This morning in church I was asked to read from the writings of “Kansas poet” William Stafford. Stafford died in the 1990s, but these particular passages seemed very well suited to our Internet-Trump era.
He speaks of writer whose work seems to be to
Find limits that have prevailed and break them; be more brutal, more revealing, more obscene, more violent. Press all limits…
Fascination with things as they are becomes addictive; stronger and stronger shocks become necessary. People want even their entertainments to satisfy their lust for fear, cynicism, and disgust…
We must suspend the old course in current events, in order to protect the young. And even the old, battered, disoriented, blasé, can no longer register human feelings in the blizzard of our time.
Sanctuary, sanctuary — what lives needs sanctuary.
It seems to me these days we are governed by provocation and provocateurs. On social media, we swim in a tide of constant outrage — the “blizzard of our time” — and our passions, my passions certainly, are governed by the need to respond to those outrages, to make them right. “Someone is being wrong on the Internet” is a motto for our generation.
And more specifically, we are literally governed by a man who seems to want to find limits that have prevailed and break them, to be more brutal and obscene and violent.
What if we stopped being provoked?
I’m not suggesting we absent ourselves from politics. As many have pointed out, that’s something you can do when you’re privileged, when politics don’t happen to you.
But I am suggesting maybe it’s time to disarm, to stop responding to every provocation with a torrent of outrage. What if we don’t go apeshit every time our leader pokes us with a stick?
What if we follow the logic of sabbath? You can’t spell “resistance”without “rest” after all.
I don’t know exactly what this looks like. I don’t know how, precisely, to avoid being provoked when our leader’s every action is provocative. But I suspect that finding such an approach would rob the provocateurs of their greatest power, their greatest advantage. Maybe the slyest rhetorical weapon we have in this age is … the shrug.
There’s so much to be angry about. Our rage is earned, and righteous, but I increasingly suspect it’s a way of controlling us. There are benefits to dispassion, after all, to the pulled punch and the shot gone unfired.
Sanctuary, sanctuary. What our lives need is sanctuary.