Words Matter

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a lie. To someone who’s being bullied verbally, as long as the bullying never crosses that line, it can be a helpful lie. You tell yourself words can’t hurt you, and reinforce that you aren’t defined by the bully’s opinion of you.  You don’t let their poison into your heart, and because you believe that words can’t hurt you, they lose some of their power.  You believe it, and you make it true.

But words do matter.  And truth matters.  There seem to be no consequences for malicious lies that get people killed, at least not to the liars themselves.  Fred Clark talks about this extensively—this fantasy game where right-wing Christians falsely accuse people of horrific evils so they can view themselves as the heroes of the story, nobly standing up to the Satanic baby-killers.  Today, a man walked into a restaurant and fired shots, because of the latest Satanic baby-killers lie.  No one was hurt, and he was arrested, but this problem is bigger than any one person.

I cannot help but think that there should be some legal consequence for such blatantly false and dangerous accusations, something like the criminal equivalent to libel or slander. And yet, anything like that would be used as a weapon against people speaking out against the incoming administration, probably far more than it would be used to charge people who made false accusations of child rape or murder and got people killed.

So, the only thing I can suggest is that we have to be willing to call a lie a lie, and be willing to stand up for what’s true.  The media, in particular, needs to get away from “critics say” and pointing out that an allegation was made without documenting that there was no shred of evidence associated with that allegation.  They might have to shy away from “lie” because that implies intent, which is tricky to prove, but there’s nothing wrong with “falsely claims” or “unproven allegations.”

We cannot be a post-truth society.  The human cost is too high.

Yes, even if you had good reasons…

I’m still angry at the people who voted for Trump, maybe more than I should be. But, then, I read yet another conflict of interest, or see him tweet something stupid or hateful, and that anger feels pretty justified.

Some of my conservative friends are *really* tired of hearing about this anger. It’s not fair, they say, to lump people who voted for Trump for good reasons with those who deliberately voted to screw over minorities. To me, a lot of those “good reasons” seem pretty dubious, like wanting to criminalize some fictional epidemic of nine-month abortions, or believing that Clinton was more corrupt than Trump. But, let’s say a given Trump voter’s reasons were perfectly legitimate and compelling. They still knowingly elected someone who has incited violence, maliciously slandered minority groups, bragged about committing sexual assault, defrauded contractors, and promised to commit war crimes and discriminate against Muslims. And probably a dozen other horrible things I forgot about, because there are too many to even keep track of.

Regardless of what good they got, or hoped to get, they’ve already caused harm, to the tune of over 700 incidents of harassment or hate crimes reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I personally know three people who’ve been targeted. One got a Facebook nastygram about how he should die of AIDS, another had slurs yelled at him at his home, and a third had her home spray-painted wtih swastikas and slurs. There are children being treated for anxiety who never had symptoms before the election, because they’re afraid that they or their parents will be thrown out of the country. There are victims of sexual assault being retraumatized and reminded that they live in a country that doesn’t believe them or care what happens to them.

That’s just the start. It doesn’t include the people who will go without healthcare, or end up in poverty (or worse poverty) due to medical bills when the ACA is repealed. Many of those people will die. It doesn’t include the women who will die if Roe is overturned, from self-induced abortion, or pregnancy complications, or suicide. It doesn’t include war crimes, or Muslim registries, or mass deportation, or global destabilization if we back out of our NATO commitments.

None of that harm is in any way affected by the intentions of the people who voted for it. Whether their intent was to vote for fascism and oppression, or whether their intent was to bring jobs back to the Rust Belt, the impact is the same.

To me, it’s kind of like the trolley problem. You know, the train is rushing toward five people, and you can throw the switch to hit only one. Or it’s rushing toward someone you know, and you can throw the switch to hit five strangers. There are lots of variations.

If you voted for Trump, whatever you valued was on one side of the track, and all those people I mentioned before were on the other. You might be able to make a convincing case for why you threw the switch. Maybe Fox News convinced you that all those other people on the track weren’t really there, but that you yourself would be hit by the train if you did nothing. Maybe you felt that being careless with potentially classified information was a complete dealbreaker, or you believe that Clinton was personally responsible for Benghazi.

Whatever your reasons, good, bad, or indifferent, you threw the switch. Hillary Clinton didn’t make you throw the switch, nor did “PC culture” or “identity politics” or whatever else you want to blame. And now you want all the people you sent the train towards to pretend that nothing has changed. To trust you, the same as they always have. To pretend that they aren’t currently tied to the train tracks, or that the train hasn’t run over their foot already. And you’re so concerned about your own good name that you’re wasting time arguing with them about how their being on the tracks has nothing to do with you, rather than, I don’t know, untying some of them? Maybe driving that guy with the broken foot to the hospital? John Pavlovitz has good suggestions on where to start.

Stuff you should read: I’m with the people making sanctuary.

From I’m with the people making sanctuary  at Morgan Guyton’s Mercy Not Sacrifice blog:

As these conversations and spaces have been rolling around in my mind, I’m realizing that I’m much more a part of the circle that I held hands in Thursday night at Tulane than I am in the same movement with the “Suck it up, buttercup” Christians. I’m just not in communion with people who ridicule “safe space” and want a hard and austere gospel to feel awesome about. So I don’t know what that makes me. But I’m with the people making sanctuary.

I honestly believe that’s the main point of the cross. Jesus made himself unsafe so that those who are unsafe could have a body to join. I’ve been looking at Philippians 2 a lot lately. I read there that the point of emulating Jesus’ cruciform nature is to become entirely other-regarding. Verses 3 and 4 are how genuine safe space is created: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” That’s what being cruciform looks like in practical terms. And I’ve seen many people do it in the past two weeks. Most of them haven’t been Christian.

If I hadn’t already been done with the evangelical church before this point, the election of Donald Trump, the gleeful crowing afterwards, and the shrugging dismissal of grief, fear, and pain would have done it for sure.

Like Morgan, I’m with the people making sanctuary, whoever they are and whatever they believe.  I try to do it in Jesus’ name, but if it springs from their Islamic or Jewish or Hindu faith, or from no faith at all but basic human decency, I’m good with that.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of Franklin Graham’s Decision America rallies to protest his hateful comments about gay children, inspired by Kathy Baldock, who has done the same. I had what might have been useful conversations with some of his fan club, though I’m not sure I convinced anyone of anything.

I was also standing next to the atheist protesters.  While I was going for a “God is love” approach, with my “God loves LGBT kids too” and “Gay Children are Not Your Enemy” signs, they were in full-on “Religion is Bullshit” mode with “Nothing fails like prayer” and other more mocking slogans.  And yet. They also had stuff against conversion therapy, stuff about how it was normal and natural to be gay, but that prejudice has to be taught.

Before I left, I thanked them for being there and got a solidarity fist-bump.  It was strange and sad to be surrounded by what used to be my crowd, my tribe, and feel more acceptance from the people who think I’m a dumbass for even believing in God.  But I’ll take honest disagreement, even outright scorn, over honeyed words and the kind of “love” that drives people to suicide.

But I’m not alone.  When I first left the evangelical church, I felt adrift and cast off.  I didn’t quite fit with the Quakers because I missed the music and Bible verses, and because I didn’t consider myself a pacifist. I’m still trying to figure out what my spiritual home is as far as actually attending religious services goes.  Right now, splitting between Quaker meetings and the Episcopal church seems to be working for me.  But, for the whole scope of my life outside Sunday morning, my place is wherever people are making sanctuary, and are willing to let me join them.

It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

As a tribute to both Clinton’s loss in the election and Leonard Cohen’s passing, Kelly McKinnon, who plays Clinton on Saturday Night Live, performed Hallelujah. It was, of course, depressing, but managed to still be hopeful.  “I’m not giving up,” she said at the end.  “And neither should you.”  She also included a verse that I haven’t heard in other covers of Hallelujah, which fit perfectly:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Since Leonard Cohen passed, and Hallelujah was played all over, I’ve been hearing a lot of versions lately.  And I was reminded how much I flipping *hate* “A Hallelujah Christmas”. Taken by itself as a contemporary Christian Christmas song, it’s not bad.  Kind of blah and predictable lyrics, but the chorus of hallelujahs is pretty.  I can see why they wanted to use it as a Christmas song. But as a reworking of an existing song, it bothers me on multiple levels.

First, Hallelujah in its original version wasn’t a Christian song.  It was written by a practicing Jewish guy, and while it was full of religious imagery, none of it was New Testament or specifically Christian.  David writing Psalms, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah.  So, turning it into a Christmas song seems really disrespectful.  Sure, making popular songs into Christmas songs is a venerable tradition, but the author of Greensleeves was probably a Christian.

“A Hallelujah Christmas” is also just not as good as the original.  There’s no metaphor, no symbolism, just a straight retelling of the Christmas story. It would’ve worked just as well with its own melody (and probably wouldn’t have botched the rhyme scheme).  So, it seems kind of sad to take a song that’s subtle and sad and angry and full of imagery and turn it into something tired and cliched.

It also seems like a cop-out to write something that’s almost a parody but not quite, reusing lyrics in ways that aren’t really interesting. Particularly taking an ironic use of “hallelujah” and turning it into a straight up “Praise God.” Not that there’s anything *wrong* with praise music.  I really like the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  I also like the alleluia version of Amazing Grace.  But those don’t take a song that’s harsh and messy and complicated and dumb it down in the process of Christianizing it.

How to Get Through This

In the comments, megpie71 linked to her extremely helpful post: How to Get Through This: Tips From a Lifelong Depressive.  It shares coping strategies that mentally healthy people may not have needed until now.

Acknowledge what you’re feeling is genuine. Don’t tell yourself you’re “over-reacting” or “being over-dramatic” or “being silly”. Especially, don’t try to tell yourself that you’re “fine” (unless you actually mean, “freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional” when you say that). What you’re feeling is what you’re genuinely feeling, and it’s something which deserves to be acknowledged. Don’t try to make yourself feel happier or better. Just accept you’re feeling bad, and you’re allowed to feel bad.

I particularly like this part, because those of us who are devastated and terrified by Trump’s win are under a lot of pressure to “get over it” and pretend everything is normal.  Everything is not normal.

Safety Pins and Rainbow Flags

One of the comments from a friend that has made me the angriest after this election was, when I pointed out that LGBT people are terrified of what’s going to happen to them, “You’ve been a victim of the left’s fear-mongering.  Trump is very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and has held up their flag at several of his rallies.”

The conversation got heated about other things and we never really hashed it out, but what I wanted to say was, “So the fuck what?”  If Trump were an ally to the LGBTQ community, he would not have said that states should be allowed to tell trans people they have to take their lives in their hands if they want to pee.  If he’d been an ally, he’d have picked someone who didn’t spend state funding on conversion therapy as his running mate.  And you can bet money that if he’d ever done anything really ally-like in his life, he wouldn’t have Franklin “The Gays are Destroying America” Graham out campaigning for him, because Graham would not be okay with that, and would pull his support quicker than you can say “World Vision.”  (Sexual assault, advocating torture, that’s cool, though.)  And he might have made even a token gesture of disagreement when the RNC put out an extraordinarily anti-LGBTQ platform.

It’s trivially easy to hold up a flag and say you support someone, but it doesn’t mean it’s the truth.  Unfortunately, the same is true of a safety pin. A lot of people are critical of wearing a safety pin to show you’re an ally.  While other folks in marginalized groups feel helped and supported by it. Which should be no surprise, since no group is a monolith, and being a “safe” person means different things, both to individuals and to groups. On the whole, I’m leaning toward the idea that wearing a pin is good, but not enough.

It’s also not okay to want cookies or pats on the back for wearing a pin, or to expect people to automatically trust you because of it.  Saying you’re safe doesn’t necessarily mean you are.  Claiming to be a safe person can even be a ruse to make someone you intend to harm feel safe, like volunteering as a campus safety escort and then raping the woman you were supposed to walk home.  Or, like holding up a Pride flag (upside down, even)* to get people to vote for you, while you sign onto a platform that strips away your rights and pick a Vice President who thinks trying to torture them straight is a good use of government money.

*Traditionally, a flag flown upside down is a symbol of great distress. It’s for things like, “This ship is going to sink! Please send help!” So, Trump holding a Pride flag with the purple stripe on top was unintentionally appropriate.

Weeping with Those Who Weep

Shannon Dingle wrote a beautiful, gracious, and moving post, trying to explain her grief to those who are telling her to move on.  Here’s a little excerpt, but you should really read the whole thing:

My heart was broken when I realized Trump had won. I didn’t have much time to work through my feelings, though, because I’m a mom. Our kids had been being told by classmates that they would be sent back to Uganda if Trump was elected. I had been responding with truth and compassion, but I also didn’t think he’d win. When he did, I had to struggle with how to find the words to help her feel secure and prepare her for how to respond when those kids said anything that day after, emboldened by a Trump win. (This is the same child who had a classmate yell, “go back to Africa!” at her last year after Trump’s campaign had taken off with racist undertones.) I coached her white sister through how to respond and how to have her sister’s back. I walked them in to the elementary school, and I spoke with my kids’ teachers to make sure they were aware of these concerns.

And then I walked back to my van and wept.

And then I went on social media and was told that my grief came from being a sore loser, that I was being divisive by sharing my hurt, and that I was more concerned with the gospel of Shannon than the gospel of Christ.

Jesus would not tell Shannon to shut up and deal. Jesus would hug her and her kids, and weep with her.  We need to weep with her, not mock her hurt and her fear for her children.