So, a Republican staffer who is supposedly media-savvy attacked the President’s daughters for being slutty in the same week of Ferguson. And Ferguson. And 12-year old Tamir Rice shot to death by a cop for the horrible sin of not putting his hands up when ordered to (the cop never even got out of his car). And Thanksgiving. And a thousand other good and extraordinarily bad things. And Ferguson. And Ferguson.
Let’s start with the President’s daughters. One of the things I have liked about the Obama White House is how much it has not put two teenaged girls on display, and how normal it has let them be. So they were at what is a pretty stupid ceremony where their father, who had had to be in the same week (magnificently, I think) restrained about Ferguson, make lame jokes about pardoning a large and pampered turkey. Lovely. Because God forbid that the President’s children should be allowed to act their ages and roll their eyes at their father’s jokes during a bafflingly weird and goofy ceremony. And because I assume they’re probably unusually intelligent, let’s further forbid them from resenting their own participation in said goofy ceremony when the rest of the world is full of Adrian Peterson’s (hopefully) healing son and Michael Brown’s parents’ MLK-level decency in the face of obscenity and a thousand other things that would make watching the most powerful human in the world and the most grotesquely reviled and disrespected President in history ritually spare the life of a turkey. And let’s find some teenaged girls to pick on, because they don’t have enough body issues without having their very nicely dressed selves attacked by a Republican flunky. And heavens, no, the same flunky would never have reacted differently if another president’s daughters wore the exact same dresses and rolled their eyes at the same ceremony if they’d been white, because no, no, no the whole rape of the American government by Republicans for the past 6 years hasn’t been at all about race. Just like it wasn’t at all about race when some of the same folks had a hissy fit about FLOTUS being uppity enough to wear a Carolina Herrara gown to a state function.
I understand that whenever there is large-scale progress on any social front, there is, inevitably and tragically, backlash. Civil Rights progress that peaks in putting a black man in the White House= six years of the most hateful politics I can remember (and I was around to be yelled at for demonstrating against our involvement in Cambodia by a man whose son had died in Viet Nam). Real progress for women on any number of significant fronts, but most importantly (perhaps) on the matter of having autonomy over their bodies=wing-nut Evangelical conservatism that calls itself “pro-life,” but is actually only, at best, pro-fetus. On its good days. As awed as I am by the dazzingly rapid progress on LGBT rights (in 15 years I have gone from explaining to weeping-in-my-office students (in horrid pain) to whom I was doing my best to explain that Jesus would still love them if they came out and that their parents would likely come around eventually to having a (Chris Christie Republican) student come out to me in the middle of a supermarket aisle with the same amount of drama and anguish he’d have told me he preferred Nikes to Pumas. I am holding my breath with some real trepidation waiting for the backlash on this one, except that I know, no matter how ugly it is, it can no more put humans back into closets than the anti-woman backlash can put women back into silence and subservience and no number of Fergusons and Tamirs and Trayvons and really bad gerrymandering and vote-blocking legislation can change the fact that this nation has had a black president who has been–for all that I don’t agree with all of his policies (why the fuck do we still have that constitution-eating piece of crap, The Patriot Act in place???)–has been a model of restraint, class, and articulateness. It has happened. It will not unhappen. Dystopic sci-fi aside, and God willing and the creek don’t rise, none of this progress can be undone, it can only be an excuse for ugly behavior for so long.
That being said, the rapist, woman-loathing/fearing excesses of various fundamentalisms do scare the bejeezus out of me. And it’d be nice if my great-grandchildren had some air to breathe and some water they didn’t have to buy from Nestle Corp. I’m not naive about this stuff. I know that history runs two-steps-forward/one-super-ugly-step-scarily-back. But it does move. Just messily. And unevenly.
And, Lord, I am tired of loathing so many of my fellow Americans. And of having them loathe me. And of having a circuit preacher stand on the sidewalk of my campus and preach that professors are tools of Satan whose only purpose is to lead students’ souls into Satan’s ready clutches. And of having cousins who think I’m the Whore of Babylon for I-don’t-know-what-reason (it predates my marrying a Catholic, but that can’t have helped–and, oddly, I haven’t bothered to make any noise to that side of the family about our not having been Catholics for decades now because A) they’re not entitled to an opinion on the matter, B) they quit talking to me years and years ago, and C) they’d probably think being an Episcopalian is even worse.
And Ferguson. I’ve said enough about it on FB, and enough people have said enough very thoughtful and anguished things about it that I don’t feel inclined to offer much more on it except for a couple of things. The first is that I posted at some point that I felt like I should apologize, for a couple of days there, to every brown person I saw. A friend fussed gently at me about how women spend too much time apologizing, so I needed to let go of that. And I initially thought that I agreed with her. I still do in a general sense–we do apologize for our existences still, in a thousand ways. And if we’re fat, we apologize even more for the thousand and two ways in which our fatness adds to the worthlessness of our female beings. We have, inarguably, another generation or seven before we get that all worked through. But I wasn’t, I don’t think, speaking of that kind of apology. I was speaking of the kind of apology I have seen manifested in, for instance, the placement of the staggeringly heartrending Holocaust memorial on some of the most important and expensive real estate in Berlin–two blocks from the Brandenberg Gate and right in the middle of the banking center. The kind of apology that makes no excuses, understands that it cannot change history or make anything better, but that it can let enough light in to allow both sinners and victims grieve and move forward. It doesn’t ask for forgiveness, it simply takes responsibility for crimes. And maybe the long cultural history of women apologizing is a bit more complex than we’ve made it. Maybe our ability to apologize is as much a gift as a burden and a block to progress. Maybe we can sort out the best parts of it and keep them. Maybe we can teach them to our sons as well as to our daughters. The crucial thing, I guess, is to make sure you’re apologizing for something you have either and active or a heritage reason to apologize for. Me, I live in one of the last (the last by some standards) states to outlaw slavery. I figure that’s heritage enough, but doubt that apologizing to random African-Americans would do much to fix this particularly ugly backlash. Have to work on something a bit more productive, or manifest-able.
The second thing is one of those God-things, or a pretty weighty coincidence (depends on your P.O.V.), but we do a grab-box hymn at my church once a month–the organist picks someone’s favorite hymn out of the box for the post-communion hymn. This morning, it was “Lift Every Voice.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s the nearly official national anthem for African-Americans. So it was kind of goose-bumpsish. And the congregation–dominantly white, though pretty diverse in other ways, but still Episcopalians and known as God’s Frozen-Chosen for good reasons (there is no hymn we can’t render limp on a bad day)–the congregation sang it like I’ve never heard this crew sing in 25+ years at this church. It’s not much. But for this morning, it was something. It was one voice and a prayer.
As for the murder of Tamir Rice, I find myself oddly beggared for speech by it. I am afraid it got lost in the furor over the verdict in Ferguson, and it shouldn’t. A cop killing a 12-year old for not raising his hands without even bothering to get out of his car is so far beyond my comprehension–except that it was a black 12-year old male and therefore, I ache to say, apparently a disposable life. I know there are a lot of awfully good cops out there, but there does seem to be a culture in that community that says one group of lives is more disposable than others. I do not know how the mothers of black sons bear the grief and terror they must live with constantly. So, really, all I have to say is Tamir Rice, Tamir Rice, Tamir Rice. Let’s not lose his name.
And, finally, Thanksgiving. Ours was especially lovely–unusually full of friends and family and love and general good will. This is a hell of abrupt change of subject, and I apologize (yes, I know, but it’s merited here). We’re coming into one of the toughest seasons of the year for many, many, too many folks. And a dominant ingredient in the stew of stress and anguish and self-loathing that can be the Holiday Season is the issue of eating/abundance/fat/needing-to-dress-up-and-feel-good-for-parties, and the Big & Ugly exercise that is New Year’s resolutions. Unless your resolution is to treat yourself and your body with Great Kindness and appreciation, I’d say forget it. Don’t make any others that relate to your body (no, I don’t think “getting healthy” is a useful resolution because the nature of New Year’s resolutions is that they are nearly impossible too much of the time. So stick to stuff like “paying my bills on time” and “cleaning the cat box more often” –they’re do-able and you don’t have to loathe yourself if you muck them up. The kindness thing won’t happen, either, except gradually, over several years, so you can go into it with that understanding and built-in forgiveness for not getting it right right away, or even understanding specifically what it means. That, anyway, is my advice, insofar as I have any business offering advice. While I’m at it, I might as well reiterate my favorite theme. All human bodies are worthy of kindness. All of them are sacred and deserve safety and sufficiency. All of them are pieces of whatever you understand holiness to consist of. And all of this is true all of the time. Darren Wilson’s body is as sacred as Michael Brown’s, even though he may be scarred or dark. Timothy Loehmann”s body is as sacred as Tamir Rice’s, even if he is a coward or a hothead or a racist, or whatever he is that made him do a horrific thing. Kosta Karageorge’s body was sacred. The bodies of child brides in the Middle East, of Russian LGBT people, of Vladimir Putin, and the daughters of our President are all sacred. Fat bodies are sacred. My prayer for the season is that a few more people learn that, starting with the bodies of black men. And, as far as I know, the only way to live in that knowledge is to start by understanding that your own body is sacred–not in the your-body-is-a-temple-that-must-be-protected/prevented-from sin way, but in the sense of rejoicing in every breath it takes and the fact that it can take breaths, in the sense of rejoicing in every sense the body allows us to have, of recognizing the presence of whatever you guide your life by is there, in your body. As it is in everyone’s. I believe, in the bottom of my being, that St. Paul is wrong–the body is not a dangerous container for the sacredness that is spirit. There is only one being when we are here.
Meanwhile, I am grateful for you all who read. Thank you. Lift every voice.