Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More thoughts on Resistance, the Church, the Election of Donald Trump, and Conversations that Matter about Matters that Matter

Stacy Guinto-Salinas took this picture of a clothespin that was put on one
of her Latino/a youth at a 4000 person UM youth gathering. On the other
side was written "I love Trump." 
So, it has been two weeks since the election of Donald Trump. It is the eve of Thanksgiving and many of us continue to be deeply disturbed and distrustful that our fellow citizens could knowingly elect a man who used vehemently racist, misogynist, and hate-filled language. Moreover, his rhetoric has inspired and encouraged hateful actions and speech among some of his supporters against churches, mosques, and individuals in schools and other institutions across the nation.

One of my former students took a group of young Latinos/as to a youth conference where they were confronted by cowardly acts by high school aged supporters of Donald Trump.  When my former student, who is currently and MDiv student at Duke Divinity School, addressed the conference and shared her testimony about how she found the church and her call while growing up as a child of Mexican immigrants,  hundreds of youth and their leaders walked out. Such actions are deeply disgraceful and a stain on the gospel. Another of my students, also Latina, has shared her deep concerns about the church's response (or lack of it). In spite of calls to the contrary, the church remains deeply divided. I am ashamed to say I am not terribly surprised.

I am not surprised, in part because I have struggled mightily to know how to respond myself. To me, this election feels like a betrayal, a betrayal of what I thought were commonly held values of decency, truth, and mutual respect, a betrayal by many within the church of the gospel of love, hope, and grace. The past several weeks have been a time of sorrow for me. It has also been a time of introspection. It feels deeply personal. I have been in mourning.

Days before the election, I deactivated my Facebook account for a week. Since the election, I have posted only once on Facebook with a link to this blog. I needed a break. I intend to keep my account open for now, but be far less engaged in the day to day posting and sharing of links. I have taken all Facebook related apps off my smartphone and tablet. For the first week after quitting Facebook I truly felt like I was struggling with an addiction. I realized how dependent I had become on touching my phone or tablet to check on the witty responses from my friends to my clever posts. I think that my brain was craving the "hits" of social media approval. I came to realize that I had probably been checking my phone hundreds of times per day. It had changed my patterns of communication. It also likely has done damage to some of my relationships, while allowing me to sustain a social network of hundreds of people spread around the world.

I am coming to realize that the old adage "the medium is the message" is indeed true. Facebook and Instagram are great for cat photos. Instant messaging and texts are great for asking the wife what kind of ice cream she wants, sharing an inside joke with a colleague, or arranging to meet up with friends at the movies. These are not the media we should be using for political and social discourse, much less for maintaining friendships in any meaningful sense.

Don't get me wrong, social media are fine for keeping up with pictures of friends' children, pets, gardens, and other diversions. True friendships, however, need the kind of rich communication that is provided through intimate and honest person to person conversation, or the exchange of full and thoughtful letters. The danger of social media and its dominant form of communication is that it looses us from historical, social, gender, religious, family, and ethnic contexts, etc. It substitutes the superficial vacuity of the moment for the complex inter-subjective narratives we absolutely need to be entirely human. It is a kind of forgetting. I think Adorno was warning us of something like this when he wrote of the reification of the mind. Indeed, I fear social media may be bringing about the reification of our souls.

In a very real way I have come to recognize that I myself have done damage to others, objectifying them, reifying them, using them as objects for my own fulfillment by taking far too immense pleasure from the addictive stimuli provided by their "likes" and comments on social media. Indeed, since I am posting this link on Facebook, I have probably objectified some of you who are reading this blog. I do hereby own my violence and apologize.  I deeply regret what I have done; and am sadder, lonelier, and more broken indeed for the person I have become on social media.

What I am calling for, and what I hope for in my own life, is for all of us to embrace real conversation again. Those of you who are in the church, this is the task we have before us. I am part of a team that is forming at my small university. We are planning to sponsor some conversations that "matter about matters that matter." Some of these may be difficult conversations on race, gender identity, bullying, and the like. For churches and other church related institutions, there are many helpful resources for guiding such conversations.

I hope also that we might have some conversations about our lost capacity for dialogue, discourse, and critical engagement that fully recognizes that we are bound and interwoven to one another in deeply complex narratives. My hope is that we as individuals, groups, and communities recognize our storis as embedded in stunningly interwoven histories, and embedded in gender, ethnic, religious, family, and social realities that go far below the surface that we can see. I know that sounds crazy. However, I think that is the first step we must begin to take if we are going to have any hope of resisting a discourse that cheapens our complex identities, and pushes us towards words and deeds of objectifying violence. The violence, I fear, is afoot. My hope is that we can work with our youth, our friends, and our colleagues, even those with whom we disagree, to move towards honest, deep, and complex conversations that matter about all kinds of matters that matter.

In the course of such conversations, I hope and pray that our churches and communities become active advocates for the cause of those whose lives and families are deeply threatened by Trumpism and the likely policies of his administration. The time may come for all of us to take a stand. My contention is that we cannot do so effectively without first examining our patterns of communication and relationships.

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