Friday, July 22, 2016

Cleveland and the Imperial Coma

This week, I'm thinking about Jesus in Gethsemane and his urgent distress: his plea that his friends "stay awake to keep watch."  The forces of empire are near, coming to intimidate, coming to distract, coming to condemn.  Jesus himself is facing his own deep discomfort, and the inevitability of suffering.  "Stay awake," he asks them, "to keep watch."  He knows that empire shows no mercy.

Ched Myers--whose work on the Gospel of Mark continues to inspire--describes the "imperial coma" as the temptation we all face: to give up on wakefulness, to yield to empire's persuasion, to give in to the world as it is.  In 2016, it's the temptation to leave politics to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, even Bernie Sanders.  In 2016, it's the temptation to treat Bill O'Reilly and Rachel Maddow as key political figures, as if the real political work is done on CNN of MSNBC between 8 and 9 in primetime.  In their own Gethsemane, Peter and the others fall for these temptations and the "imperial coma": and Jesus is left to suffer alone.  

Watching the Convention in Cleveland, I keep thinking of the dead in Orlando and Baton Rouge and Ferguson.  I keep thinking of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Alton Sterling and Sandra Bland.  Their families, their friends.  All those dear people in Orlando.  They are forgotten in all this madness--like Jesus in Gethsemane--alone, ignored, invisible.  I keep thinking of frightened refugees scrambling across Mexican deserts and Syrian borders.  Women, men, children whose lives are holy, precious, sacred.  The Orange Man couldn't give a flying ***.  They too are forgotten, unacknowledged, alone.  They're certainly not in Cleveland this week. 

As far as I can tell, what's happening in Cleveland this week--and most especially on the news every night--is nothing but the "imperial coma" in technocolor.  It's a huge (and hugely dangerous) distraction from politics as politics should be, from democratic politics and the human encounters that negotiate and determine a more equitable and just society.  It's a sign of a sleepy empire, maybe even an empire in freefall.  Where the people have--in part, at least--given up on politics.

With a significant assist from TV networks and internet loops, Donald Trump has created a troubling, xenophobic reality show.  Apparently it sells fast food, new cars and lite beer.  But it's not politics.  We turn in to watch the madman implode.  We turn in to see who's plagiarizing whom.  We turn in to watch angry critiques and maybe plug in to some of our own distress.  But it's not politics.

Politics is about human encounter.  Politics has to do with conversation and collaboration, research and analysis, imagination and sacrifice.  Jesus--for his part--says: "Stay awake to keep watch."

So I'm thinking this morning about my friends that show up every week in a county jail, to listen to the stories of women and men in distress.  And I'm thinking about other friends that show up on Sunday nights at a juvenile hall, to break bread with kids and show them what friendship looks like.  

And I'm thinking about brave organizers in Berkeley pushing that city to divest from G4S--a corporation that makes its millions on prisons for profit, and the occupation of Palestinians, and Orwellian systems of control.  And I'm thinking about the loving disciples who make big casseroles every night to serve to homeless friends at church.

God is not on stage in Cleveland (or Philly, for that matter).  And God is not on CNN, or FOX, or MSNBC in primetime.  God is aching behind bars, and fearing for no future at the hall.  God is agitating for liberation, organizing against greed and serving warm food to hungry neighbors.  "Stay awake," says Jesus (and Moses and Buddha, and Martin and Dorothy and Malala and Desmond).  Stay awake!