  “We will teach our twisted speech, to the young believers.  We will train our blue-eyed men to be young believers  . . .”  Stanley Hauerwas has graciously passed me his baton, and I’ve decided to affix what had become his class to a conceptual guide he gave me the first time we met, around about 1993.  I visited a seminar he was teaching on language, I believe, and he said something along the lines of “the best Christian theologians can hope for is to expose the lies of political speech.”  So, this class is not going to be an analytic back and forth on just war and pacifism.  It is going to be a class on war, twisted speech, and young believers.  I want to think through the ways that blue-eyed and brown-eyed men and women in the U.S. have been trained to live always already in the ways of war.  War is a LIE through which we live, and move, and have our being.  If you think this is just a right-leaning problem, see dear old “Mother Jones” herself publishing this crap, normalizing drone strikes as just another topic for amiable conversation.

The ancient, anchoring text for the course is Augustine’s On Lying, and the requisite inkling touchstone is “The Inner Ring,” by C.S. Lewis.  Thanks to Isaac Villegas (thanks, Isaac!) I chose Chris Huebner’s A Precarious Peace and Paul Virilio’s Pure War  (which inspired that Acts/liturgical twist above).   Thanks to wonderful Stan Goff, we will read Sex and War, alongside his posts on Holy Week.  In memory of my paternal grandfather, who barely survived the Pacific War, we will read John Dower’s meticulous coverage of race, propaganda, and war in War Without Mercy, and, in honor of a contemporary, beloved family member, who gave me the i-tunes copy of this for my birthday, we will read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.  We will also read On Killing, a classic by Dave Grossman, and Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.  (I love that I just had to watch a jell-o PB and J cupcake advertisement to see that video . . .  Meanwhile, why haven’t we had Chris Hedges come to speak at Duke Divinity yet?)

Augustine teaches in that short essay that lying matters, the little lies and the BIG LIES.  But many young Christians in the U.S. have been taught to respect authority to the point of obeisance, and ignorance.  I have suggested in the past that you can divide Duke students by asking who has cleaned their own toilet, who has cleaned someone else’s toilet, and who has never cleaned a toilet.  (No, not divide them like sheep and goats.  Some of my favorite people on the planet were once children for whom I was a nanny on the Gold Coast, darn it.  I just mean divide them in terms of their perspective on various things not obviously related to toilets.)  Wikileaks is a new dividing line, as young adults sort through what they think of Bradley Manning, whose trial SHOULD be on the front page at your local grocery line, instead of images of a Kardashian booty .  (So much wrong with that, don’t know where to start – lay off her happily pregnant big booty, pay attention to his torture and silencing, might be a beginning.)  At his best, Stanley Hauerwas taught me that it is a work of love to speak the truth to someone.  For two brief favorites, see him here and here.  It is my prayer that I can begin to teach “Hauerwas’s” war class in a way that encourages truth-tellers, whether they be gentle, or loud, mischievous or mathematical.

Which takes me back to London.  I would suggest that the most faithful way to honor the death of Lady Iron is to join Desmond Tutu, who honors Jesus by telling another British Prime Minister to embrace his own truth regarding war, and to do it today, while he is still alive.  And if you don’t go in for the whole Jesus thing, do it for Joe Strummer (obm).

  • Dave P

    That first Hauerwas video is great. (The second one wouldn’t load for me?) He stated, in 3 minutes, what I’ve been trying to teach my high schoolers all year–although his gestures weren’t too creative :). For me this is one issue that actually weighs heavily and saddens my heart. It is so hard because when I have tried to point this out to others (that they are Americans first, and that determines how they read the Bible) they either don’t understand or don’t care–which I suppose is a very American response to an intellectual challenge. But it saddens me.

    The toilet example is an interesting one; I went from ‘never cleaned a toilet’ to ‘cleaned others’ toilets’ after college when I worked for a while in a nursing home as a ‘manager’. I wonder how much that experience has influenced my attitudes and thought patterns.

    Thanks for a timely post (my state just passed a law allowing ‘armed sentinels’ in the public schools. If anyone believes this isn’t related in some way to our mythology of war, they are delusional.) I wish I could send a couple thousand of my peers and legislators to your class.

    • Kara

      Hi Dave, I apologize that your comment was stuck in the queue for so long – I was working on a sermon and completely forgot to check the blog. I hope you see ALH’s response!

  • Amy Laura

    Dave P. Thank you so very much for commenting on this post. Try showing your class the movie Lagaan. It is long. It is really, really long. But it is a movie about Cricket, and the rules of the game, and how class, caste, and nationality should not matter as much as the basic rules of the game that matters most. The game that Jesus taught us is going to throw us off kilter with our family, with our teachers, with our basketball coach, with our older sister who bullies us out of our time in the shower, with our mentor in the bible study who keeps trying to make Jesus about who wins the next game of Lacrosse (or who seems usually to be bored with us). Buy some soporific snack food and show your kiddos Lagaan. It is a movie plausibly about Gospel hope, and it is a good synopsis of the synoptics and of Revelation. Much, much, a gazillion times much better than Glee. I promise.

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