Sorry, it’s been a while. But it’s 8.37 on a Saturday morning, I’m watching Jean Vigo’s ‘A Propos de Nice’ (a dialogue-free short film about French people being happy, any five minutes of which are better than ‘Inception’ – which is already very good, but Vigo doesn’t need CGI to turn a Gallic city upside down), and for some reason I want to blog again.
No big promises – but if you join me in the comments, I’ll be grateful and try to write more often.
My thoughts this weekend:
The proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment to ban recognition of same-sex partnerships is antithetical to the best of what the US stands for in terms of personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness; it is opposed to the spirit of compassion and respect and love for neighbor that are at the heart of the Christian teaching that everyone who supports the amendment cites as their reason for doing so; even while its proponents believe (or say they believe) the amendment protects their own marriages, if passed it will actually actively hurt people who only want to be allowed to have a measure of protection and recognition for the love they share, and therefore it follows will in reality undermine community as the foundation of society; it continues a tragic tradition of fear being used to oppress people who are already marginalized; it serves no positive purpose and in fact reinforces the social structural realities that lead to stories such as this one.
Groups like Believe Out Loud, Equality NC, and Faith in America are good resources for information and how to take action, but I’d want to emphasize one thing that is often, by my sights, neglected in anti-homophobia/pro-humanity activism: Genuine dialogue. I changed my mind about theology and sexuality partly through relationships with people wiser and more experienced than I, partly through academic reflection, and partly through my own experience. This seems to me to fit with the Wesleyan quadrilateral of engaging scripture, reason, tradition and experience as we seek to discern what is right, among other historic Christian ways of interpreting the world. It is not a betrayal of Christian principle to be open to dialogue with people with whom you disagree. It has a long and noble history. I’m happy to talk with anyone who wants to know where I stand, what I think, and why I believe that a serious conversation about sexuality and spirituality is not just important for the sake of addressing the injustice of inequality and homophobia, but for the future of peace on earth. I’ll write more about this later; for now, I want to invite a dialogue; and to ask you to seriously consider how we might persuade proponents of the anti-LGBTQ amendment that it is actually in their interests to vote against it.
When I was growing up, I was always afraid of violence. northern Ireland was a European centre of politically-motivated killing for most of my childhood. Politicians and public officials were killed all the time. Political activists who espoused violence were often killed too. And people who had no direct involvement in either politics or violence were caught up in it, going about their business, killed in bus stations or pubs or on the street. Nearly 4000 dead in around 25 years of intensive violence, perpetuated in the cause of two competing ideologies: should northern Ireland stay part of the United Kingdom, or be reunified with the Irish Republic, along with the attendant questions of human rights, equality, historic injustice, and the kind of stake our people would have in our own society.
We took the rhetoric of ‘targeting’ political opponents beyond the dehumanising manifestation currently alive in US culture, and finding its horrific expression in the Arizona shootings this weekend; some of our current political representatives actually killed people themselves. Anyone who worked for the state – police officers, civil servants, census takers – could be considered a legitimate target by Irish Republican militants; the daily nerve-wrack of checking under the car for a bomb became a fact of life. And despite the protestations of some historical revisionists, for many Protestants, their religion and ethnicity seemed to be enough of a reason for them to be living in fear. At the same time, the Irish Republican and nationalist community often found itself repressed by the state, living under suspicion, and abused into second class citizen status; pro-British militants killed many people just because they were Catholics.
Of course I never knew Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers student who took his own life last month in a tragedy so unfathomably horrific that it doesn’t permit adequate attempts at description. The story that has emerged so far is that Tyler was enjoying a romantic moment with another guy, while his roommate secretly streamed the encounter live on the internet. Shortly after Tyler found out, he jumped off a bridge.
Of course I never knew him, but his story demands a deeper listening than has yet been promoted or presented by our culture’s spokespeople. This is not just a story about one man and two acquaintances whose idiotic prank appears to have caused such fear of exposure that Tyler felt he had to kill himself. It’s a story about all of us. And we all need to listen to it.
Two films released by the Criterion Collection this week focus on men at war. We’ll discuss Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’ on the next episode of The Film Talk, and below; later in the week I’ll post a piece on ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’. These are two of the most compelling films released on DVD this year.
When I first saw Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’, it was the turn of the century, Bill Clinton was still in office, the Twin Towers were intact, and the film seemed to be about the past. The distant past, to be sure: a film that begins with a reptile submerging and ends with a plant growing on a beach seems to exist a long time before we did. The nearer past, ostensibly: it takes place in 1942 during the early Guadalcanal Campaign (although you’ll look in vain for the caption that appeared on the print I saw over a decade ago to indicate it; Malick, it seems, has had that removed from the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD release: he wants the movie to exist outside time). This is only appropriate, as it aims to be a poem about the primitive roots of violence, the lack of maturity among men who see the world only as a fight, the power of love to sustain even when it is broken, the tragedy of human beings caught in a web that they think dictates that only violence can be the path to power in this life.
My ‘Bloody Sunday’ article from last week received a critical comment from a reader, and I wanted to respond.
I wrote to the commenter – Taicligh – as follows: No response to critical comments is likely to satisfy entirely either your criticism or my defensiveness ;-) But I hope you can see my response as an opportunity to continue dialogue, rather than to shut it down. I apologise in advance for what I’ve got wrong this time round – we are all frail and faltering, and looking toward the same light. I hope we can keep talking.
To take each of Taicligh’s points in turn:
>wow, you’re certainly not biased.
I’m sorry that my article gave rise to such a critical response; it was not my intention to entrench division; the article was actually an attempt at expressing a broader view of things than is often seen in conversation about divided societies; one that would endorse the Bloody Sunday enquiry, respect the pain of the families, and endorse the British Prime Minister’s apology while suggesting how the context could expand beyond (and because of) this single event. I’m sorry also that my article seemed biased and insensitive. At the same time, I’m not sure that biases can ever be avoided in writing about something so powerful as the history of a violently divided society. What might be better would be if we could all acknowledge our the existence of our biases, and dialogue in the knowledge that none of us has a monopoly on truth.
For 14 people in my homeland, northern Ireland — a place whose divisions are so fully on the surface that we still can’t agree what to call it (the reason I spell it with a small ‘n’) — the clocks stopped on January 30, 1972.
For their families, this week it may feel like they have finally started again. These 14 people were participating in a civil rights march that was fired upon by British soldiers. This event, known as Bloody Sunday, marked a turning point in the history of conflict among Catholic/Irish and Protestant/British. The killings galvanized support for the IRA, the paramilitary organization dedicated to ending British governance in the six northeastern counties of the island of Ireland, and scarred the two communities — one with the grief at their loss, the other with the dehumanizing coldness that complicit parties often feel toward those whose suffering they are seeking to legitimize.
We’re making some final plans for the Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Event – a week in Northern Ireland in August, leading up to Greenbelt. There are still some places left, but we need to make some decisions this week about numbers – so if you’re interested we need to hear from you very soon. More details on the event here – if you’re interested in participating, let us know…