January Lament

287px-bertram_mackennal_-_griefO that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
[a] as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.[b]
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered[c] us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
12 After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?
Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?

–Isaiah 64:1-12

cb2fc387-2fe6-450f-81d6-794680d20ebd

This picture has raised the hackles of many a friend of mine, and many an American, for good reasons. In view is two Americas: on the right, represented by Omaha elder Nathan Phillips, cries into the world the desire for justice, fairness, and for the very right to be heard at the Indigenous People’s March. On the left, an (as of yet) unnamed high school student, who had come to the capitol for another march, the March for Life, an anti-abortion rally, earlier in the week. Accompanying him are others from his same school, Covington Catholic High School, a private religious institution sponsoring him and his classmates for this event. Were they to remain in their own rally, for their own purpose, I have little qualms with. I might disagree with the anti-abortion lobby, but they have a right to free speech as much as anyone.

The problem though, is that everyone else does too. And that is something this young man could not allow without mocking and harassing other people. More than that, marginalized people, people who have historically been victims of genocide and abuse.

Atop his head, of course, is a hat that says “Make America Great Again.”

How, exactly does this smug child, obviously encouraged by the adults in his life to behave in this fashion, make America great? Of course this is rhetorical. America, for him, won’t be great until all people he deems beneath him are put in their place.

Such is the history of America.

I was raised in the nineties. I was told all my life that racism was over, the battle for gender equality was overblown and winding down, and everything was going to be better in the future. All of this, of course, was told to me within my own bubble of white privilege. I’ve previously talked about how my eyes have been opened multiple times in my life by the violence, hatred, and depravity of the world, usually done by people of my own demographic. From the backlash in small-town Texas against the violence of 9/11, in which discrimination, abuse and persecution of people of middle-eastern and Asian descent, to the perennial under-the-radar segregation and violence against African Americans becoming more and more overt, to the floodgates of misogyny blowing open on the internet more and more, to the election of Donald Trump, who began his candidacy by calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, although a few might be good people, this country I call home has either descended further into madness at a more rapid pace, or I’m just paying attention more.

The more time goes by, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. The more I read of our history, the more I see and hear of the experiences of black people, Asian people, Latinxs, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, the more I understand how much I’ve been sheltered. How much I am truly protected, from history books to my own church.

This is not a blog of self-flagellation, by any means. This is simply a lament, as my anger at the injustice of the world boils at this moment, seeing in a boy protected from real persecution, real danger, real trouble, lord his privilege over a man who has fought his entire life for decency and equality.

I quoted the chapter from Isaiah earlier because I am in a mood to lament. Not enough is made of the art form of lament, and I can think of no time like the present to exercise it. We live in the decline of an empire, to be sure, and it is incumbent upon me, and all my religious brethren and sistren, to confess our own complicity, and lament the fact that we have contributed and allowed such pride that protects smug harassment, such avarice that permits the ongoing economic injustices that plague 99% of Americans for the benefit of less than 1%, and such apathy that fuels our complicity. Our world is both burning and drowning. Our children are starving. Our neighbors are in need. Where are the hands and feet of God? Too often, we find ourselves just wishing that it’d all go away, so we retreat into our churches, and pray for God to do something, when God is out there, calling us out to do something ourselves, to participate in the changes and the action that are being carried out by our African American sisters and brothers, our queer and marginalized family, our underrepresented neighbors.

So I lament the state of the world. I lament that we we stuck in a state of paralysis, where evil goes unpunished and good goes to an early grave. I lament how the church has stood back not wishing to get its hands dirty, to not take a side, or even to contribute to the injustice of the world against the marginalized, the poor, and the persecuted.

I also lament myself. I lament not taking sides before. I lament keeping silent and not defending others. I lament saying things to people in my youth that I regret, things that nobody should say. I lament my own participation in injustice. I lament not speaking up sooner. I have learned the hard way that playing along and keeping your head down only allows someone the opportunity to put a boot on your neck later on down the line.

I and so many others are caught between rage and nihilism. In this moment of anger and lament, I wanted to share these thoughts with you all. I’m unaccustomed to direct action or protest, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn, or participate. I’m working on my cowardice. But words… I can do words, at least.

So I lament, so that I can fight the good fight.

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About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. Currently, he is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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