Thursday, July 30, 2020

Being Groomed for Despotism

Among the many things I was taught in seminary, one was particularly useful:

How to identify the techniques that pedophiles and sexual predators use to groom their victims.   Because trust is necessary for healthy community, and there are those who use the trust they've been given to prey on others.  There were a range of things we were told to watch for in our congregations, and misconceptions we'd need to keep at bay if we were to maintain the integrity of our flocks.  

Pedophiles are often charming, outgoing people with natural charisma.  You enjoy them.  You like talking with them.  They don't always manifest as "creepy."  They're just endearing characters.

They seem have an affinity for kids.  They spend time around them.  Show interest, again, in a genuinely charming way.  They seem to have a childlike spirit.  They ingratiate themselves with parents.  All, perfectly normal.  They're part of "us."

Then other things are added in, as trust is gained.  Picture taking.  Offers to help with child care.  

And touch.  First a little.  Then more.  Hands on shoulders.  On sides.  On thighs.  Physical closeness, sometimes in public, as a way of saying, hey, this is all fine.  All perfectly normal, but starting to stretch the sense of what is and is not acceptable.

So that when the boundary is finally crossed, and sexual violation occurs, it feels like less of a violation.  Feels natural.  Expected.  

I'm attuned to that, was taught to watch for that, so that...when I saw all of that happening at my first congregation...I knew not to dismiss it.  I knew I needed to say something.  There were multiple confrontations.  Revelations of past issues.  Of lies and deceptions.  I am not a man who lets his anger out, but I did then.  Ultimately, a long standing member of that little church was told that if he could not change his behavior, he would not be welcome.  He chose to leave.  It was hard as all hell, but calling it out was my duty as a pastor.

I look at the life of our fragile young republic, and I wonder if we are in the same hard place.  

Over the last six years, I've watched as boundaries have been stretched and broken by our current president.  It's fine if candidate Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns to prove he's not financially compromised, it's not illegal.  He's just showing he's strong.  It's fine if he has a long checkered history of cheating and sexual misconduct, because nobody's perfect.  It's fine if he winks at violence, because he's just kidding around.  It's fine if foreign despots hack his political opponents and fill social media with deceptions that support him, because we all know that's how it's always worked. Politics are just corrupt anyway.

It's all about normalizing, about making things seem like they're fine.

Millions of Americans are OK with Trump now lying every day, about things both serious and banal.  Millions are fine with 150,000 dead from a pandemic that Trump chose to ignore, diminish, and politicize. With Trump overtly funneling millions of tax dollars into his hotel businesses.  With Trump calling into question the basic processes of functioning government.  With Trump refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, and state subpoenas, and now openly defying rulings of the Supreme Court.

And, of course, Trump challenging as "fake" and "unfair" anything that doesn't go his way, up to and including the results of elections.  Even elections he won, he's willing to dispute if they didn't make him look good.  

Donald J. Trump is, right now, suggesting that he has the right to ignore an election result that does not go his way.  He is, right now, trying to normalize the idea that if he loses, it will be illegitimate.  He's floated the trial balloon, today, that maybe elections should be postponed. 

A substantial percentage of America has been groomed by Donald J. Trump for despotism, in precisely the way a sexual predator grooms his victims for abuse.  Faced with near certain defeat, he wants those he has seduced into following him to believe they should abandon the most fundamental boundary that separates our republic from dictatorships.

Because the integrity of this republic means nothing to him.  It has never meant anything to him.

That is how predators are.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Of Whiteness and Integrated Identity

I've never really thought of myself as white.

Not that my culture doesn't consider me white, with all of the rights and privileges thereunto. 

But as a category of self-understanding, white never served any integrative purpose.  Meaning, to unpack that rather awkward psychobabbly way of putting it, I've never seen it as a defining part of my identity.  There are other aspects of my identity that are defining.

I am male, and good with that.  I am straight, and comfortable with what that entails. 

I have a mongrel heritage, drawn from a diverse array of related but distinct cultures.

I am American, and personally vested in the well being of my constitutional republic.  I vote.  I stay informed.  I keep alert for threats to freedom, both to myself and to others.

I am a husband, and a father, and a son, and see in each of these certain defining purposes for my life.

Overarching all of these, I am a Christian.  In the teachings of Jesus and the witness of millennia of the Beloved Community, I find the ethos that gives cohesion to my identity. 

These ways of organizing and prioritizing my responses to life are both my foundation and my purpose.  In so far as I act to honor their best intent, my actions reflect a particular chosen identity. 

I cannot, with any honesty, say that whiteness does the same.  Again, I was taught to understand my heritage as complex and multifaceted, drawing from multiple regions, cultures and ethnic lineages.  That understanding shaped my liberality towards other cultures, peoples, and forms of human self expression.  If I was made up of various different things, then encountering difference was no threat.

Whiteness wasn't ever part of that.  In fact, whiteness, as a way of understanding oneself, seems to stand in distinct tension with my more complex ground of self.   This awareness has nothing to do with our current spasm of race-anxiety.  I have always chafed at whiteness.  Back in high school when I was filling out the obligatory forms, marking myself as "white" felt like an imposition.  An erasure of reality.  

What I struggle with mightily in this moment of racial anxiety is this:  I'm not sure whiteness can constructively shape identity.  I hear earnest folks addressing "white people" as a unit, or saying "as a white person I..." or suggesting that "white people" need to do this or that.  I don't think "white" can deal constructively with racism, because "white" was at the heart of the problem of modern era racism. 

I just can't see any way that claiming white identity gets us beyond our mess.

I look to the idea of being white, and I do see how it influences culture and how it shapes self understanding.  I see in it nothing that I want to orient myself towards.  It feels unhealthy, destructive, and inherently false.

As a *resisted* identity, sure.  That I get.  Writers like Ibram X. Kendi have suggested being "white" may inhabit the same sort of identity category as saying you're an alcoholic or an addict.  Meaning, yeah, it does form identity, but only in negative ways.  That, in fact, there may be something inherently blighted about it.

If that's the case, it's not a constructive identity, either to self or to community.  It is, instead, a disintegrative form of self understanding, one that drives us further away from both societal justice and spiritual grace.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Sound of Rain

As she's gotten older, our pup Ellie has gotten more and more twitchy.  She was always a bit of a cat-like dog, prone to staring out the window looking wan and somehow forgetting to come when called.  She's the kind of dog who you have to search the house for when you get home.

She's sweet with kids, and great with guests, and tends to show up when you're feeling upset with a strangely intent look on her face.  "You doing ok," she emotes.  Of course, once she's determined that you're fine, she wanders off again, but still.

The last few years, though, she's started having real trouble with unsettling noises.  Fireworks, sure, most dogs have problems with that.  Thunder?  That's pretty common.  But she's now consistently unsettled by the sound of our icemaker dropping a load of ice into the freezer bin.  She's most disturbed, it seems, by the sound of rain.  Not thunder.  Just plain ol' rain, falling on our roof.  It makes a noise.  Noise means danger.  

She gets panicky, wandering around in circles, staring at walls, panting and so overwhelmed by the rain that she's utterly unresponsive.  In a particularly heavy downpour, she'll get as low in the house as she can, and then she'll start trying to dig her way further down, through carpet and the padded flooring in our workout room. 

Thundershirts and doggo CBD do nothing.  There's a doggy anxiety med that sometimes works, but not always.  Mostly, she just can't deal.  She just has no idea what's going on, and her pupper brain can't process the input.

It'd be nice to say that humans are different, but we're often not.  If we have no frame of reference from which to understand and cope with uncertainty, we come apart.  Similarly, if our frame of reference isn't sufficient to take into account a new reality, we'll struggle to respond in any constructive way.

We become paralyzed by our fears, staring without comprehension at the world around us.  We become reactive in ways that are destructive to self, relationships, and community.

As we struggle with the unfamiliar din of our times, hearing the rattling of discord and the uncertain future of our failed pandemic response, it's entirely understandable that we might have a similar anxiety reaction.  Lord, is it ever.  But as hard as it might be metaphorically raining out, having a solid ethical and spiritual foundation helps us find our way, and to respond in ways that are constructive and hopeful, wise and gracious.

Faith, which orients us to that which is both a present comfort and an endless unveiling, lets us engage with the unexpected and the traumatic, and to overcome and not be ruled by our fears.  

Our faith is living and adaptive, as our foundation in Christ and the living witness of the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the best possible paths forward.  

That's the foundation of our hope as we press forward into this stormy time.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The One I'm Talking About

He goes for what he wants, and he is a creature of very definite appetites.  

He doesn't care at all for conventional wisdom, and doesn't give a damn about what is "correct."  He uses chaos to control, makes sure people don't know exactly what he's doing, shrouds his actions in layer after layer of deception and misdirection.  He's lawyered up, rich beyond the dreams of avarice, surrounded by people who help him do whatever he likes and have whatever he likes.  Or whoever he likes.

What he wants from others is to own them.  Their submission to him gives him pleasure.  He thinks of people as objects you possess, as something you can control through force of will, deception, or fear.  

He oozes that sense of power that comes from wealth, and that's a seductive draw for many, what loops them in to his circle of influence.  There's that sense that, if you just let him have what he wants, he'll do things for you.  Get you what you want in exchange.

That's his appeal.  His draw.  His power.

You know, him.  The one I'm talking about.