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Sam Thielman's "The Digital Offertory and the Militant Right" is a must-read. He documents how certain habits in Christian culture, habits which have a veneer of politeness or innocence, can give aid and comfort to much more dangerous agendas. I think this excerpt from his short essay is apt:
It’s easy to see the militant far right as scheming fascists acting on evil master plans. What’s harder to understand, but what I consider far more important, is how deep separatism and militarism run in many Christian traditions. Violent rhetoric can, uncomfortably, be subsumed into the language of “spiritual warfare" and we tend not to talk about that. As un-Christian as violence theoretically sounds to Christian ears, Christian leaders rarely condemn and sometimes condone it; when they take the wrong side, they quickly forget they’ve done so, and the stain remains.
Three things from this passage stand out to me. First, the "language of spiritual warfare." I've known fundamentalists for whom "spiritual warfare" becomes a call to bigotry. They forcefully assert their gender; they are not shy in telling other people how to live; they dabble in survivalism and other forms of extremism. There may not be overt violence, but there's a pronounced willingness to justify any lunacy of theirs as "God's will." They do hurt people, even if they do it "nicely." Second, going hand-in-hand with this, is silence from leaders about actual violence. The dishonesty involved is appalling. There may be good reason, at times, for not cursing or avoiding difficult topics. A safe space, if you will, for church goers which can be a form of politeness. When a leader does not swiftly condemn violence done in the name of something preached, that "politeness" is nothing but a shield for their true agenda. Finally, conveniently forgetting that you've done wrong is not just a form of amnesia. It's a terribly distorted version of faith, where one's personal relationship with God means that one can do no wrong, not ever. To say the least, none of these things are compatible with living in society, much less democratic society.
Below: I try to avoid love poetry, but Naomi Shihab Nye's "Come with Me" was too good. I spent Valentine's Day thinking about Transformers branded Valentine's cards from grade school. They're good in their own way—I appreciate them a lot more now. Still, it was thrilling to encounter a love poem this sophisticated.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Come with Me"
Some people love loudly.
—I don't mean that. Though that could be an example.— I do mean they need the relationship for the attention economy. Instagrams flooded with photos and details of dates. "My love," declared in every other Facebook post. Sometimes, they don't even need to swoon to get the attention they desire:
one time i made a guy a playlist and he was texting me the whole time telling me how much he loved it and what great music taste i had and then i looked on his alt twitter and he was making fun of all the songs LMAO— pizzarina sbarro (@tillamundo) February 18, 2022
Yup. We're at the stage of late capitalism where relationships are valuable as "content."
There's another loudness I see often. A high of sorts. In this case, it's forcing a relationship. Two people want to know their fantasies matter. So they may not advertise their obsession, except their obsession is the advertisement. You know what I'm talking about. People who go on one date and talk afterward as if they're getting married.
The intrusiveness of these approaches to love struck me when I read Naomi Shihab Nye's "Come with Me." Her poem is a short, sweet Valentine which doesn't steer away from desire and intimacy. But it promises something quieter, too. Something lovely and gentle in its own right. I wonder how exactly the sentiment she expresses works:
Come with Me (h/t Dina Relles) Naomi Shihab Nye To the quiet minute Between two noisy minutes It's always waiting ready to welcome us Tucked under the wing of the day I'll be there Where will you be?
"[T]he quiet minute / Between two noisy minutes" has to be communicated. But it doesn't warrant needless boasting or a marketing budget. Strangely, it brings to mind ideas regarding religious devotion. Here's a stanza by Wendell Berry expressing how much can be held in a short time:
Again I resume the long lesson:
how small a thing can be pleasing,
how little in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.
The world is "hard," filled with violence, complications, bullying, and disappointment. If you want to love, though, "how small a thing can be pleasing." It can be possible to make things lovelier, if one chooses. I feel like "the quiet minute" has less to do with posting "thirst traps" and more to do with naturally finding satisfaction, a place of rest. Between one noisy, chaotic, dispiriting moment and another just like it, you could say, there is the quiet one needs.
Still, "Come with me" is addressed to a lover. It doesn't reject lust as a bad thing. A need for intimacy generates a special exclusivity ("the quiet minute... always waiting ready to welcome us"), one so private even the day doesn't see it ("Tucked under the wing of the day"). To be sure, this sounds like an especially refined lust, open to what romance can truly achieve. Alone together, you pay heightened attention to your lover. Every detail matters. The poem's tone is proud. There's a plea—"I'll be there / Where will you be?"—but it is clear a beloved who doesn't respond to the offer is hopelessly lost.
What I find striking is that the poem steers away from carpe diem rhetoric. There's no argument of the "we're only young once, better get this done now" sort. The person speaking these lines emphatically asserts their own value. "[T]he quiet moment," "always waiting ready," is a product of their loving you like no one else. No one can be more sensitive or welcoming. That, I believe, underlies the "quiet," and is missing from our world of Instagrammable dates and potential timelines for wedding slideshows. What is the romance of actually being with someone, as opposed to romance?