The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"Love Changes Everything": A Meditation on a Forum

I won't try to expand on Buddy Stallings's recent sermon at St. Barts, or on the great exchange between Buddy and Dean Wolfe, our Rector, who graciously invited Buddy to return, and engaged him in a thought-provoking dialogue.

These are both great resources, and I will not pretend to add to them.

I will, however, touch on a few thoughts that being present for both raised in my own mind. So, if you've a mind to, tarry with the Anglocat for a bit. But don't miss Dean and Buddy.


Both in the sermon and in the forum, loving those with whom we disagree with, those who hurt us, was held up as the only cure for our divisive times. Neither Dean nor Buddy trivialized the sacrificial nature of such love, or denied the difficulty of loving those who hate us, torward whom we may feel a visceral anger--partially rooted, no doubt, in fear, fear that they will take away what we cherish. What is that "it" we fear losing? Safety, for many, simple physical safety, such as I, a middle class straight white male get to take for granted, almost all of the time (until I don't, that is. We all die, after all, and that includes me). Economic security, certainly. Others live lives that are far more menaced, far more in peril than do I, to the great shame of our society.

But to look at those across the divide, while they fear many of the the same things we do, the single greatest conservative concern seems to me to be a fear of the loss of Culture and Tradition--seeing these building blocks are seen by many as under siege, and that creates a different kind of fear. If you look at Rod Dreher's blog today, almost every post visible on the page relates to a fear of the loss of cultural hegemony, and a resulting extirpation at the hands of the militant left they so dread. I know, I know; the Right has the Presidency, the Judiciary, and, until January, both houses of Congress. But the fear is very real, nonetheless. Just read the posts.

How do we love across the divide?

Steven Moffat struggled with these very concerns in parable form in the last phase of his tenure on Doctor Who. As he wrote the Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, the character underwent a character arc from a point where he described his companion Clara as his carer, adding "She cares so I don't have to," to his almost last words being "Hate is always foolish, and love is always wise." So I'm not ashamed to quote him. He offers the example of the show's definitive villain, trying to find a way back to her onetime friend:
DOCTOR: Nobody can have that power.
MISSY: You will, because you don't have a choice. There's only way you can stop these clouds from opening up and killing all your little pets down here. Conquer the universe, Mister President. Show a bad girl how it's done.
(Missy drops a deep curtsy. The Doctor rips the bracelet off.)
DOCTOR: Why are you doing this?
MISSY: I need you to know we're not so different. I need my friend back. Every battle, every war, every invasion. From now on, you decide the outcome. What's the matter, Mister President? Don't you trust yourself?


DOCTOR: Thank you. Thank you so much.
(He kisses Missy gently.)
DOCTOR: I really didn't know. I wasn't sure. You lose sight sometimes. Thank you! I am not a good man! I am not a bad man. I am not a hero. And I'm definitely not a president. And no, I'm not an officer. Do you know what I am? I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning. I don't need an army. I never have, because I've got them. Always them. Because love, it's not an emotion. Love is a promise.
Two seasons later, Missy, without hope, without witness, without reward, will die trying to honor that promise.

Now, why did I inflict that sic-fi parable on you? Because we live in an age in which the culture of hatred in which we live has infected much of Christianity itself. If I simply refer you to the Gospels--with which this secular parable is absolutely consistent--if you are not an a Christian, or, worse, if you have encountered toxic Christianity, it may well be meaningless to you. And we need the non-Christians, not just the members of other faiths, either, because we aren't enough if we keep to our churchy enclaves.

Love is not an emotion; it's a promise. We aren't asked to not have feelings, but we are asked to not let those feelings corrupt us. We are asked--no, required, both by the Gospel, and by the torn and tearing fabric of the nation in which we live to forego the luxury of indulging the dubious (but very real) pleasures of self-righteous anger. And once again, I refer you to a non-religious source. Bernard Shaw, in his Nobel Prize-winning St. Joan, when the self-righteous Chaplain sees the burning of Joan, which he has egged on:
The Chaplain staggers in from the courtyard like a demented creature, his face streaming with tears, making the piteous sounds that Warwick has heard. He stumbles to the prisoner's stool, and throws himself upon it with heartrending sobs.

WARWICK [going to him and patting him on the shoulder] What is it, Master John? What is the matter?

THE CHAPLAIN [clutching at his hand] My lord, my lord: for Christ's sake pray for my wretched guilty soul.

WARWICK [soothing him] Yes, yes: of course I will. Calmly, gently--

THE CHAPLAIN [blubbering miserably] I am not a bad man, my lord.

WARWICK. No, no: not at all.

THE CHAPLAIN. I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like.

WARWICK [hardening] Oh! You saw it, then?

THE CHAPLAIN. I did not know what I was doing. I am a hotheaded fool; and I shall be damned to all eternity for it.

WARWICK. Nonsense! Very distressing, no doubt; but it was not your doing.

THE CHAPLAIN [lamentably] I let them do it. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don't know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then--then--
Then, of course it is too late.

So, concretely, what do we do? Not give in to anger and hate, yes. But try to meet people in circumstances that promote relationships, not degrade them. I'm a member of The Anthony Powell Society, and many fellow enthusiasts are not of my political or other beliefs, but we laugh at the same jokes in Powell's books, enjoy the same eccentricities in society. We become friends, and differences matter less. Same in Anglicanism. My devotions have been greatly enriched by The Anglican Breviary.

Know thy enemy. S/he might someday cease to be one.

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