[Matt Morin] Whammy Bars and Ovaries: Forming Christian Disciples with Rage Against the Machine
Matt Morin makes a very, very welcome return appearance to the blog with his contribution to the festschrift. If you’ve read Matt’s work before, you already know you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t, read on, as Matt combines RATM, the writings of Subcomandante Marcos, and the bit in “Conceiving Parenthood” related to Lysol and feminine hygiene. Best wishes to each of you for a safe and restful Thanksgiving holiday, from KNS and ALH.
We in wit the wind below
Flip this capital eclipse
Them bury life wit IMF shifts, and poison lips
Yo they talk it, while slicin’ our veins yo so mark it
From the FINCAS overseers, to them vultures playin’ markets
She ain’t got nothin’ but weapon and shawl
She is Chol, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Tzeltal
The tools are her tools, ejidos and ovaries
She is the wind below
-Rage Against the Machine, “Wind Below”
In his 1992 essay titled “A Storm and a Prophecy,” the anonymous EZLN rebel known as Subcomandante Marcos tells of a powerful “wind from above.” This wind—neoliberal economic and governmental policy—with its strong gusts of foreign tourism, harsh penal code, police brutality, and corruption among high-ranking officials, has swept through Mexico, leaving a trail of destruction throughout the communities of indigenous campesinos. Every day, “Pemex [the national oil company]… sucks outs 92,000 barrels of petroleum and 517,000,000,000 cubic feet of gas,” Marcos writes mournfully. And as the company ravages Chiapas’s Lacandona Jungle with impunity, the starving “campesinos are not allowed to cut down trees to cultivate. Every tree that is cut down costs them a fine that is 10 times the minimum wage, and a jail sentence.”
Yet there is another wind stirring among Mexico’s poor indigenous people. Less explicitly powerful, but active all the same, this “wind from below” is generated by the indomitable spirit of those farmers who refuse to abandon—because they cannot be abandoned by— “the only hope that exists in the world.” Not to be confused with the nihilistic hope (a paradox if there ever was one) for a carefree retirement held out by corporate managers and career ministers alike, or the carelessly-peddled “Hope!” that has been plastered across inner-city billboards by savvy political marketers in recent years; the hope that rises on the wind below is as real as the dirt from which every human has been formed—it is “hope that is planted and harvested.”
Marcos’s description of hope goes a long way towards understanding why Rage Against the Machine speaks of the wind below in terms of “ejidos and ovaries.” The term ejido refers to a centuries-old practice of communal land-sharing that existed from the time of the Aztec people until the theft of Mexico by Spanish and European colonizers. The deep grammar of the ejido is that the stuff of creation is fundamentally good and abundant. The dirt in which hope is planted and harvested is to be received as a good gift, and shared in such a way as to permit others to recognize its goodness, and thereby to share in real hope.
Additionally, on RATM’s reading of Marcos, the wind below is no impersonal force—no disembodied power. Rather it is a “she”—“she is the wind below”; and she is a body—with ovaries. Just as RATM’s celebration of the ejido is meant to affirm the goodness of the created order, so too is their celebration of ovaries meant to affirm the immeasurable and intrinsic goodness of the body—in this case, the female body.
Contrast this message with what Dr. Hall calls “the Lysol habit” or the “germ-free home” in Conceiving Parenthood:
Into the late 1950s the Lehn and Fink Products Company of New Jersey continued to suggest that its product [Lysol] be flushed into a woman’s body for vaginal ‘hygiene.’ The advertisements suggest several crucial facets of the domestic hygiene movement during the development of ‘scientific motherhood.’ In the midst of constant reference to the rules of domestic vigilance, a woman was also encouraged to suspect her own body of hidden dangers and impurities.
In sum, one goal of the corporate patriarchy has been to cast suspicion on the female body—to identify “the female body… as a source of potential disorder and contamination.”
Highlighting a recent ad campaign by Dove Soap, Stephen Colbert shows that such impulses are still very much alive and well in our own day. “With Unilever’s help, women have now learned that their armpits are hideous,” Colbert states. Of course, the authors of this message neither accept nor reject the notion that the female body is, in fact, hideous. To assert as much would be to credit such people with the capacity for conviction—which seems far too charitable. Rather, the impetus for the message is mere financial gain; its marketers are willing to say whatever must be said to close the sale. Thus Colbert concludes, “If you take the time to invent a new thing for women to feel insecure about, and then sell them the solution, you’ve cornered the market!” We should admit that such marketing strategies are not altogether foolish when measured strictly in terms of corporate profits. But to paraphrase God, “What good does it do you to sell shame, when the revenues will cost your very soul?”
Arguably since Pentecost, but explicitly since the words of St. Cyprian in the third century, Christians have confessed that “there is no salvation outside of the church.” Dr. Hall echoes these same sentiments in her assertion that “fundamental to many articulations of salvation … is the idea that adoption is the mode by which we ourselves become children of God.” Since all adoptions are adoptions into a new social body, we are wise to remember that the Christian’s new social body is “the body of Christ”—the Church. And since “the body of Christ is female in the history of the Church,” salvation is given by God through the gracious act of adoption into Christ’s female body. What else could possibly be meant by being “born again?”
If the Christian would like to forget that we receive our lives as gifts from God through our relationships with one another, then RATM may just be the cure for such forgetfulness. On the band’s account, the wind below on which hope is carried is not—and never could be—anything more than people: “Chol, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Tzeltal.” Together they constitute the body of their mother Mexico— “she is the wind below.” At the same time, the corporate body that is constituted by the people, is also the body inside of which those same people always exist—“we in wit the wind below.”
So against the otherworldly capitalist spiritualism in which speculation is currency, and flesh is re-imagined as replaceable, the Christian stands with campesinos and wildly inventive rock guitarists to proclaim the fundamental goodness of created stuff. Against the trend of contemporary misogyny, the Church insists that all salvation comes through being adopted into the female body of Christ—our Mother who longs to gather us under her wings. And against the stubborn individualism that seems to remain in much contemporary Evangelical theology, the Church demands that all who would be saved, must be saved through one another.
There could be multiple reasons that Amy Laura Hall chooses to listen to RATM: perhaps she, like the band, understands herself as a Voice of the Voiceless; maybe the fearlessnesses with which Zach de la Rocha pens the band’s lyrics appeals to the tough Texas girl in her; it could be the case that she enjoys listening to RATM while running because the music provides an extra shot of adrenaline to help her finish that last quarter-mile; she might even be aware of the unassailable scientific proof that people who listen to rock music tend to have a higher tolerance for whiskey; but none of these explanations goes far enough. The reason that Amy Laura Hall enjoys Rage Against the Machine is because she is a Christian teacher of sexual ethics.
Matthew Morin currently worships with Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship and the residents of Carolina House. He became a father in June 2011, to a child that will be born in February 2012. Matt received all the parenting advice he could ever need when Dr. Hall insisted that he “forget all about that Winnie the Pooh and Baby Einstein crap — babies can be happy sleeping in a drawer with a blanket.” His kid probably will not give a damn about any acronym that might follow his name, and you shouldn’t either.
 Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, ed. Juana Ponce de Leon (New York: Seven Stories), 22.
 Ibid, 23
 Ibid, 33
 One particularly scathing moment of Marcos’s essay occurs in his description of the Mexican government’s response to the desperate conditions of its people. It is hard to read these words without considering similarly impotent responses to suffering in our own load—indeed (even especially) the church’s response: “Don’t go to San Marti’n and see that it is a very poor and small community, don’t approach that shed that is falling to pieces. What is it? A sometimes church, school, meeting room. Now it is a school. It is 11 a.m. No, don’t go closer, don’t look in, don’t look at the four groups of children riddled with tapeworms and lice, half-naked, don’t look at the four young Indigenous teachers who work for miserable pay for which they have to walk three days… No, don’t look at the posters which are the only thing that the government has sent to these children. Don’t look at them: They are posters about AIDS prevention” (27).
 Ibid, 33
 Amy Laura Hall, Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 73
 Ibid, 23
 Ibid, 394
 “Voice of the Voiceless” is the title of the ninth track from RATM’s album, “The Battle of Los Angele.”
 “Scientific” may not be the right term here; same goes for “proof.” All the same, I dare somebody to argue otherwise. First round is on me.