Remember, remember...

Editorial by Art Dewey

From The Fourth R
Volume 29, Issue 5
September – October 2016
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For a while it was fodder for the late night comedians, too bizarre to be taken seriously. Colbert and Fallon, Kimmel and Myers fed voraciously upon the oversized farce that energized the primary season. Even I got into it, revising a tune from Mel Brooks’ The Producers: “Springtime for Donald and mania.” But I was troubled from the outset. What was happening was really no joke. It would even astound Max Bialystock, the fictional corrupt producer, to imagine that this was actually coming true. One by one Trump’s Republican rivals withered under his crude progress. He refused to play their game. They were outwitted by his rude mindlessness. He uttered and embodied what they had long intimated but would hardly mention. He spoke what millions of Americans had been muttering for years. The unimaginable peered proudly under his orange quaff.

Meanwhile this had become another summer of American discontent. As the signal fires heralded the fateful arrival of Agamemnon, so throughout this country gunfire blazed again and again, proclaiming the dissolution of our commonweal. Shock and awe reverberated through Facebook and Twitter. The pedagogy of violence, long inculcated by perpetual war, sustained by insouciant financiers, and borne by the “disposables” of our population, had come home. Those neglected by Washington insiders and Wall Street wizards broke through the velvet cordons of political correctness.

Then in Kentucky an Ark appeared. Ken Ham, the P. T. Barnum of the Bible, had outdone himself to call people back to a six-thousand-year-old world. In June a 510-foot Ark opened to the public. Dinosaurs and unicorns were cribbed and cabined with the usual suspects. Fittingly this biblical Disneyland reinforced the underlying theology that had filtered through our nation. Come back to a god that regretted his creation. Come back to a god that destroys the work of his hands. Come back to a story that had its origins in the catastrophe of ancient power games.

The pedagogy of violence plays upon our deepest fear, that of abandonment. Americans dream of living in gated communities in the hope that they can keep this fear outside. Are not the 1% living that dream? But the shocking insistence of our economic upheavals continues to undermine even this facade. Those who feel crushed and desperate look for anyone who can give them a glimmer of hope. Indeed, our fear of abandonment metastasizes into an inner fascism. Sensing our powerlessness, we gravitate to whatever dominates and exploits us. We submit to the one who promises to make us “great again.”

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An antidote to our inner fascism is remembering. I am not talking about absolute recall or playing with obscure factoids. Genuine remembering is one of the deepest acts of being human. Remembering is first of all a refusal to give in to the forces of dissolution and displacement. Remembering means that we stay still and let the unspoken and unnoticed surprise us. Remembering is not clutching a fact sheet but discovering that we have room to breathe. When we remember we realize that we are not inextricably caught in a spasm of infinite regression. Rather, we remember who we can be. Remembering is detecting that we are not alone.

The pedagogy of violence keeps us in a perpetual state of PTSD. It would displace our remembering with the seismic shakes that greet us in the morning news and send us terrified to bed at night. It keeps us off balance, unable to be still and recall the relationships and realities of our life together. The pedagogy of violence keeps us in a constant pediatric condition. It dynamites critical thought and introduces us to a constant spiral of shame. The only way out of this abyss is to surrender to the one who can promise us everything while delivering nothing.

It is at times like this that I remember the words that were uttered centuries ago. Psalm 73 catches me right in the middle of that lingering temptation:

I was envious of that boaster … He has no cares … no worries, never harassed. Pride is for him a signet ring … craving for power fits him like a glove … His eyes are bulging from his fat face … his big mouth is raised against heaven … Of course he carries the mob with him.

And then the psalmist discovers that there is more than the present crashing moment:

The whole of their life is built on quicksand … I was like a senseless animal … where am I on earth if you are not there?
(Huub Oosterhuis translation)

By remembering, the psalmist sees through the mirage of the power game. He learns that there is more than meets the eye, that there is “peace in the mystery” he detects. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “remember” (zakar) means to bring what is real to mind. It is a simple act. It is a human act. Without it, we are zombies.

The presidential election is the eighth of November. In England on the fifth they celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. It is a most curious holiday, for what the British celebrate is the fact that the Parliament and all those who were to be there (including King James) were not blown to bits by the gunpowder below. The English remember and are grateful for what did not happen. At the same time they celebrate that their life together keeps moving forward. What will November 8 be for us? What and how shall we remember?

Photo of Arthur Dewey

Arthur J. Dewey (Th.D., Harvard University) is Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati. A distinguished teacher, writer, translator and commentator, he is the author of Inventing the Passion: How the Death of Jesus was Remembered (forthcoming 2017) and co-author of The Complete Gospel Parallels (with Robert J. Miller, 2011) and The Authentic Letters of Paul (with Roy W. Hoover, Lane C. McGaughy, and Daryl D. Schmidt, 2010). Dewey’s poetry has appeared in Christian Century and his poetic perspective aired on the Saturday Morning Edition on Public Radio Station WVXU (91.7) in Cincinnati for more than a dozen years.