And I feel fine . . .
Best wishes for a happy New Year – and a joyous Christmastide – from your friends at profligategrace.com!
While listening to a recent Christian sermon on Daniel 3, I had two thoughts. First, I noted that the preacher moved very quickly from Hebrew apocalyptic to individualistically pastoral. (Do not pass the Holocaust; do not collect a 100 reasons to be confounded.) And, second, I kept hearing that fabulous Beastie Boys song. Each time the preacher said “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” I heard the beat the Boys stole from Sly Stone. (I am not sure which is worse: being critical of another preacher’s lack of depth or finding myself repeatedly distracted by a riff from “Loose Booty” . . . )
For the past week, I have had another college-days song running through my head. Of course, from REM.
I have jotted down notes for all sorts of clever posts (trust me) on news and life in the last few months. But I have been teaching three classes, mothering the fabulous Green Street girls (now including 3 bitches; we got a puppy), and trying to concentrate all of my writing and editing energy on the upcoming issue of the Muslim World that I am co-editing with Danny Arnold. The essays are now all in, and mostly edited, and I am now facing concerted, focused work on completing my own essay for the issue. Hence my need for a blog post on something else.
A young Whole Foods guy asked me this evening how I am spending my last day on earth. He also told me to watch out for the zombies. I realized then he was teasing me. In case you have no vaguely pagan friends or even acquaintances (and have missed all the jokes on the Internet as well), I will tell you that today was to be, according to some, a marker of the end of days, due to the way some people read a Mayan calendar. And this recent, niche obsession fits with one narrative device I have been trying to write about regarding “24” and “Game of Thrones.” In each show, the clock is ticking . . . ticking toward the detonation of a nuclear device, so we MUST TORTURE . . . or, in the case of G of T, revolving toward an interminable WINTER, when all of those who have been rightly filled with dread, and dreadful monster tales, will be able to shout to their lackadaisical neighbors a grisly, satisfying: “WE TOLD YOU SO!” (The preface to the series starts with a young deserter having his head — quite graphically — chopped off while soberly attesting that he has, indeed, seen the monsters from the North.)
I will post more from that (truly, almost done) essay soon. For now, I want to note the tragic timing of time in the last week. At the same time that quite disparate people in my life were speculating about the end of the world calendar, just about everyone around me, embodied or on the radio, has been trying to find some way to make sense of sheer horror — to hurry, hurry, and find an explanation —
to find some way to prevent another unthinkable tragedy. I admit I have a vote here too. I vote we ban violent shows and video games for children under the age of 13. (Me and Tipper Gore evidently have more than divorce in common.) But my impulse to vote for a policy change NOW, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE! runs along the same emotional synapses as the impulse that has some of my Texas kin calling for every public school teacher to carry a gun, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
Which leads me back to apocalyptic thinking, and to the book of Daniel. My beloved colleague Anathea Portier-Young has accomplished a remarkable feat: a scholarly book on the Bible that is both academically acclaimed and genuinely useful. Rather than come up with some clever way to explain what she wrote about, I will shamelessly cut and paste from her book’s website:
Building on a solid contextual foundation, Portier-Young argues that the first Jewish apocalypses emerged as a literature of resistance to Hellenistic imperial rule. She makes a sturdy case for this argument by examining three extant apocalypses, giving careful attention to the interplay between social theory, history, textual studies, and theological analysis. In particular, Portier-Young contends, the book of Daniel, the Apocalypse of Weeks, and the Book of Dreams were written to supply an oppressed people with a potent antidote to the destructive propaganda of the empire — renewing their faith in the God of the covenant and answering state terror with radical visions of hope.
I want to keep asking why it is that so many modern Americans are drawn to apocalyptic thinking, and in ways that seem more to turn against ourselves, with ramified, reverberated terror rather than turn us toward one another with “radical visions of hope.” Do many of us have some sense that things are profoundly not as they should be within our own empire? And, are we not only strangers in a strange land, but also strangers from one another, maybe in part because I find my neighbor’s account of why America is a strange land profoundly strange in and of itself!
Jonathan Haidt has argued that the best way to unite the strange strangers who find ourselves neighbors is to find someone and/or something to fear. Haidt is drawing on the worst of the worst in civil religion and recommending it. Remember Chris Hedges’s War is a Force that Gives us Meaning? Hedges wants to recommend against such meaning-making, “natural” as it may seem to sociobiologists like Haidt. Haidt is suggesting it (in the New York Times, no less) as a civic strategy.
We don’t live in 24-World, or Gaming-Throne-Landia, or Narnia, where it is always winter but never Christmas. The ticking time bomb and the pseudo-Mayan doom and THE policy that will end horrific, random violence are all ways of thinking that draw on the life-blood of anxiety, and that try to control that anxiety through control.
I want to close with a little word to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are all on board for guns in schools. Something had gone terribly wrong when kiddos were taught to “Duck and Cover” in preparation for a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. It wasn’t going to save their hides an iota if mutually-assured destruction failed. It simultaneously brought cataclysmic fear and uncritical compliance into a setting where children ought to receive a kind of sanctuary from such fears; a school room is frightening enough, just with the daily trickiness of being a kid (read Ramona Quimby, Age 8 again, if you don’t remember). What has sent many of us mommies over the metaphysical cliff this last week is that just such a little sanctuary of A,B,C’s, homeroom hamsters, and cheesy goldfish was unspeakably violated. The answer to such violation is not to make the sanctuary into a fortress.
But, I can say this and sort of mean it because I have fiercely pious friends who remind me, even when I forget, that the calendar could not have ended today. The New Year started a few weeks ago, when the too-short acolyte tried to quicken the wick on the first Advent candle at Trinity UMC. So, Happy New Year, a few weeks late, as I anticipate the coming, again, of the one who daily brought about the end of the world as I know it, who gives me reason to shake my loose, middle-age booty and receive, at least intermittently, “radical visions of hope.”