There’s a certain hollow and rather pernicious powerless-ness that wells up within me as I’ve quietly taken in the scenes, voices and verdicts (or, rather, lack thereof) unfolding before us all over the last couple of weeks. So much so, that last night, I found myself listlessly watching CNN in my pajamas, and no, before you say, “I thought the Chili’s in O’hare International required shirts and shoes,” I wasn’t even trapped in an airport.
THESE ARE THE TIMES THAT TRY MEN’S SOULS
Or, perhaps more seasonally:
“Worse! How could things get any worse!? Take a look around you, Ellen, we’re at the THRESHOLD OF HELL!”
-Clark W. Griswold
Which, seems remarkably hyperbolic considering that neither Clark nor Thomas Paine had to contend with Facebook after Ferguson, Eric Garner, and the CIA torture report, which reads like a users manual for TV villains on some CBS sex-crimes serial. Leaving friends, old classmates, and that uncle you only see every 3rd Thanksgiving to scurry behind the pock-marked bunkers of their respective ideologies in order to lob slapped-together articles from Buzzfeed, Mother Jones, or whatever a “Western School of Journalism” is at one another.
Because, #blacklivesmatter, and #alllivesmater, and they were defending the freedoms of our country, and he was choking to death, and Rob Bell has a TV show where he “sickeningly” talks about human potential like Dr. Oz, and did you see that our nation seriously threatened to physically harm the mothers of suspected terrorists, and what are the odds the Taken franchise supplants Fast and Furious because Luda and Tyrese are seemingly always available for “one last job.”
Also, If you have enough time on your hands, you too can fit an entire month of the internet into one breathless paragraph.
Now, I realize how laughably naive it is to assume all of us could come to a peaceable consensus about police brutality, racism, the use of torture by fearful nation states, or even college football playoff scenarios, but my confusion lies in the ceaseless proliferation of debate considering so many of us live with our fingers perpetually shoved into our ears when it comes to alternative opinions on any number of subjects.
To be fair, I wasn’t really expecting anything different from a nation who’s legislative arm spends the lion’s share of it’s time suing our sitting president or complaining about how the other side is suing our sitting president, but honestly, I’m just not sure who we’re all writing and posting and tweeting and linking for these days.
Honestly, it’s not like I’m listening to you, or, perhaps more troubling for an unpaid internet writer desperate for your re-tweets, that you’re listening to me. Frankly, I don’t think many of us have been listening to one another for some time now, which, when I think about it, might be the root of our struggles in the first place.
Take, for instance, the popular refrain of conservatives (not to mention favored punching bag of progressives) around the holidays (and winters and springs and summers) each year, that being the ever-present “War on Christmas.” Now, do I personally happen to care that certain unnamed chain stores – who leverage our country’s economic and moral soul by producing the majority of their goods in overseas sweat shops – encourage their employees to refrain from a friendly “Merry Christmas!” at the conclusion of a Black Friday spent trampling our fellow shoppers for 50% off lawn equipment? No, I can’t say I stay awake at night worried the PC-Gestapo will suddenly burst into my bedroom and demand to confiscate my American-Christian-Patriot’s-Real-Tree-Family-Torture-Bible.
And just like that, despite a rather large contingent of similarities and commonalities linking Christians across the globe this season, we have instead decided to alienate one another (not to mention most everyone else) by finding yet another hill upon which to immolate ourselves.
However, even in the midst of yet another season marked by violence and brutal cynicism, I’m reminded of the opening riffs of the angel band greeting those sleepy shepherds outside Bethlehem:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Peace on Earth, huh?
These days I’d settle for peace on Facebook or Ferguson or Long Island or Cleveland.
But, in my clamoring for resolution, I’ve found that demanding silence from the grieving and the oppressed and the angry and the ignored for the sake of my peace as a straight, middle-class, white male with a masters degree isn’t, and quite frankly will never be, the peace continuing to radiate out from the womb of an unwed teen-mom giving birth in a backwater town of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago.
Whether or not I own it or acknowledge it or embrace it, my peace is the peace of another Son of God from the 1st century, Caesar Augustus, who brought stability to the world through violence, fear, wealth and consensus producing political might. His peace is the kind I haphazardly wield online as a majority person in a world quickly diversifying out of my control. And, it is his peace I reach for in my stammered explanations for riots I don’t understand and anger I find bracing and inchoate.
And it is exactly now, when I realize that perhaps Fox News was right all along (now THAT’S a sentence I didn’t see coming), perhaps there is a War on Christmas, but in my ignorance and self-righteous indignation, I didn’t realize I was on the wrong side.
Because the peace greeting me in the Christmas story takes root at the bottom, on the edges, and in the minority voices whispering conspiratorially to one another in the lean-to on the underside of imperial power. It’s a peace who’s presence sends a desperate shudder down the spines of the powerful, and reminds all those longing for redemption, reconciliation, or maybe just recognition that the thing holding all other things together has entered the world, raised his hands in the air, and joined the march for liberation.
Or, as my conservative friends like to say, sometimes peace has a cost, and occasionally, we even discover it disguised as dissonance, blocking the entrance to city hall, refusing to stop chanting, and sacrificing itself for the sake of the weak, poor, widowed, black and suffocating.
Which, if you think that’s rather confusing garb for peace to be clothed in, I’d say no more surprising than as a wailing infant born to impoverished Jews in occupied Palestine.
And all God’s people said: