This was a horrible craphole of a week to be a grown up, I’m guessing you probably felt the same way. At first it was just horror about real world leaders behaving like they’re in the Butter Battle Book by Dr. Suess. But today it’s just turned to shame and pity. How can I look my kids in the face and assure them that love wins, when people were marching through the streets just 80 miles south on behalf of racism and hate?
I had scheduled a post for today, before any of this hit the news, to post pictures of flowers and butterflies. I felt like it was important over the summer to address issues surrounding addiction and alcoholism, but it’s so depressing. I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read and engage in conversation with me by tempering the despair with some beauty, but today it feels weird. After people have been mauled and wounded, it seems absurd to post pictures with a cheerful theme and palette. People are angry, and scared, and with good cause. It’s not okay to pretend like everything’s fine.
This summer I had the privilege of hearing one of my favorite artists, Makoto Fujimura, speak at a writers conference on the topic of an artist’s role in the church. The essence of the talk was that artists are as important to spiritual development as intellectuals, they’re the poetic Mary to the practical Martha, the ones who show us how to sit with the mystery of the gospel. He shared that it’s an artist’s job to stand under hope, and that to him, hope is the primary medium that we create out of. This is costly in most circumstances where we would normally react with fear, but it is worth it. The artist’s job is to cultivate people’s imaginations toward this hope, and then past it, toward love. The temptation he said we face, is that we are in constant danger of being not actors on this mission, but reactors. When react, we miss out on the entirety of the hope that’s possible; we only share our emotion which is as fleeting as hope is eternal.
He told the story of being in New York city on 9/11, and taking his son to school that morning a few blocks away from the twin towers. He shared about panic and fear that suddenly became tangible. But then he shared about the children who experienced it. His son remained friends with the kids in his class that day, even though they all grew up and went to different high schools. He said that all but one of his those friends was pursuing some form of the arts as an adult. The terrorists were sure that day that they were planting seeds of revenge and hate in the children who witnessed that tragedy, but what they created were artists, and it was the spirit of hope in the city that enabled the radical transformation of fear.
Another timely thing I heard this summer was a Ted Radio Hour episode on tolerance. The point they made was we put too much emphasis on being able to tolerate one another. At it’s core, it’s too easy because if you tolerate something, you can still hate it for as long as you can ignore it. For example, our neighbors dog barks day and night. We hate it, but it’s not worth the energy to create conflict with our neighbors, so we refrain from repeatedly calling animal control. There’s no reconciliation, empathy, or even open discussion, and it’s a half step above what we saw yesterday. I think that half step we’ve created around tolerance is not enough space, because we lapse in our self control, we’re by default intolerant and adding to the harm done in hatred’s name.
The episode explored so many touchy conflicts, conservative vs. liberal, black vs. white, pro-life vs. pro-choice, and Palestinian vs. Israeli, and found inspiring examples of people who were reaching beyond tolerance toward something greater. They embraced humility, listened, empathized, found common ground, cooperated, and humanized conversation. Today, it doesn’t seem possible, that we could be a society that chooses to embrace rather than threaten its minorities, but these are the values that will walk us away from that mindset. These were real stories of actual people who were able to overcome their prejudice, past the point of tolerance to something stronger. This is what artists have a higher calling to explore, and in turn what parents are called to share with their children.
Tonight and every night, as I put my kids to bed, I’ll read them good books about kind people and hopeful things. Even though it is a simple thing, in a culture full of fear and hate, it is an act of defiance. To read to them about love, as an act of my love for them, teaches them about holiness. It helps them see that’s who God really is, and gives them the discernment to see white supremacy as the opposite. Today we were already planning to go to to the Hirshhorn to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit about political prisoners. This too is an act of defiance, to share hope with my children. The exhibit shows how standing up for love and freedom is costly, but still heroic and necessary. The act of raising up a generation, leading them toward hope through the arts and giving them the tools to create on their own, is more powerful than we realize. The arts are the language kids are most likely to understand, we see this in the way that fables and fairy tales have endured for centuries, but they only remember our lectures for about 15 seconds. The arts are also our promise to them- that despite what they see on the news, there is a promise of something better. May their inspired imaginations, writing, music, visuals and drama be the unintended result of this weekends rally.
Maybe there is space for art in the world on a morning after a disgrace like this. It’s our reaction to not feel like it, to feel unworthy of it, but if we are intent on defying things like the KKK, maybe even something as simple as butterflies will show how deeply we disagree with them. Maybe it shows that you don’t have to be flawless to be beautiful, or that no one can truly lay claim to land, or that innocent beauty is the true essence of God’s creation and not a bunch of tikki torch carrying assholes. I was originally going to offer hope, that the Shenandoah is not close to, nor could it ever be overrun by addiction. That despite whatever problems we have as people, the beauty in nature will not fade from these mountains because God is with us. Or maybe that the purity of creation has incredible power to refresh the souls of the weary.
We confess the sins that have brought us to this point. Yesterday was domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists, we know because we have behaved this way many times before. Despite what people say, this is us. Some days people march, and we know where to throw stones, but most days we’re satisfied with tolerating one another, and both attitudes need forgiveness. We condemn racism and supremacy, but we do so as an action of hope, not as a part of our surprise or disgust. We trade in our tolerance for compassion, openness, forgiveness, reconciliation and most of all love. We dare to hope for something greater than what binds us now, and we extend that hope in every art form that we know how-books, movies, plays, music, paintings, photos, sculpture, anything, to inspire one another and to free our children from inheriting these sins.
If you’re not able to look at flowers and butterflies today, it’s understandable, I’m not quite there yet either. They seem insignificant compared to the grief we feel over what one human is willing to do to another. But I’m posting them anyways because I know my kids and I need this beauty. And to acknowledge that while my heart is filled with the same emotions as yours, this is the truth we must hold onto: the hatred and fear that evil incites can be radically transformed by hope into love and beauty if we let them. Possibly the transformation will be so startling that the white supremacy movement will shriek and shrink up in horror like the wicked witch of the west, and evaporate into our history books forever.