Proverbs 24:17

Tuesday, 3 May 2011 § 5 Comments

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”

This is a line from a Christian Science Monitor article by Jonathan Zimmerman, which captures so well the response I have to last night’s news about bin Laden’s death.  (I know I promised a knitting post, but I’m sure you’ll understand that some things must wait.)  That, and this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

I posted this on facebook earlier, long with the disclaimer for my reactionary facebook friends (and, more specifically, family members) that this is not at all to suggest that I think it’s a crying shame that bin Laden is dead.  On the contrary: I don’t.  Not at all.  But I do think that sobriety and solemnity are more becoming responses than this sort of carnivalesque nationalism we’ve seen in the past twenty-four hours.  If part of the god-bless-America story is that we’re better than those people who dance in the streets when their enemies — yes, including “us” Americans — are killed, since when are we the “kind of people” who dances in the streets?

Now, both of my brothers are in the military, and so was my dad, and so was my granddad.  I might have ended up in the military, too, had puberty not rendered my eyes too weak to be a Navy pilot (this was before they accepted Lasik-20/20).  And one of my brothers was once in a unit similar to the Navy Seals, which we today learned was the core of the group that took out bin Laden.  All that to say, parts of this hit close enough to home — plenty of kids I went to school with have died in Afghanistan and Iraq — to make this more real than political slogans.  And one of the things that has kept me going through my exams is the knowledge that we have been through worse.  So much worse.  A picture of my brother in desert fatigues, in Iraq in the summer of “the Surge,” hangs beneath my fancy-schmancy college diploma dated to the same summer.  As much as I think my exams have been soul-crushing, I remind myself that what was really soul-crushing was not knowing how to believe I would ever see my brother alive again, and having that feel like betrayal.  Soul-crushing was having nightmares about not knowing what to say in a eulogy about a brother I hadn’t seen for almost two years.  Soul-crushing was listening to  a professor in a comp lit class laugh at her witticism at comparing W. to the inadequate, emasculated father, who couldn’t provide “toys” (armored vehicles) to his soldier-sons.  My brother was about to be one of those solider-sons.  Was I really supposed to laugh?  The realities of these wars, and what they’re supposed-to-be-but-are-not about, are something that has been terribly real to me every single day of my ever-loving life, ever since they started.  And it shouldn’t take that horror to make them so real to everyone else.

Which is why I am so upset by the obscenity of the celebrations at the news of bin Laden’s death.  Again, it’s not even that I think we should necessarily be reverent at the news of his death.  It’s that, as much as I appreciate symbolism, even that of political violence, it’s that this triumphalism is completely out of scale to how little is changed by bin Laden’s death.  This hubristic orgy substitutes what is easy — flag-waving and and slogan-chanting — for what is difficult — critical thought and realistic reflection.  Is this turn of events symbolic? Sure.  But nobody should be deluding themselves into thinking this actually changes much in terms of the al-Qaeda terror syndicate.  That’s part of the problem of post-modern [religious] terror (more on this later).  And frankly, it’s unbecoming.  Even if this counts as a “victory,” and even if it did change a lot — this sort of mindless sheeple mass politics should not be a healthy substitute for reflection.  Can I get some Hannah Arendt up in here, yo?

I worry about what this triumphalist narrative does for foreign policy from here on out.  Are we really going to believe this story we’re telling ourselves today?  I only hope, insha’allah,  it doesn’t take another disaster to make us all realize that the reality we’re left with is much more complex than a “hey, hey, hey — goodbye” chant would make it seem.



Thursday, 21 April 2011 § 1 Comment

When I finally sat down and worked out when I would take my godforsaken, hateful exams, my planning had mainly to do with spacing them out with enough time between the respective rounds to cram in as much reading as possible.  Also, Mercury is in retrograde until 23 April, which, if you’re a Gemini like me, is particularly bad news.  And yet, as the math fell, my second exam, and the one I’m most worried about, still fell within the retrograde: it’s tomorrow.

As I inked that into my calendar, I realized with horror: that’s Good Friday.  Now, I was raised catholic, but my catholicism has lapsed into a healthy heresy (when I had surgery last autumn, the admitting nurse asked what my religion was; I told her, “Marxist.”  She said, “Okay, I can put that.”  “There’s a box for that?!”  “No, but I can write it in.”  “Well, I’m not an orthodox Marxist…”). Exhibit 2: My post-it-note prayer shrine.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our exams. Amen.

The way it works is this: I draw pictures of my (and other people’s) intentions on post it notes, pop them beneath the blessed virgin, and she usually works her magic.  The top picture is of me passing my exams.  Other prayers in there include job market success for friends, good mammogram/biopsy results for a family member, and funding requests (because the sweet baby jesus is more forthcoming with that stuff than our department sometimes).

But still: it seems like taking an exam literally the day and hour the christian world marks the murder of their messiah is bad news (book plug: read Paul Verhoeven’s Jesus of Nazareth.  It’s brilliant and snarky and so fun to read, and I imagine much better than Pope Benny’s book of the same title.).  And Mercury in retrograde to boot!  So I called my Auntie M, who is a a very liberal sort-of-catholic — the kind who likes the mysticism of the church but thinks the moral of the story is that Jesus pretty much just wants us to love everyone and make love not war.  She assured me that instead of inviting god to smite me dead, taking the exam on Good Friday is in fact the epitome of the lenten experiment: taking on and reflecting on the suffering of christ.  And oh, will this exam be sufferance.  And I very well may descend into hell, but then there’s that whole rising again on the third day — just in time for my last exam — bit.  (Have y’all seen the new order of the mass?  “Consubstantial with the father?” Farewell, Vatican II.)

Luckily, Auntie M, who has really gone above and beyond in sustaining and supporting me mentally, spiritually, and heretically throughout this exam season, has sent me a couple of very helpful apotropaics in the mail.  Not pictured: the maxwell house passover hagadah, a card with a nun (a beloved family trope). And this “prayer rug”:

When you call my name, its like a little prayer. Im down on my knees... oh wait. Wrong kind of spiritual communion.

It contains instructions (the fine print on the bottom, if you will) to kneel on the rug and look into Jesus’ eyes, which appear to be closed, “But as you continue to look, you will see His eyes opening and looking back into your eyes.”  It’s a holy magic eye!  And, as luck would have it, I got one of these sent to my house directly from the church that sent them out, too!

What would Jesus do? He would send a postcard to the first name on the list, add His name to the bottom, and send the letter to five other friends.

The envelope contains a prayer that Jesus will “bless someone in this home spiritually, physically, and financially,” “make changes in this one’s life and give them the desires of their heart,” as well as instructions that you’re supposed to kneel on the prayer rug, check off your prayers on a card, and mail it all back to them — because “this very old church loans this to you, to bless someone connected with this home.  Then it must go to another family that desire’s God’s blessings.”  The lesson: blessings work according to the logic of chain letters.

Anyhow, today’s Maundy Thursday, which was always my favorite day in the liturgical calendar.  I do not like feet, but I think the washing of the feet was probably closer to the radical message of love and forgiveness than anything else I ever learned in church.  Also, my favorite song in the entire catholic hymnal is one of the two songs that’s almost always sung during the washing of the feet: Ubi Caritas.  No mass for me tonight, though, on account of needing to re-read Origins of Totalitarianism and a chapter from Sex After Fascism.  Also, colloquium interferes, and I’m footnoted in this week’s paper, a kind and also kind of hilarious gesture from a friend. So maybe that’s sort of like the washing of the feet.

I hope all these sacraments return me to some sort of state of grace, because y’all, I’m despairing, and we all know that despair is one of the deadly sins.  These exams are making me crazy.  And even though I know the crazy will pass, it’s actually sort of hard to believe it.  Because all the hoops I’ll spend the rest of my career jumping through will make me this kind of crazy, too.  And when I read discussions like this over at the ever-brilliant Tenured Radical, I can’t help but wonder whether the argument of Prof. X’s book (basically, higher education is wasted on some people [an argument elitist, nihilistic, and dubious and problematic at best in his formulation])  isn’t more applicable to grad school, and maybe I just am just a massive waste of resources.  Luckily, I know that now is not the time to make rash decisions.  So, with that, and knowing that it is not through grace alone that we are saved in the academic world, I return to my studying.  Go: be the salt; be the light, and I’ll see y’all on the other side of exam #2.


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