Emily Gilman

Making Stuff Up and Writing It Down Since (Before) I Learned How to Write

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Christian Values

The past several weeks have been exhausting for me for a variety of reasons, but none of it was quite like the days since Tuesday. I’ve been focused a lot on private conversations, and figuring out what kinds of help and support I’m best positioned to offer, and then making those offers/doing that work. I’ve been trying to keep my own head above water.

And I’ve been trying to decide what, among all of the private conversations, I would want to say more publicly. So here is one thing out of many, not because I think it’s anything new or earth-shattering or special, but because saying nothing is not an option and because this is one part of the whole shitshow I feel qualified to comment on:

I am angry. I am feeling, to borrow a phrase from Fr. James Martin, SJ, consumed by zeal. Those Men have been elected President and Vice President of my country. Those Men who would ignore the very real dangers of climate change, who would deport millions of immigrants and build walls (literal or metaphorical) to keep others out, who would condone (both explicitly and tacitly) racism and misogyny and Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, who would torture LGBT+ people with so-called “conversion therapy” and try to take away their equal human rights because of their own homophobia and call it the will of God, who would fight to get rid of groups like Planned Parenthood and all the health services they provide because some of them also perform abortions as a small (non-federally-funded) part of their work (and damn the consequences), who would mock the disabled and mock veterans and mock anyone and everyone (but God forbid anyone offer even the most gentle criticism of them), and at least one of them would do it all claiming that he is “a Christian, and a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order” and that this is a Christian nation rather than a nation that separates church (broadly speaking) and state so that people of many faiths and philosophies can live together in mutual respect.

If you’ve clicked any of those links you may have noticed that, with one exception, they are not about Those Men, nor will I dignify Those Men by naming them here. Part of that is because I am so very angry — too angry to organize my thoughts and my evidence for the scathing, sarcastic denunciation I had originally intended — but part of that is because they are already too puffed-up, too proud and full of their own self-importance, for me to want to give them the satisfaction. Let me think of God’s words instead. Let me think of Pope Francis’s calls for sincere and caring dialogue between people of different faiths and his calls to care for the planet, our home and God’s creation, with love and respect.

I’ve never been good about praying regularly, and I rarely feel Jesus’s presence the way some people describe, like he’s a friend who’s physically there in the room. But every so often the entirety of what just happened, the enormity of its implications for individuals and our society and our planet, hits me: for a few minutes it’s all there in my brain at once, the big picture, instead of my little corners that I’ve been trying to focus on to stay sane. It is overwhelming.

So last night I prayed. I thought of what Jesus experienced growing up as a poor child living under a brutal imperial occupation, his torture and sadistic execution (one of countless such executions) as an example to others; I thought of what his parents and friends went through, the grief and fear they must have felt and the danger to their own lives. I thought of the people living that reality now, the people who never stopped living that reality. And I asked for help to be brave. I asked for help to be better than I have been, for help not to turn away even when I’m afraid, even when it’s dangerous, because there are so many who don’t have that option and never did and they deserve better. I need to do better.

And I felt it then, that presence that people talk about but that I’ve never quite understood. In that moment I felt certain that if ever I am in danger because of who I am, or because of who I try to help, or because of who I see as human and a child of God and worthy of love, that I will not be alone. Jesus will be there, because he is intimately familiar with those dangers, those fears. He lived them. In Catholicism, we believe that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. (It’s a mystery. Just go with it.) And we believe that when God became human he didn’t become someone like Those Men. He was not rich. He was not powerful. He was not the kind of person that his society was set up to help. And he didn’t set out to get rich or to be popular or to control other people’s lives by force. He was a nobody, and he was poor, and he was killed for questioning the status quo and for insisting on loving everyone, even his oppressors, even his murderers.

He will not be with Those Men, except perhaps to soften their hearts (I can only pray). And he is already with us.

One final note on failing and on doing better: I’m a big fan of the idea of original sin. I find it very hopeful. The way I figure it, original sin means that we’re all imperfect, we all fail, and we cannot change that. We cannot be perfect, at least not in this life. We can, however, apologize, and do better, and forgive, and be forgiven. So I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned, in what I have done and especially in what I have failed to do. I promise you (and God) that I will do better, and that I will renew that promise every time I fail. And if you feel like praying for me, that’s cool. I’ll be praying while I work.