So a friend of ours wrote a Facebook note responding to Dr. Jones’s wonderful response to Glenn Beck’s ridiculous attack on liberation theologies. This Facebook note was read by someone at Union (apparently by one of the white dudes who run the media blog on the website) and was posted on the Union in Dialogue website. Slight problem, however: none of the extensive conversation/comments that happened on Facebook were transferred to the Union site. So I submitted a response based on my comments on the Facebook note, it’s awaiting moderation, but in the meantime, I though I’d post it here.
So I live in major middle America right now (I mean, in a place that has everything that scares people who are convinced the City has all the Answers to All Things) and I live, work and breathe at a politically diverse church. I give Communion to aging hippies and people who think Obama is singlehandedly destroying the country alike.
I want to add that I think Dr. Jones’s tone was actually the best part of the piece (seriously, the tone of the condescending, irritating, serious-face Unionites in the video is what made me NOT post it onthe wall of my church’s Facebook page). I think her tone is exactly what would make the people I know chuckle, even if they disagreed with her – and in that chuckle is a place for growth. Interestingly, one of the things that MOST turns people off from hearing left-of-center positions (theological or otherwise) in my immediate environment is the perception (often correct) that people on the left have no sense of humor, that we can’t offer any of our basic beliefs in a way that is funny, interesting, wry – TRUTH delivered right underneath that wink and smile.
No, no, we shake our shaggy heads and write another doctoral thesis and refer people to NPR and demand people take things “MORE SERIOUSLY” and we call another fucking committee blah blah blah. Humor is a way to reach people. I am finding more and more and more and more and more that if I can frame real truth-telling in a story with some loving humor, if I can point out logical inaccuracies with some dry wit, people respond wonderfully – the same people who react to the abhorrent and patronizing elite seminary Union student thing by simply shutting their brains down and off.Also, her tone mimics/reflects/responds to what is I think one of the greatest of Glenn Beck’s strengths: he’s an *entertainer*. I know kids who go to the super liberal arts high school in my town who listen to conservative talk radio, because the people on those stations are – and I’m quoting here – “funny”, “great storytellers” and “really interesting to listen to.” Our finger-wagging essay writing does not pull them in, to say the least. Nor do our insufferably smug youtube videos (and seriously, apparently the smugness of Union students is inexhaustible).
I am the first out queer minister in a mid-size city with a long history of queer bashing and cruel police officers. (My ordination was such a major event that they plastered me all over the front page of the newspaper: I am now the poster child for All Gay Christian-ness.) It is a city teeming with racism, poor-bashing, and scare media. Don’t disbelieve that I get the Bible thrown at me with hate, by people who buy into the Beck lie machine. (And, if I’m reading the data right, the county of Minneapolis is in went 59/40 for Kerry in 2004. My county went 52/46 for BUSH. Obama won Hennepin County 64/35 while the state only went 54 for Obama. My county went 54 for Obama and 45 for Mccain. I live in a more conservative part of the country than Shannon does. I’m from a place where my friends can’t put a tiny rainbow bumper sticker on their cars because they get their tires slashed, once, twice, three times, four times, again and again and again. Since part of his argument is based on his life experience in conservative space, I would like to add that I know from conservative space – I live in it – and I utterly disagree with his assessment of her tone.)
I do use good exegesis and liberation theologies again and again and again and again and again in helping people rethink Jesus and the Bible. And Dr. Jones’s message inspires me, keeping me laughing and happy and able to do my work. I think about Judith praying to God to bless and use her lies: “Your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope. Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all your creation, hear my prayer! Make my deceitful words bring wounds and bruise on those who have planned cruel things against your covenant, and against your sacred house, and against Mount Zion, and against the house your children possess. Let your whole nation and every tribe know and understand that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone!” God is *using* Dr. Jones’s sarcasm again the enemies of God.
Keeping a somewhat humorous tone also lets the world know that in an ultimate sense, we don’t take Glenn Beck super seriously. He is NOT the ultimate authority: GOD is. And we are aligned with the God of Aiyana Jones, of Oscar Grant, of Angie Zapata. It is important to speak out against him in seriousness but it is also important to have some voices also that remind us that Glenn Beck does not own the world, is not the end of the world, and we have our sights set on a righteous, beautiful, and yes, even – gasp – fun future.It is also important to note that the letter isn’t directed to Glenn Beck’s followers – it is addressed to Glenn Beck. She isn’t shaming those who listen to him: she is – rightfully, righteously – shaming HIM. Shaming those who corrupt God’s name is in keeping with much of biblical tradition.
Honestly, I feel way more worried about the tone of Shannon’s letter to Dr. Jones than I do about the tone of Dr. Jones’s letter. It reeks of mansplaining – as though Dr. Jones is not self-aware, intelligent, or resourceful enough to understand what it means to respond with wit to Glenn Beck in the context of hostile conservative culture. She does understand, and she responded in the best possible way. Demanding a response that is “thoughtful”, “serious”, etc. is in itself a kind of elitism – the assumption being that ‘nice Christian people’ are permitted to speak in only one way: a ‘thoughtful’, quiet, ‘respectful’, inoffensive way—which is more reflective of white, upper-middle class, liberal culture than of core Christian values of truth-telling and justice-making. This was certainly the tightly policed cultural mandate at Union in my time there. It was made very clear that to disagree with someone was to attack their very (precious, white, liberal) soul and being, rather than understanding that sometimes a racist statement demanded an angry response. Or understanding that when serious ideas are at stake, being meditative and polite is not always the best fucking way to deal with them. I am so ridiculously delighted that Dr. Jones may be changing the tenor of that conversation, through pieces exactly like this one from Huffington Post.
Finally, I’d like to add that my dad is the world’s most compassionate misanthrope and most devoted atheist. His basic life commitment is to justice, and he is willing to put his body on the line for other people. He is intensely protective of me and my trans partner (he basically launched a one-man trans awareness campaign among his fishing community when my partner made plans to come to the tiny town in Alaska where he lives to meet him). My dad is not one who would ever, ever read a heavy-handed, detailed, “serious”, ivory tower version of the history of liberationist scriptural exegesis. However, he did become a fan of Dr. Jones on Facebook on the strength of this letter to Glenn Beck alone. I simply don’t know any higher praise than that.