One important part of the Writing Process is the “The heck with it! I’m taking a long walk!” phase. Some days your brain is in vapor lock and you cannot get motivated to write a word and your head is buzzing and everything is boring and bad and you find that you are just babbling run on sentences like this one that nobody would ever read.
So you go for a walk.
In my case, the excuse for the walk was a blood draw my doc needed. So I hitched a ride with Jan on her errands, got dropped three miles from home, gave the requisite life blood, and walked home.
I typically use such walks for reading/praying/thinking/all three. This particular day it was mostly prayer/thinking (though I do highly recommend Tom Holland’s IN THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD, his excellent survey of the sociological forces in play in the late Roman, Sassanid, and Persian Empires that led to the rise of Islam).
I’ve been struggling in my soul with the shocking selfishness and narcissism of so much of American conservative Christianity. There is a strong element of “Though everyone else deny you, I will never deny you!” in that subculture that, when put to even the most elementary test, has failed utterly.
Here are people who boast of their willingness to bear the cross, die for the gospel, die for their country, etc. For twenty years I believed them when they assured me that the damn libruls were Cafeteria Catholics[TM] who only took the bits and pieces of the gospel they happened to like and did not truly believe in Jesus.
Yet 15 years ago, in order to save their own skins, they led the charge in battling the obvious teaching of the Church in order to fight for the absolute idiocy of Bush’s torture regime. A few years later, they instantly went to war with the Pope after years of bragging about their super-duper fidelity to the Magisterium, because he challenged their commitment to Mammon and their use of the unborn as human shields for their selfishness and cruelty. They twisted themselves into pretzels to go on claiming the “prolife” mantle while defending crap like this:
And when asked to do something as pathetically easy as wear a stupid mask for ten minutes in Kwiki Mart or get a simple shot to protect their neighbor from a plague that will kill more Americans than the entire Civil War in half the time, they not only refuse but pose in the mirror and applaud their own heroism for spitefully spitting in the faces of decent people.
All of this has been, ‘ow you say?, a challenge to my ability to love. It is not a challenge to my faith in Jesus. He has, after all, surrounded himself with people who betray, deny, and desert him since the very start. Who else does he have to work with? And my failure–my inability–to love these people is its own form of desertion. I would love to be a disciple who can return blessing for curses and prayers for nasty people. But my real response has been, “What a bunch of vile narcissists!” It’s been all I can do not to just give in to hatred of them. Loving them is beyond me. I try to forgive and hand them over to God. But they are back again the next day, being horrible, and I just feel beaten down by it all.
So that’s a lot of what I talk about on my prayer walks. Just begging the Unjust Judge of the parable to do something about this embarrassing MAGA Catholic subculture or make me able to move past all this and do something useful instead of just perseverating about it.
Anyway, one of the things I realized as I was on the walk was that my anger about the sheer narcissism of this subculture, which constantly sees itself in the role of the persecuted victim martyr even as it spreads disease to its victims, made me wonder if somehow my need for the love of God was itself narcissistic. It’s easy for me to look at the sufferings in the world and think “Why do you think your stupid little problems matter? Think about somebody else!” and attribute that voice to God. I come from a background in which the notion that God should bother with any of us struck me for most of my formative years as identical with going on the dole. You did your job and kept your nose clean and didn’t expect a pat on the head or recognition for it and if you did you were a self-absorbed child. The only time you should expect to hear from Upstairs is if you screw up.
This resulted, unsurprisingly, in a fraught relationship with God since it was very hard to credit the idea that he loved me but very easy to credit the idea that I bring him nothing but frustration and displeasure.
None of this is God’s doing, of course. It’s just family dynamics playing out into my sixth decade.
Anyway, it occurred to me on my walk that needing the love of God is like needing food, not like being a glutton and there was no shame in it. The psalm for that day helped:
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
I needn’t be ashamed of needing God’s love any more than I need be ashamed of needing to eat each day. The shame comes only in denying the hungry their portion.
And that brings me to the second thing I sort of dimly start to get–though I’m not sure I know what to do about it. Namely, it started to occur to me that so much MAGA cruelty comes out of fear. The selfishness: fear of losing What’s Mine. The racism: fear of losing power. The projective spite: fear that the ones they hate are like themselves. Indeed, an awful lot of of their repellent behavior seems to come out of a fear that the whole human race is as awful as they are. I even read a piece in Breitbart recently in which the author projected on to leftists a sinister plan to try to kill MAGA by urging them to be vaccinated, knowing that they would refuse out of sheer spite. It was deeply pathetic.
The recognition of the intense fear that motivates these horrible, nasty people does not, I’m afraid, imbue me with clarity about what to do in response to them. They remain, so many of them, appalling human beings. I know that anger only makes fearful people more fearful, but I don’t know what to do instead when they think, talk, and act like that Breitbart writer. I know that somewhere under the narcissistic gluttony for power is a legit hunger for some kind of healthy love. But I’m jiggered if I know how to provide it for them.
So I guess I’ll keep praying and trying to forgive till I get further light. I wish I were a better person.