Timely Terror

Fear comes in many colors.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic was getting such positive press that I didn’t wait for the paperback.  At first the title threw me a bit, but creepy old houses can be found in many places around the world, and the gothic often lurks in such structures.  The story builds slowly until the supernatural begins to seep in steadily and the reader realizes they’ve been hooked along the way.  In some ways it reminded me of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, but the setting in Mexico gives Moreno-Garcia’s tale its own kind of zest.  Having a strong hispanic, female protagonist is a nice corrective to the political rhetoric we’ve been fed for the past four years.  As I said, fear comes in many colors.

Perhaps I’m not as afraid as I used to be when I read fiction.  Gothic, however, is all about setting the right mood.  It’s a creepy sensation that boundaries are being crossed and such things often take place in isolated locations.  The house owned by the Doyles—not exactly colonialists, but symbols are seldom exact matches—is marked by greed and power.  A kind of rot is everywhere evident, but the family must keep power within its own circle.  The parallels to a Trumpian outlook were perhaps not intentional, but national trauma can make you see things in a different way.  As Noemí attempts to rescue her cousin from the house, High Place itself participates in thwarting their escape.

Reflection after reading draws out some further insights.  Not only is the white Doyle family the  oppressive element here, they do so by religion.  Secret rituals and practices have made the patriarch a god—and here let the reader ponder—who builds his power on the oppression of others.  I have no idea if Moreno-Garcia was influenced by the nepotistic White House we’ve just experienced—eager to use political office for overt personal gain, and yes, worship—but she’s laid bare the ugly truths of white power.  I dislike racializing people, but race was invented by Europeans as a mean of oppression and keeping wealth within the grasp of a few individuals who would be surrounded by an empowered “white” race.  It worked in Nazi Germany and it came close to working officially in the United States that fought to vanquish it just seventy years ago.  Mexican Gothic is a moody book indeed.  It’s also a book, whether intentionally or not, that is an object lesson for our times.

Toilet Paper Redux

So we find ourselves needing to clean up again.  Maybe you’ve noticed it too.  Since the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak has wiped across the nation toilet paper has once again become a hot commodity.  Not finding a single roll in Target, I decided to test the waters on Amazon.  Sure enough, many brands are now listed as “out of stock.”  Could it be a coincidence that Trump will be leaving office and we need a lot of toilet paper right now?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Capitalism is like that.  Supply (or lack thereof) and demand.  Instead of making sure people have access to the basic necessities, we would rather have panicky citizens with soiled underwear looking for leadership where none exists.  And voting for lack of leadership yet again.  Flush!

Still, you’ve got to wonder—why toilet paper?  What is it about thin paper on a roll that presses the fear factor?  If people can know to avoid embarrassing smells, why haven’t they plugged their noses when the breeze blows across Pennsylvania Avenue?  Logic fails here.  Have we educated a nation to fear for their backsides but not to see clear and president danger in front of them?  Now that we’re nearing two weeks since the results were announced, we have had nothing but pouting from the Oval Office.  That, and drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.  Seems like we’ve got to be dirtying the world somehow.  We could use some toilet paper.  Maybe America needs more fiber in its diet.

Those who still support Trump don’t seem to realize that his response (or lack thereof) is the main reason a quarter-million people have died in this country and the virus is completely out of control.  I guess it’s that way with messianic figures.  Ironically the Bible (printed on thin paper itself) warns of someone who acts messianic while lying all the time.  He’s called the Antichrist.  You can tell him because just about everything Jesus did, he does the opposite.  Welcome the foreigner?  Feed the hungry?  Heal the sick?  Talk about God and how to deepen your relationship with the divine all the time?  Have you got any boxes checked yet?  Or are you waiting for the Charmin supply truck to go rolling on by?  Perhaps it’s time to invest in paper.  We print our money on it and hope somehow it will save us.

White gold or pay dirt?

Raven Wisdom

Just twenty pages in and I was reflecting on how Christianities and the cultures they cultivated have caused so much suffering in the world.  Assuming there is only one way to be, and that way is pink, European, and monotheistic, has led to so many displaced people thrown aside as collateral damage.  Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven is a remarkable book.  A native Alaskan, Hayes participated in the colonialist venture of higher education to try to also participate in the “American dream.” If this book doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, I don’t know that you’re human.  As I mentioned in a recent post, I have a deep interest and lasting guilt to learn about indigenous peoples of the country where I was born.  About the culture that is so Bible-driven it can’t see the human beneath.  The capitalism that takes no prisoners.

The Tao of Raven is one of the most honest books I’ve ever read.  Hayes refuses to sugar-coat the alcoholism, the broken promises, the poverty offered to native Alaskans.  Even as Trump’s final rages go on, he has opened the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge for drilling, to the highest bidder.  Apart from those whose wealth will increase as a result, we will all suffer.  Those who lived in Alaska before the colonists arrived the most.  The idea of colonizing, without which capitalism just can’t work, reveals its evil here.  When a voice like that of Hayes is able to make itself heard we cannot but feel the condemnation.  When over seventy-million people vote for a hater, we all tremble.

The book ends much as it begins.  A sincere regret for those who’d been fed the contradictory messages of missionaries.  Those told to accept suffering on earth so that they could go to the white person’s Heaven, while those inflicting the suffering lead comfortable lives with modern conveniences.  The double-standards that allow people to die on the street like dogs.  The double-standards that can’t see that you need not be Christian to upend the tables of money-changers.  Indeed, the last time someone dared to such a thing was two millennia ago.  When Christianity slipped its fingers between those of capitalism a monster would surely be born.  The cost would come in human lives, even as a quarter-million lay dead in this country from a virus a rich man can’t be bothered to address.  Do yourself, do the world a favor.  Read this book.  Read it with your eyes open and learn from Raven.

Black Bible

In such a bibliocentric culture, I wonder why we lack curiosity about the Bible.  Not only do we not study it much in religion classes, we often accept it as a fixed cultural object.  Saying that it’s the word of God, as if that explains anything, many Protestant groups take it as the 39 books of the “Old Testament” and the 27 of the New, ignoring the 66 total that stands like a warning sign of impending idolatry.  Roman Catholics and some Anglicans add the books of the Apocrypha, or Deuterocanon, bringing the number closer to 73 books.  I say “closer to” because some of these books seem to be expansions on other books already in the canon.  Over the years the National Council of Churches has added a few more books, considering various other groups (mostly Orthodox) that recognize some further works as canonical.

In this era of recognizing the importance of black lives and black culture, I’m amazed there’s so little curiosity about the Ethiopian Orthodox canon.  I’ve spoken to many biblical scholars who could care less that the fantastic books of Jubilees and 1 Enoch are in the canon of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches.  It’s almost as if these groups simply don’t matter in the world of Christendom.  I note that biblical scholars I ask about this are usually Protestant or Catholic themselves.  It seems to me almost a racist slight not to include books that are recognized among some Christian groups, but not others.

What is the scientific criterion for determining a book is the word of God or not?  It surely can’t be fear of contradiction, for the Protestant Bible—the briefest in mainstream Christendom—has plenty of contradictions of its own.  The Bible itself famously does not name the books included.  Various authorities made decisions at various points about which books should be included and which should be left out.  It is such a very human process.  But when it comes to including the books of churches that total nearly 40 million members, suddenly people just aren’t that curious.  Those of us interested in demons have to take Jubilees and 1 Enoch seriously.  They are fascinating books.  And Biblical for millions of people.  The past several years have made me think quite seriously about the borders built around the Bible.  Whose choice is it not to include books already in the canon for their neighbors?  Or, as might be more accurate, who has the authority to cut out books that already belong for many African Christians?

Constipated Democracy

Vows apparently mean nothing anymore.  I suppose that’s what happens when you begin your administration with “alternative facts” and keep it up for four years.  When you vow to uphold the Constitution—hand on the Bible—that means you’ll play by the rules.  Instead we find ourselves with a bad case of constitutional constipation and we all know that we need a national enema.  It has been a week now since it’s been mathematically impossible for Trump to win the electoral college.  Yet even his evangelical followers can’t seem to recall that hand on the Bible, that promise to obey.  Apparently it’s okay to lie before God, if you think like we do.  If you don’t want to have conversation but want to talk at others and say you’re right.  It saddens me that so many Americans simply don’t care what the majority clearly wants.

This is especially the case because Trump is being treated as some messianic figure.  An overweight, womanizing, pathologically lying Jesus.  And people are saying, “Yes, that’s what the Bible tells us is good, and right, and just.”  Those who are settled in good paying jobs—people of my generation—have been beneficiaries of the systems of education and government programs that the Trump administration has spent four years dismantling.  And they have the audacity to call themselves Christian while their lives are saying “I got mine, I don’t care about anybody else.”  And they’re the ones who wore WWJD paraphernalia just a couple decades ago.  WHCB?  What Has Christianity Become?

Many of us (the excluded majority, in fact—Trump won the 2016 election while losing the popular vote) knew the greatest danger would be that he would be “normalized.”  This would all come to be seen as the normal course of politics.  People from Trump’s own family have gone on record that his run for office was a publicity stunt meant to drum up business for his failing empire.  And those who acted/wrote/supposed that he had any “plan” or “strategy” at all were simply failing to see a career grifter fleecing the country while playing golf and having his “fixers” do the work.  Until he one-by-one threw them under the bus.  This was all done in the public eye and yet his followers think he really has the best interests of this country at heart.  He has torn countless families apart, and not just at the border.  And now that he’s been defeated he keeps the charade going while his followers bow down and worship.  Excuse me, but I think I need to use the restroom.

Childhood’s End

Childhood.  It’s a time of many lessons that we soon learn to apply to all of life.  One of those earliest lessons is “Don’t be a sore loser.”  When someone else wins you congratulate them with a smile, even if you’re inwardly aching.  Fair play, it’s called.  Or morality.  All of these characteristics are sadly lacking in the Grand Old Party, it seems.  There has been no evidence of voter fraud, Biden currently leads by over 5 million votes, and yet Trump refuses to concede.  Not only that, the dissembler in chief, Mitch McConnell encourages such behavior.  In my fundamentalist church you’d have failed Sunday School for less than that.  And where are the biblical literalists?  Right there with them, thumping their Bibles but not reading them.  What happened to turn the other cheek?  Or even, for God’s sake, an eye for an eye?

Instead the world is watching as a putatively grown man throws a temper tantrum about losing.  Hilary Clinton conceded on the night of the election.  I’m sure it didn’t feel good to do so.  Nor did it feel pleasant for the 44 other losing candidates (in fact, more) who had to go home with their hats in their hands.  Not content to act like a king, Trump is behaving like a monarch for life.  His followers, perhaps aware that Americans will never again put up with such a travesty of a presidency, insist that someone must’ve miscounted by about five million.  They won’t be content until they can count themselves, throwing away any ballots they disagree with.  And they’ll continue to call themselves Christians.  Because, like the Donald, they can.

I’ve reached the stage in life where childhood has become a lingering preoccupation.  I sure got some things wrong.  Not being a sore loser isn’t one of them, however.  Like all people I’ve lost my fair share of contests.  Sometimes the stakes have been very high.  If you want to retain any dignity or moral standing at all, you know you simply have to admit, “I lost.”  We knew as soon as Trump was nominated in 2016 that he wouldn’t admit he lost then, even if he had.  We knew four years ago he’d never admit he lost when he would.  The Republican enablers stoked those fires in which to burn the Constitution.  Some of us, at least 77 million at latest count, are tired of all this political theater.  Big boy pants, it seems, are difficult to locate this season.

Bible Lesson

I was recently reading the revised preface and “To the Reader” (in draft form) for the NRSVue.  In case alphabet soup’s not your thing, that’s the New Revised Standard Version updated edition.  Of the Bible.  As I read through these seldom referenced pages it occurred to me, not for the first time, the care and concern with which scholars approach the original text of the Bible.  No matter what Fundamentalists may say, we do not have the original text.  In some places the translations you read are the best guesses of those who’ve spent their lives trying to understand what an obviously corrupted copy was intended to reflect.  Such care reflects the widespread (but shrinking) sense that this text somehow magically informs daily lives and should lead to political action.  I’m sure Jesus would’ve arched an eyebrow over that.

Biblical scholarship is hampered by the fact that the manuscripts that have survived are copies of copies of copies (etc. etc.).  Translators—yes, including those of the King James Version and the New International Version—are making some informed guesses on an Urtext we simply don’t have.  Lives, however, are often sacrificed on the basis of the belief that we have here some object to be worshipped instead of read and understood.  I like to tell my skeptical friends that the Bible is actually full of really good things.  There’s some nasty stuff in there too, but we can learn from the parts that convey deep spiritual wisdom.  Listening to your elders is a good idea, but it’s not the same as worshipping them.

Humans have a deep desire to make things sacred.  Maybe it’s because after watching us muddle around down here we want to believe there’s something better out there.  It’s problematic, however, when we make an earthly object, put together by humans, into a deity.  There are those who get around this by claiming the Bible is from God in the original.  The point is we don’t have the original.  There are some words (especially in Hebrew) of which the connotation and denotation are unsure (for words have no inherent meaning).  Reading, we know, is a complex enterprise.  That’s why it takes years to master it and constant practice to maintain it.  Those who leave off reading after school may, I fear, fall back into literalism when they encounter a text.  Bible scholars take great care at trying to reconstruct the original, and all of that can be undone by a failure to just keep reading.

Favorite Color

Blue has always been my favorite color.  Even growing up Republican, I preferred it.  Like many Americans I awoke last Wednesday to a national map mostly red and pink, and watched gradually as more and more states turned blue.  I don’t mind confessing I wept when Biden took the lead in Pennsylvania.  These past four years have been torture against all that’s descent and humane.  White people killing blacks and being told there are very fine people on both sides of the issue.  Watching a virus run out of control here like nowhere else in the world because one man can’t be bothered with the troubles of 330 million (stop and think about that number) people.  A man personally enriching himself while not paying his own taxes and getting breaks for those wealthy like himself.  Endless lies.  Loud, brash, and crude.  Groping women as if they are commodities to be owned.

We have, at the embarrassingly late age of 244, finally elected a female vice-president.  Many other nations have realized that gender should not be the basis for electing leaders.  Poisoned by various forms of Christianity that assert male superiority, our culture has feared female leadership since it has become a real possibility.  I voted for Geraldine Ferraro as much as for Walter Mondale in that fateful year of 1984.  We’ve actually reached Orwell’s vision of it in 2016, but now it seems there might be legitimate hope.  I could never have imagined a presidency that would make me think Nixon, Reagan, and Bush weren’t so bad after all.  (And they weren’t good.)  This reconstruction of the Republican Party has been courtesy of the religious right, which is really neither.

Today, however, I’m enjoying my favorite color and thinking that hopefully we’ll have some peaceful years to work on true equity and the ideals on which this nation was founded.  I’m hoping it will signal to the other fascists of the world that gaming elections only works if people with consciences are complacent.  I’ve been told that many Trump supporters think Democrats incite violence.  The Dems I know are tree-hugging, owl-saving, vegan types.  We value all people, even Republicans, and ask only that all people be accepted.  We don’t tote weapons to state houses or threaten those who are counting ballots.  Yes, we may fear election outcomes—we’re just humans—but we believe in the process.  The many protests in which I’ve marched over the past four years have all been peaceful.  And I breathe, as I tear up again at the sight of blue, dona nobis pacem.

State of the Nation

It has been a long week.  With an incumbent who refuses to tell the truth, we’ve faced three days of knuckle-biting so far and each day stirs up the butterflies of election day.  How we could’ve become a nation that is so easily duped into following a man who’s told a record number of bald-faced lies in the West Wing (and anywhere he appears, in fact) is an inscrutable mystery.  I guess many people don’t read.  Or think critically.  This should’ve been barely a contest at all.  The Associated Press national map is seared into my eyeballs like a computer monitor left on the same page too long without a screen saver.  Going back every few minutes to check for a touch more blue.  A sign of hope.  Meanwhile, 45 is doing his best to prevent votes already cast from being counted.

We’re a nation under extreme stress.  Whoever wins will need to bring deeply divided people back together, but here’s the rub.  We know from four years of terrible first-hand experience that Trump can’t do it.  Won’t even try.  He’s already compared himself to the greatest leaders we’ve ever had.  He has no reason, and no capacity to change.  Joe Biden is about as mild a Democrat as they come.  In saner times he’d likely have been considered a closet Republican.  Still, 45’s supporters rail as if he’s some socialist seeking to overturn the American system.  Excuse me, but look at the past four years—what precisely do you think was overturned during them?  The coronavirus rages, hitting record numbers.  The response from the White House?  Absolutely nothing.

Even with this there’s uncertainty in the air.  I wonder what America’s collective blood pressure is right now?  I know my systolic doesn’t feel too good.  Any legitimate leader would never fear an honest election.  One who tries to tamper with the results has already shown his true character.  And priorities.  And so we wait.  Yesterday the lines from V kept going through my head—“Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”  I finished the poem somewhat differently but the word “treason” remained.  I could use a little fantasy just about now.  As I write this the counters are all asleep.  Biden leads in the popular vote by almost four million, a greater lead than Hillary had just four years ago.  And it is now November 6, but just barely.  At least it’s Friday.  We need to appreciate the small things as they come.

Looking to the Stars

American Indian culture fascinates me.  As my usual readers know, so does the unusual.  A few years back I read Ardy Sixkiller Clarke’s Encounters with Star People.  Clarke is an American Indian who holds a Ph.D. and had several years of university teaching and administration to her credit.  She has degrees in psychology and education.  In other words, she’s credible.  Being American Indian she’s also aware of the cultural belief in star people.  Those of European descent, often expressing their self-supposed superiority, deny such things exist.  Interestingly the mainstream media seems to have taken an interest in the subject of UFOs lately, and that is also the phenomenon that Clarke investigates in her books.  Her follow-up More Encounters with Star People: Urban American Indians Tell Their Stories is another compelling glimpse into a different way of looking at the world.

The book consists of contextualized interviews with people of American Indian ancestry, and, as Clarke points out, with nothing to gain by telling their stories.  They don’t want their names or locations to be revealed.  They don’t want money.  Many of them don’t even want to be mentioned in a book.  These stories will take you into very strange places.  Places without the filters most of Anglo culture puts before anything that might hint at the paranormal.  I’m intrigued by the nearly universal (outside a narrow European outlook) belief that the world is not as it seems.  Because European-based cultures developed the most sophisticated weaponry and an economic system that takes no prisoners, its view, by default is considered the accurate one.  Time may tell on that.

I read quite frequently about indigenous cultures.  Often widely separated and not in any direct contact, such groups often drew very similar conclusions about the world.  These views are actually shared by those of European stock, but only when carefully labeled as fiction: fantasy, science fiction, speculative stories of any sort.  All of these are widely consumed.  They are also safely considered “not real.”  I’ve been rewatching The X-Files over the past several months.  Its success and its continuing fan base show that as long as we can agree that we’re watching something not true, we enjoy monsters and aliens.  And besides, Halloween wasn’t that long ago.  Still, I wonder if we’re missing out on things we might learn if we’d be willing to consider what the original inhabitants of this continent have believed.  It would take us to some strange places, but we might just emerge wiser.

Please Vote

If you haven’t done so already, please vote.  This day has never felt so portentous before.  I’ve been voting since the 1980s and we’ve had some real unsavory choices in some past years.  Never had we had a monstrous incumbent set on destroying the very nation that made him what he is.  Those who don’t, or won’t read the facts haven’t learned what’s obvious even to lifelong Republicans I know—Trump cares only for himself.  His family confirms it.  His policies, such as they are, show it.  He provides lip service to anti-abortion while using stem cells from fetuses to cure his own case of Covid-19 that he caught only by ignoring the science that tells us masks and distancing are necessary.  Even as our infection rates pass what they’ve ever been before, he fiddles while America burns.

Some of us have noticed a profound quiet for the past week or so.  It’s like the country’s running a low-grade fever.  Republicans have been attempting to prevent people from voting, wanting a country more like them, mean and unforgiving, that they can call “Christian.”  To me this feels like 9-11 did, only we have known the plot all along and have been too stunned to do anything about it.  Democracies are founded on the principle of the choice of the electorate.  The only way that we can make that choice known is to vote.  It’s the only way left to be a patriot.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was faced with a similar situation in his native Germany.  An evangelical Christian, he didn’t acquiesce to Hitler, glorying in the rush of power.  He wrote that when a madman is driving the wheel must be wrenched from his hands.  Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis he tried to displace, but his spiritual eyesight was clear.  Faith can blind believers to the truth.  We’ve seen this happen time and time and time again.  Instead of condemning we need to help them since they cannot help themselves.  This is the truest form of what Jesus stood for.  Read the gospels if you doubt.  This year the decision isn’t for Democrat or Republican, it’s for clear-eyed assessment or self-adoring narcissism.  If a mirror’s held too close, we can’t see what’s truly reflected.  We must vote today to show what we want America to be.  The eyes of both the past and the future are upon us.  How will we want them to be remembered?

Moral Imperative

It was a walk up a long, steep hill, but it was worth it.  Last Saturday my wife and I voted.  It had the feeling of accomplishment.  The long, steep hill was also a symbol.  Wearing masks, sucking breath in through fabric in the single nation hardest hit—this great rudderless ship—we went to say “enough.”  The clearest indication of evil in the present administration (and here we’re starved for choices) is the open attempt to sabotage voting.  Some GOPers are placing fake ballot boxes in public locations while the pretender-in-chief has encouraged his followers to vote twice and has tried to prevent his “fellow Americans” from having their legitimate say.  Sometimes you have to climb a high hill, but the view from the top may just be worth all that effort.

We are a suffering nation.  Not only have we become divided, that division has been stirred, and prodded, and poked by a man who knows the only way to win is to divide and conquer.  Untie what used to be the United States for personal aggrandizement.  Voting is more than a right, it’s an absolute duty.  All who do it are patriots.  In this we can be united.  Perhaps a bit winded, stop to take a look at the trees on the hills showing their true colors.  We woke up stuck in a nightmare four years ago.  We’ve lost four years of our lives.  We’ve climbed so many hills and sunk into dark, deep valleys.  Does that flag look a little tattered to you?

Back in high school we all wondered how autocrats like Hitler and Mussolini came to power.  We’ve watched it happen in a nation that was the avowed enemy of fascism within living memory.  And for what?  The right to wear red baseball caps that claim our nation wasn’t great to begin with?  Great is not the same as perfect, to be sure.  We were producing the technology (that is by definition “progressive”) that the world craved.  We were ensuring the rights of all people.  We were cleaning the environment.  What within all of this isn’t great?  How has it become better in these four misspent years of worry and weariness, bringing us to the brink of nuclear war without a thought of the incredible effort it took to build all of this.  Or the effort it took to walk up this long, steep hill.

Ode to Bookstores

The pandemic has changed everything.  You knew that, of course.  Like many people in fields of regular job uncertainty, we’ve curtailed spending as much as we can.  Never very securely established after Nashotah House, we’ve managed to get by by not thinking too far ahead.  I can’t imagine retirement (if there’s still a job left to report to).  Even more, I can’t imagine a life without books.  The only way I get through each day is by trying not to think about it.  Still, I miss bookstores.  Pre-pandemic, when jobs at least felt somewhat secure, we’d often nip into one of the many local independents of a weekend.  Missing browsing shelves sorely, we stopped into Book and Puppet over in Easton, when on a trip to buy produce at the outdoor farmer’s market.

It felt strange, the thought of going into a store that wasn’t dedicated to groceries or hardware.  Masked, of course, but would there be lots of people there, crowding the air with germs?  No.  There was maybe one other customer in the place.  I have to admit that I was a bit disoriented, trying to read over spines on a shelf, not wanting to touch anything.  I’ve tried hard to curb any spending during these highly uncertain times, but could I imagine a world with no bookstores?  Would I even want to?  Books, you see, give me hope.  My vision of heaven is October and a never-ending stack of books (and, of course, friends).  Books allow for escape and exploration.  Life will continue after the pandemic in books.

The fear has gripped many of us, I suspect.  I’m old enough to retire, but not well-off enough to do so.  Our house requires a two-person income at our level (highly educated, under-employed), and the pandemic rolls on.  I think of the Black Death—I’ve read about that too—and how history changed because of it.  In this pandemic we’re dying (all but the wealthiest) piece by piece.  The most vulnerable first, of course, but the middle class may well be in the sights.  The owner of the bookstore said he wasn’t sure how long he could hold out.  Just last year at this time I was participating in the Easton Book Festival that he’d organized.  I had a book-signing at the nearby Moravian Bookshop.  I can’t remember a time I felt so hopeful, knowing I had another book coming out, and if we survive long enough, another after that.  I really shouldn’t, but I’m in a bookstore.  I’ll buy one in hope that the future may just offer a place to keep it.

The Good of Others

On a recent trip to visit family in upstate New York, the Sunday we had to leave (for work Monday is an implacable law), we decided to have lunch in a local park.  The weather was fine and there was plenty of social distancing, given the size of the grounds.  After a nice picnic and stroll, we realized it was getting late to start out in order to get home by my oddly early retiring time.  We headed back to our hosts’ car only to find it wouldn’t start.  They had a new battery and so we popped the hood and hoped to find something obviously wrong as we waited for the long response time for AAA in a rural area on a weekend.  We were a little concerned because we still had a long drive and no real way to get back to our own car, parked at our hosts’ residence.  A stranger came up and asked if we were having trouble.  Listening to the symptoms he said, “Do you mind?”  Putting his head under the hood, he said, “I’m a mechanic.”  He had our host try again and the car started right up.  He refused to take payment and wouldn’t even give his name.

Despite the fear the Republican Party tries so hard to spread, it has been my experience that good Samaritans abound.  When I’ve had car trouble far from home, I’ve never waited long beside the road before a stranger has stopped and asked if they could help.  Technology may make us feel more self-sufficient (we have smartphones and can call for our own help), but it doesn’t always work that way.  My wife had accidentally left her phone at our hosts’ place, and I’d forgotten to charge mine so the battery was depleted.  Uber would require an active, charged phone and our hosts were using theirs to communicate with AAA.  If the stranger hadn’t stopped by we would’ve been stuck, likely for hours.

I oftenconsider how Calvinistic GOP thinking can be—assuming the “total depravity” of everyone and declaring that we must be kept in check by laws that maintain outdated concepts of both humanity and justice.  To be sure, there are dangerous individuals out there.  Would you want Trump to stop by if you were having car trouble?  What selfless behavior could you expect from that quarter?  Sucker!  In general, however, people are good.  They are motivated by what they think is right.  We’re in a pandemic.  The mechanic didn’t know us (we outnumbered him), he had no obligation to help.  Good Samaritans exist, and they are frequently found outside the yellowed leaves of Scripture.

Balthasar van Cortbemde – The Good Samaritan, via Wikimedia Commons

No Way Out

Racism is evil.  The grading of the shading of humans degrades us all.  Robin DiAngelo knows much about the subject and as we watch Trump rally the openly racist, she gives us all pause for thought.  Our entire culture is one of white supremacy.  Progressives, determined to combat it, are also part of it.  White Fragility is not an easy book to read.  It allows no escape for anyone “white” to use.  We must confront our racist culture and admit that we benefit from it.  When we try to explain that we’re misunderstood, she anticipates.  She has heard it all before.  The only thing we can do is confess, interrupt, and try to break down the system that continues to support the systemic evil we’ve embraced.

One thought occurred to me as I was reading.  No doubt DiAngelo would suggest I’m deflecting, and it may be that I am, but those of us who struggle with a perpetually low self-image, even if “white,” may not participate in feeling superior to anyone.  There are individuals whose natural assumption is the superiority of others.  I’ve experienced it time and again in my professional and personal life.  I assume the other is more adept and worthy than me.  In such circumstances a bit more carrot and less stick might’ve been helpful.  I know many both at work and more voluntary activities, for whom a word of encouragement is rare.  For those of us who assume the superiority of others, such encouragement goes far.

Even as I was thinking this I saw a post on Nextdoor.com.  The app, intended to help you find contractors or dentists or whatever, receives many posts on all kinds of topics from identifying animal droppings to alerts regarding crime.  The post to which I refer was from a security camera showing a “prowler.”  The young man seemed more to be walking than prowling to me.  His skin tone and the time of night led to a string of assumptions built on assumptions.  Since I’m often awake just an hour after the alleged “prowling” took place, I knew that were I caught on a security camera I’d merely be considered an insomniac.  Add some melanin and some racism and suddenly a walker is a prowler.  The words I was reading in White Fragility hit me with incredible force.  We have a massive amount of work to do.  “White” people have to own their history.  Own it and overcome it.