“I hate you. You disgust me. How could you do this to me?”
It was fall of my sophomore year in college. I had just dropped the breakup bomb, and the guy was not taking it well. But as furious as he was, I was relieved that at least the worst part was over and we could start to move on.
Except this guy’s version of moving on left something to be desired. At first, it was notes in my campus mail box and phone calls asking me to reconsider. When it was clear that I was really moving on, the tone shifted to jilted fury.
If I walked somewhere on campus with a male friend, my ex-boyfriend would let me know he’d seen me with another guy. I’d receive a message containing vile insinuations about what my friend and I must have been doing together.
When I came out of class, he’d often be waiting outside the door to walk back to the dorm with me. I begged him to leave me alone, but he persisted.
I looked into whether his behavior could be considered stalking. I consulted a resident associate as well as my uncle, a law enforcement officer in another city. Both were sympathetic, but felt there was little I could do. My ex seemed to know exactly how to make my life hell while staying on the legal side of the line. He never explicitly threatened me or laid a hand on me. But I have never been so afraid of a man’s anger.
Senate Bill 11 is now law in Texas, the state where I grew up and attended college. The law requires the state’s public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings. Private universities are allowed to opt out of the requirement.
The Chancellor of the University of Texas, William McRaven, opposed this law when it was being debated. In a letter to the Texas legislature, he cited concerns from campus mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and professors, then stated flatly, “I feel the presence of concealed weapons will make a campus a less safe environment.” The law grants universities some rights to define specific areas where weapons may be prohibited, but I wish the legislature had taken Chancellor McRaven’s concerns more seriously.
READ THE REST at Huffington Post. And leave a comment. Agreeing or disagreeing!
Last night I posted this to Facebook with the caption
It’s a beautiful time to be alive.
I posted it at 8:30 p.m.
Of course I didn’t know that at that moment, a young white man was sitting in an iconic black church, words of love and liberation washing over him, calculating just the right time to open fire on people whose only crime was being black in America.
It was a lynching.
As of this writing, my Facebook post had 162 likes. Many of them came in after the events in Charleston. I’m grateful for every one of those likes, because I have a hard time believing it’s a beautiful time to be alive. I’m so tired of the violence that I can scarcely even muster the energy to be outraged.
And if I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, I can only imagine what African-American friends and colleagues are feeling. A friend shared that her church is having a meeting to see about hiring a security guard, which they would share with the church across the street. I don’t need to tell you the racial makeup of those congregations.
162 people clicked a button in agreement that it’s a beautiful time to be alive., which is such a small thing, but I needed every one of those affirmation.
Two weekends ago we were in Pennsylvania for Robert’s grandmother’s 90th birthday party. It was a wonderful weekend of activities that included a buffet lunch on Sunday after church in the fellowship hall.
During the lunch we sat with my mother-in-law’s cousin, who was a police officer for many years before he retired. He now investigates crime scenes, if I remember correctly.
We were talking about their recent vacation to France when we heard someone call out “Fire! Fire!” The sterno underneath the steam tables had ignited some paper wrappings nearby.
Many people jumped up to help. But nobody moved faster than cousin Will.
After the fire was out and people were settled back into their lunches, we all joked about his superb reflexes and the impulse to be the first into the fray, even during a luncheon for a 90-year-old. I’m sure it’s the training.
Thought about him again today when I saw this:
Hug a first responder today. If you don’t have one handy, anyone else will do.
And as a second responder, I agree with Patton Oswalt. For me it’s a theological affirmation:
I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”
But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.
But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.
But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”
Ms. Tippett: I’m just following on some of the things we’ve been talking about also in terms of popular culture. I also do see some very gritty ways right now specific to our time I think. You know, television like The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad or The Hunger Games, you’ve talked about. There’s also this genre where there’s a really intense existential fear. And one of the themes in a lot of these is everything that we think has civilized us is taken away. Right. And that we are brutalized.
Ms. Tatar: Right, right, yeah.
Ms. Tippett: And, but I’ve read you feeling concerned also about some of that going to new extremes that might not be good for us.
Ms. Tatar: You know, it’s hard, I don’t like to be the one preaching a sermon. Because I told you about my childhood experience. So I’m always reluctant to sort of be judgmental. But I must admit that Breaking Bad was my breaking point. That is, that there’s some — I remember just seeing — I won’t even describe it. But I thought, OK, that’s just too much for me.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, I feel that way too.
Ms. Tatar: I have to turn that off, yeah. And Hunger Games I was startled by, because to me, the idea of a book about children killing children was just going to an extreme. It was violating a cultural taboo in a way that was difficult for me. But then there, I read the book and I watched the movie and I thought they were sensational and really fascinating. You know, and I didn’t — even though it had crossed a line, Suzanne Collins somehow seemed to have done it in a way that made sense for me. That you know, there seemed to be a real point to that. And you know, I’m not the one who is looking for a lesson. But you know, we do have a new culture.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Ms. Tatar: You know, where there’s a lot more is permitted. We don’t protect our children as much as we once did. And I guess, you know, I do worry that children today they can see anything.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, and they know they’re not protected. Right. That’s…
Ms. Tatar: Right, right, right. And…
Ms. Tippett: I mean, here’s something you wrote: “This savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was. And the shadows are rarely banished by comic relief. Instead of stories about children who struggle to grow up, we have stories about children to struggle to survive.” But I think that’s a reality people, even children, are aware of.
Ms. Tatar: It is. And I have to say that the minute you go into the protectionist mode and you say, you know, we need to draw a line and it shouldn’t be anything goes, you just get a lot blowback from people who say, oh you know, you don’t give children enough credit. They’re able to navigate this. And also we live in a violent world and therefore children should be, should know that, and all of that. But some of that — I think we haven’t been very thoughtful about figuring out, you know, where is that line? Where do we draw it? What responsibilities do we have as adults? But as I say, I always feel uncomfortable and maybe that’s why we’re not talking about it, because it makes us uncomfortable to be the censors or the editors or the ones who are saying, oh no, oh no, that’s too much.
Ms. Tippett: You know, I remember when my son whose now 14 — I think he was probably 12 or 13 when he was reading and really just inhaling it. And I asked him what it was about? I mean I heard other people tell me what it was about. And the first word that came out of his mouth is, it’s about poverty. You know, that’s not the word other people — I mean it wasn’t about children struggling.
Ms. Tatar: Oh, that’s fascinating.
Ms. Tippett: I mean it was about children struggling, but if this book has him thinking about poverty, well OK.
Ms. Tatar: Oh yeah, because Katniss is — remember when the book starts out she’s skin and bones.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah.
Ms. Tatar: And she’s, you know, she’s living in Panem, the country of bread, where there is no food. And she, you know, she becomes this extraordinary trickster figure, who has to survive in a time of famine and use her wits.
The Holy Week angle, not that there needs to be one, is that Jesus’ story has elements of the trickster as well. But more broadly, I resonate with this exchange, even as I notice that Tippett and Tatar are conflating two things. One, the intensity of those stories as they relate to children. And two, the appropriateness of those stories for children.
And we shouldn’t confuse those two issues. There are spheres for adults and spheres for children. I’ve just noticed that extremely dark stuff (violent or not) is not cathartic or entertaining in the way it once might have been before I started relating to children every day, for many hours a day. The fiction leaks into the non-fiction, and the world looks darker than it really is.
But I’m very interested in other perspectives on this.
Several years ago, Robert and I went to see The Dark Knight in the theater. We both liked the film, but there was a moment near the end that haunted us for quite a long time: Harvey Dent taking Commissioner Gordon’s young son hostage, threatening to execute him based on the flip of a coin.
“Man, children in peril,” Robert said as we drove home to relieve the babysitter. “I can’t look at that stuff like I used to.”
Children in peril. I’ve used that phrase to explain why I’m not interested in watching Breaking Bad, despite its reported brilliance. I was open to it initially—the show appears to address issues of morality in a very interesting way, so maybe I could go with it. Then I heard a spoiler about an episode last August and said, “Nope, that’s it.”
Friends say in response, “Well, it’s not like children are singled out. Pretty much everyone is in peril on that show.”
Just so you know, that doesn’t help your case.
Fast forward from Harvey Dent to Aurora. I still haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises. I would have, before. I like good action movies. They can be fun, even cathartic. The Dark Knight series is rich. And the word “rises” is right there in the title, beckoning this Christian minister who likes to sleuth around for Jesus hiding in unlikely places.
But I can’t see it now. I won’t. In my mind, knowing that the gunfire in the film provided auditory camouflage for actual terror and death puts it two degrees of separation away from a snuff film.
(This isn’t about the culture wars, by the way. I don’t happen to agree that violent video games and movies turn people violent. After all, other countries consume the same media that we do and don’t have nearly the talent for killing each other that Americans do. I will leave it to you, Gentle Reader, to ponder just what it is that allows Americans shoot each other with such alacrity.)
Something broke in a lot of people that day in December, but it broke us all in different places. One of the things it broke in me is an ability to see extreme violence on the screen and put it in a different cognitive location than where I put the knowledge of what eleven bullets do to a first grader. I’ve waited to see whether that fracture would repair itself with time. But no, the limp remains.
Other people are having similar discussions. Linda Holmes writes on pop culture for NPR and recently explored this topic in a post, “The Spatter Pattern: Does All the Good Television Have to Be So Bloody?”
It’s like we have an army of dazzlingly fluent poets who all write in one language. That doesn’t, of course, make all the poetry the same, any more than all English-language poetry is the same. These shows are varied in many ways: The Wire is not the same show as The Walking Dead just because people get shot and otherwise brutalized, and American Horror Story and Boardwalk Empire are hardly identical twins. But they share elements, one of which is that the stakes involve — not solely but largely — avoiding being violently killed. And for that reason, they ask the viewer to want to watch people being violently killed now and then, and sometimes now and then and then and then, because otherwise the threats are false.
This blog post is not a line in the sand, by the way. It’s not an announcement: I don’t consume violence for entertainment anymore. It’s also not a judgment on others who make different choices. Rather it’s an opportunity for self-examination, to explore how the choices I make define who I am. Where are the boundaries in the stands we take? What’s in and what’s out?
Is itgratuitous violence that’s the issue? Many people I respect say that Django Unchained was the best movie of the year, but I can’t do Tarantino. Except I don’t want to see realistic violence either. Robert and I were trying to make a plan for date night last weekend, and he didn’t have “Zero Dark Th—” out of his mouth before I said “No.”
But wait. Wasn’t LOST one of my favorite TV shows of all time? And wasn’t it pretty violent? Yes. I’m pondering what makes that show OK, or whether I’m just hypocritical on the point.
Second, didn’t I just re-read The Hunger Games? And doesn’t that book consist of children in peril (and children causing peril)? But the book is a critique of that violence. In fact, the heroic acts in the book are those that demonstrate forbearance and restraint. (The second and third books chronicle the insurrection against the Capitol and tell a more traditional war story, which is partly why I don’t like them as much.)
I’m thinking about these things this week, this Holy Week, as Christians prepare to come together on Thursday and Friday to tell an incredibly violent story, a story that we strain to find redemption in. And maybe that’s another word I’m looking for: redemptive. Maybe it’s the idea of redemptive violence that I can’t be a witness to: Revenge. Ends justifying means. Might making right.
It’s not the violence against Jesus that’s redemptive. In fact, there’s something thuggish about a God who would send His [sic] son to die on a cross to provide payment for our sins:
As I said from the pulpit two weeks ago, I’ve gotta think that an infinitely creative God could’ve come up with myriad ways of bringing reconciliation and shalom. No, it was the powers and principalities, not God, that sentenced Jesus to death. And it’s Jesus’ incomprehensible posture of forgiveness (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do) that gives the story its power.
Where do you land in these things?
Followers of Jesus, how are you telling the story? And how are you hearing it?