Half-Mast

When I run, I pass a local college with a flag pole out front. The American flag seems to rest perpetually at half mast, a sign of our constant collective tragedy. This time it's for the dozen slain in a California bar, but it will be for something else soon.

The earth over which that limp flag hangs is sick, soaked in the blood of those sacrificed to self-interest and fear. It's a rotting place where we live now, a place where wounds are never allowed to heal. These hurts are once and future. We groan when they break open and ooze across our screens, but we do not mend them. They fester and we sigh as though there were no medicine.

We treat our violence not as a sickness but as a garden to be tended. We grow death in this country, nurture it and ignore its cost while we praise the blooms it brings. Entertainment, money, self-protection, "freedom" — we point to these as reasons to persist in madness, rather than acknowledge them as symptoms of a greater malignancy. What is there to do in such a time as this? Cry for the dead? Rage at the abyss that swallows them? Pray?

For those of us burdened by the Resurrection, we cannot help but remember our call to hope. We are to be people of the third day, people who have seen life on the other side of death. For us, our task is to remember that a violence done, even the ultimate violence, is not a story's end. We are an epilogue people.

And yet.

Even the Christ, he who yokes us with such a hope, does not return from death unmarked. He presents his exit wounds to his disciples, showing them that even if Death no longer reigns, Suffering and Pain still have their place in the narrative of our hope. Even in new life, there is no escaping the marks left by a system obsessed with its nails and spears. Even of Christ, we demand an open wound.

Advent Lament

It’s been a busy month for the cycle of awful, devastating news. A guy shoots up a Planned Parenthood. A couple shoots up an office party at a center for the disabled. A leading presidential candidate advocates for religious persecution. We have seen lots of hate. Lots of death. Lots of blood. Events happen before, the same day, and after that we don’t even hear about. We’ll see more.

It’s difficult, even as it makes a kind of sense, to see all this in the light of Advent, a season where we are waiting on the bringer of Peace. We wait in a darker world, hoping it gets lighter. Not only do we wait, we are active in our preparation. We have our role to play. But the weight of that role seems heavier when the shit, deep and horrifying, rests itself on our daily lives. How can we anticipate the new when the tragedy we see every day is anything but new? It’s old hat at this point.

Our society is used to seeing people die on the other end of a barrel. We are used to seeing hatred spread across the faces of our neighbors, an entrenched hatred for the other who is also our neighbor. We are caught in between feuds that, more often than not, only one party knows exists. This is the world in which we do Advent.

I am weary. I spend more time than most reading the words of, and interacting with, those who cannot agree with me on the pacifist nature of the Gospel. Over the years, my faith has taken large turns, some lovely, many tragic. It is unrecognizable from what it once was. I’m happy about that for the most part, but not for everything. Still, while much of what I felt I agreed with and understood about Christian life has left me, the commitment to non-violence has remained. Such a pity, then, that I should maintain this tenet in a world obsessed with violence. More the pity that I live in such a callously violent nation, especially one which so arrogantly touts its love of civility and lawfulness.

Things are dark in these Advent days. This is as it should be. The light of Emmanuel, God With Us, is not yet here. Oh, that it would be here. Oh, that people could see the gift that is our ability to lay down our swords for ploughshares. If only it were a world of our readying work, of our actions to bring about Love, Joy, Hope, and ultimately Peace. If only it were a world that kept the lamb close and let the lion roam. If only we remembered to continue the work on December 26th.

Peace. Peace. Peace be with you.

Thought and Prayer

Today there have been a lot people turning their ire at the "thoughts and prayers" platitudes that follow an American mass shooting event. It's the go-to phrase for politicians, who are forced to say something after a public event. Annoying.

But a lot of other people say "thoughts and prayers" too. Look, it's a formulation. The words, "My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families," don't really mean anything regarding the way they were originally arranged. For politicians it's like saying, "I acknowledge this event happened and will now engage in the appropriate way of saying so." For others "thoughts and prayers" means, "This event makes me sad," or, "Oh shit," or, "I wish this wouldn't have happened."

"Thoughts and prayers," as a phrase, does a bunch of heavy lifting we don't necessarily want to do in public. This is especially true when we're limited to 140 characters.

I don't get the ire. Living in a country as violent as the United States and railing against the phrase "thoughts and prayers" is like living next to a coal plant and shouting at the sky about air quality.

Anyway, quiet, contemplative, even conversational prayer is fine. Even good. Posting about it on social media doesn’t effect your reach, though. God don’t care about “likes” and RTs.

Lord, have mercy.

Bang

“Being a reporter in America is being a war correspondent.” — Logan

More people got shot today. People get shot every day. This is America, the land of getting shot. This week it was two television employees in Virginia, one reporter and one photographer, murdered on live TV.

Here is the grim reality, which has been said before but bears repeating: nothing is going to change in this country when it comes to violence, gun violence in particular. Nothing substantive, anyway. If a classroom of six-year-olds dying won’t do it, nothing will. I suppose the only defense we have left is to keep talking about it when it happens. That’ll be the last thing to go. Talking about it, I mean. Eventually we won’t even do that anymore, because why talk about something you can see inside, outside, on your screen, in front of your face?

The gun debate is as tired as the shootings themselves. I’m tired of having it. I don’t think anyone should have a gun that isn’t specifically made to hunt an animal that you then intend to eat. Everything else should go. Don’t quote the 2nd Amendment to me, because unless you understand the part about “well-regulated militias,” we won’t agree. I don’t think you should get to have a handgun or an assault rife. You can think whatever you want. It doesn’t matter if we disagree anyway.

Some might argue that this level of cynicism borders on nihilism, and that nihilism won’t solve anything. Maybe it won’t. But there’s only so much death and gun violence you can see before you realize that your voice is lost among the haze of raining bullets and the clacks of firing mechanisms.

I suppose we could take a common-sense approach for starters, but that’s not very American. We could have universal background checks. We could outlaw military-grade weapons for civilian ownership. We could push for stricter legislation on any number of gun issues. But we won’t, because of that damnable amendment and the heinous misinterpretations of it. So we’ll watch people die in droves instead. It’s just another Wednesday in America, after all.

When We Are All Armed, We Will Finally Have Full Security From One Another

There’s been another theater shooting. This time in Louisiana. This is not crazy. There’s nothing abnormal about this situation. When we are gathered in public spaces, we should now expect to be shot. It would be crazy to think otherwise.

Black people in America have been telling us forever, basically, that they expect violence at all times. They are wary of it. They look for it. They carry themselves in a certain way to fend it off. They are not crazy. The rest of us have been crazy. But no more.

Now we can join them and experience violent force established by government, codified in law, and supported by a vocal, extremist fringe of this country at all times and in all places.

Those who support the violent status quo would have us arm ourselves. When we are all armed, we will finally have full security from each other. No longer will we need to relate to each other as anything other than a possible threat. We will all be rogue actors within the indistinguishable morass of violence we have created together.

Violence is our purpose and our aim. It is our revelation. Our telos. Our eschaton. Our apocalypse. Violence gives meaning to our lives. We should expect it at every moment.

To Tamir

I'm sorry you're dead, Tamir. I'm sorry that playing with a pellet gun got you shot by a policeman. I used to play with pellet guns, too. My friend had them. We'd take them out into the yard at his house. There was one that looked fake, and one that looked like a real pistol. We shot at birds on power lines, but never hit one. I think I'd have been sad if I did. We shot at trees and signs, solid things that made the round silver pellets ping and pew. We didn't think about what it looked like, one skinny kid and one chubby kid toting gun-like guns near some houses, pointing them and shooting them. We weren't afraid.

I'm sorry you should have been afraid. Little boys have played with toy guns as long as I can remember. That's what you were, you know: a little boy. Twelve feels grown-up to a twelve-year-old, but I can say you're a little boy because I'm an adult. I was a little boy once, so I remember. Before you died, you weren't afraid to play in a park, wander about looking at whatever little boys look at on the ground, point your pellet gun at imaginary targets, sit at a picnic table and pass the time.

I wish you had been afraid, even though that's not right. It's wrong to wish one group of people have more fear and take extra care just for their safety, even if it's just because you want them safe. It's more that I wish you'd lived in a world where little black boys didn't have to be afraid of that kind of thing. I wish that I knew what it was like to be you. I was a little white boy in rural Alabama, so it was different. You'd have realized that if you'd grown up. Maybe you knew it already.

I watched the video. I saw you gather up the slushy snow, pad it together and send it into the air. You watched it sink to the earth and splat lazily on the sidewalk. I watched you step on the flattened pile, and I imagined the muffled crunch of ice and powder beneath your boots. I did that kind of thing, too, at your age. Then I watched a car roll up and a man jump out and gun you down, like in a gangster movie. But this was a police car rolling up, and a police man jumping out, and it was very real. You died, and I grieve about that. Lots of people do.

I wish you had more afternoons to point your pellet gun at trees and signs and power lines, more days to sit and be bored at a table, more days to look at worms in a sidewalk puddle. But you're dead, and now I wish for justice for you. I wish that all would see you as a boy, a child of God, an unjust death in an unjust world. And I wish they'd do something about it. But mostly, I wish you were still alive, Tamir. I wish wishing were enough.

Hey, Guys? Hi. Just Real Quick. That Ain’t the Answer.

28 May, 2014

By Logan

In the wake of the Ilsa Vista killings, that Mark wrote about on Monday, various reactions have percolated into public view. There have been the standard, scripted statements from supporters of gun control and advocates of so-called gun rights. But there was also a statement from Richard Martinez, whose son was killed during the shooting spree. In response to politicians, who had been calling to offer their condolences, he said: “I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me."

Then there was the #YesAllWomen mass social media conversation on Twitter. See, the Isla Vista shooter ranted about needing to kill because women wouldn't have sex with him. So women of every stripe poured onto Twitter to share their stories about harassment they experience from men, discrimination they experience in a world tailored for men, and the general experience that all women—yes, all women—are treated badly by men and by society just for being women.

Then you have your reactions to the reactions, which is generally where you can glimpse society quickly binding itself into a concrete edifice erected to memorialize a dying culture in which civilization is actually valued. Rather than quietly reading and considering the witness women had to share through the #YesAllWomen hashtag, many men jumped to defend themselves through a #NotAllMen hashtag. Just the kind of asinine response you'd expect from a bunch of little babies with too much privilege, a keyboard, and a connection to the Internet.

But then, there's a subtler reaction. It goes like this:

"I'm a man, and I acknowledge there are a lot of bad guys in the world. I'm not one of those men, but I want to be in solidarity with women who have to deal with bad men. Women must surround themselves with the good men of the world."

Hey, guys? Hi. Just real quick. That ain't the answer. In fact, you've uttered the very root of the problem. I think this is pretty obvious, but here goes. What women don't need is the reification of a culture in which they must seek out and maintain the protection of men. Your job is not to be some kind of good and valorous knight, ready to leap into action to protect a weak woman at a moment's notice. Did you read the posts trending under #YesAllWomen? Women are fucking strong. And just like Richard Martinez, women don't care that you feel sorry for them.

Men, if you're so great, your work, now, is not to "protect women," but to join in the transformation of society for the benefit of everyone less privileged than you.

In Memoriam

It’s Memorial Day, and I’m one of those Americans who has the day off to relax and BBQ and cram a few extra chores in. This is the reality of what we do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Though it’s important to remember why we have the day off—because people died when they didn’t want to, doing something they’d rather not have been doing, but did anyway for a host of reasons ranging from noble and heroic to mundane and tragic. Nobody wants to fight and die, but a lot of people harnessed that fear and tried to do something with it, something they felt was important and worth doing no matter the personal cost. That’s worth remembering. Courage and camaraderie usually are.

For me, it’s been a day of thinking about the dead. Memorial Day is the obvious, and the most recent mass killing in California lurks, too. When I first heard there’d been another shooting spree, I deliberately avoided the news about it. I stayed off major news sites and barely touched social media. I sure as hell didn’t click any links. I didn’t avoid the story because it wasn’t important, but because I knew that what I read wouldn’t give credit to how important it really was. The fact that we’re talking about “another” shooting is abhorrent, but the pre-written scripts people now pull for these events are tragic in their own way.

I knew that as soon as I opened up an article, I’d find the buzzwords “gun control,” “mental illness,” “legally registered firearm,” and several synonyms for “unexpected.” Eventually, I did read up on the story because it’s my mental way of clipping another article from the paper and putting it in the “Is There Any Hope?” scrapbook. Sure enough, the first story I found from CNN contained all the right lingo, the total lack of nuance, and even some surprises. Rodger’s motive (at least as he expressed it) of retribution, based upon his perceived rejection and slights against him by all women, was an unusual component to what has become a common story in this country. The hashtag #YesAllWomen, which sprang up as a way to express how prevalent violence against women still is in our society, only added more to the conversation. Not all of the murdered in Isla Vista were women, but the rage and well of hate fed by Rodger’s narcissistic and misogynistic worldview can’t be ignored.

This is exactly the point, though. There’s nothing about this story that’s cut and dry. The nuance abounds. And despite how news sources and pundits who bring us the stories of mass killings time and again reduce the events to soundbites and singular issues (generally speaking, gun control for the left and mental illness for the right as a way to deflect from gun control), they just aren’t that simple. This one story, this one incident, is about a lot. It’s about hatred of and violence toward women. It’s about mental illness. It’s about how yet another person bought a legal device made to kill people easily and used it to kill people easily. It’s about how all of these things sit on a foundation of willful cultural ignorance about what plagues us. We are a society which breeds violence like a fighting dog, feeds it and gives it all the images and vitriol it needs to grow, then acts surprised when we are bitten. We let people get away with saying “If only a good guy with a gun was there” and “Why should therapy and meds be paid for on my tax dime?” and “Well what was she wearing?” This one story is about all these issues making up a cultural pathology, and when we don’t acknowledge all the pieces of the puzzle exist, we can’t fix a damn thing.

So where does that leave us? By ignoring the nuance and by not following the strands back to their rotten core, we’re left with a pretty simple reality on the surface: just as soldiers live with the reality of violent death on the battlefield, we civilians will only grow more accustomed to violent death in our neighborhoods. On this Memorial Day, it might be worth admitting that so many of those soldiers who died in throws of war and violence did so with the hope that the heinous scenes of the battlefield would never plague their home soil. Perhaps we can truly honor our fallen dead with a pledge not to let violence and death be our norm, not to let the deaths of those who fought in wars abroad mean less because we cannot squelch war at home, and to be the blessed peacemakers who make it a point to ensure fewer and fewer soldiers and civilians die before their time. I don’t pray much anymore, but this is my prayer. Amen.

Violent Aberrations

While gun control is a touchy subject, it is nonetheless one worth wrestling with. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting there are hosts of bills concerning the regulation of firearms before state legislatures across the country. Indeed, a bipartisan bill that would require background checks to purchase a gun was before the US Senate just yesterday. It would have passed but it failed to gain a 60 vote super majority and was filibustered off the floor by Senate Republicans.

So gun control is in the news daily. I've been thinking about it. And I think I have a take on the issue that I can stand and that might prompt interesting conversation no matter who I'm talking to.

I want to preface this by saying that I don't agree with the tired old line "guns don't kill people, people kill people". It seems obvious to me that limiting private access to assault weapons and high yield hand guns should also limit deaths from guns in the United States. I understand that there arguments that refute this, but I don't find them convincing.

That being said, while it is the nature and purpose of a firearm to deliver a huge amount of force to an object from a distance, and this fact may make it easier to carry out violent acts upon animals and humans alike where the physical manipulation of a blade, for example, might not be so easy, a gun doesn't have a mystical power to turn a person into a killer. So the question is, what about our society, as opposed to a country like Canada (where gun ownership is also high), leads people to carry out acts of destructive violence against other human beings? This isn't the politically practical question, but it is the question conservatives and liberals alike should be asking themselves and discussing together.

As the beginning of an answer to my own question, I propose that violent acts like Sandy Hook, the Aurora theater shooting, and -- yes -- the Boston bombings, are not violent aberrations within an otherwise peaceful society. Instead, these acts of incredible violence happen against a backdrop of subtly violent interactions that make up our systems of economics, politics, foreign policy, law enforcement, public education, physical health care, mental health, entertainment, religious observance, and sports. We come ever so close to having an at least tangential discussion about these issues when we talk about mental health. However, usually we end up demonizing the mentally ill as the perpetrators of violence while ignoring their victimization at the hands of a society that has largely forgotten its human responsibility to see to their well-being (including in the piece linked above by Gabrielle Giffords) and so we redouble the violence against them through the discussion itself.

We encourage this violence and take part in it to our individual benefit and to our collective downfall. While I support gun control, and believe it not only to be constitutional in general but also specifically constitutionally mandated, it is really only so much blabbing in the face of the problems that really beset our society.

Public Disagreement

I hesitate to call it an argument, but Mark and I had a little disagreement in public the other day. That is, I disagreed with something he posted on Facebook and instead of rolling over he spoke back like the good bearded fellow he is. It went back and forth a few times and we reached a kind of consensus about what we disagreed about and why.

Posting what follows may come across as an exercise in self-aggrandizement or navel gazing, but that isn't how it's intended. We agreed that it may stand as an example civil argument in public, where friendship is assumed and the intellectual foundations of the other's argument is sound.

Okay, so that sounds a lot like self-aggrandizement, but hang with us here.

In the wake of the April 16th bombing of the Boston marathon, Mark posted:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world." - Fred Rogers

With all the pain and horror I see on the videos coming out of Boston, I am still struck as I'm following the coverage by the people who, seconds after the first blast, rushed into the unknown, tore down the metal barricades with their own hands, and ran to help their screaming, hurt, and afraid brothers and sisters.

Mark then posted a statement by comedian Patton Oswalt:

"Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, 'Well, I've had it with humanity.'

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"

And...

This is where our exchange began. It is posted below in its entirety.

Logan: Oswalt argues that "we" are innocent and only the people twisted toward darkness are guilty -- that is until the innocent "wash away" the "evil doers" at some ideal time in the future and we all live in peace. That's nice, but it isn't true. He's a lot more like his enemy George W. Bush than he'd like to admit, I think. Exact same worldview. Two sides of the same coin.

Mark: I don't think he's saying that at all, really. And if you think that, we're reading his quote in very different ways. I'm not saying that he isn't more ideological than he might want to admit, but then again I don't think he's naive enough to argue what you're attributing him. I think what he's saying here acknowledges that there will always be those who wish to hurt and hate, but he's choosing to believe that those instincts/choices won't be able to undermine the good humanity can do.

If you asked Patton, "will we all one day live in peace, will the good conquer the bad forever," I highly doubt he'd say yes. Rather, since he and I and you can look to analogies like comics, I think he would tell you to look at Batman. The good will keep on doing the work of the good, but the work is never done. This is an idea you can't attribute to Bush, who I believe did think in terms of black and white, and that with enough force one would be gone. And frankly, I think bringing the politics that Patton puts out there is a a bit of a non sequitur; when I read his words here on hope and the idea that humanity can be more, and is more, then you might as well take issue with Tolkien and Christ who don't always do a perfect job of dealing with the gray of life.

I'm not saying that Oswalt isn't at times, even often, guilty of some of the same political fallacies as those he rails against. But I appreciate his words here, I think they communicate a truth, and it seems a bit dismissive to take him to task without considering their full merit.

Logan: Mr. Rodgers reaction to what we're talking about here is far worthier of praise than Oswalt's, which is why I initially reacted against Oswalt's, because of their juxtaposition in your post. Rodgers leaves out the so-called two sides of good and evil entirely, focusing on those who bear up under suffering. In remaining silent on the issue of those who perpetrate the kinds of action perpetrated in Boston, he dismisses a world in which some of us are good and some of us are "evil doers," (a word Oswalt actually uses -- evil doers).

I may have projected the notion that Oswalt sees an ideal time in the future, but he clearly does see an ideal and places blame upon bad guys for our failure to reach it. It isn't surprising that he does so. It is a worldview endemic to the culture in which we live. But I think you are projecting your own nuanced view of the world into Oswalt's words.

He claims the majority stands against "darkness." That majority is cast as an army of "white" blood cells on the attack, ready to destroy the darkness of the evil doers and put the world right, utterly wiping out any pain that might have been caused (I mean, he seriously uses the words evil doers. It's impossible not to hear Will Ferrell's W. Bush when I read that word). My reaction to Oswalt is less a critique of his personal view than a reaction to the worn out structure available to us in our culture in reacting to these kinds of events. I too hope that most of humanity would not bomb people peacefully watching a sporting event. I'm willing to admit that's probably the case, though every one of us is susceptible to that option. I hope that of Americans in general too, but take a quick look at @dronestream and you'll quickly be disabused of that notion.

The thing I take issue with most of all is the idea that one individual or a few may be named in this crime and that then the innocence of the rest of us will be established. The people who run toward tragedy are to be praised. However, the idea that the rest of "us," some abstract majority, might also be essentially good doesn't help me sleep at night.

Mark: I think you're missing the forest for the trees, Logan.

What was this quote about, or the post it was attached to? Both speak to the idea that we are tempted to see the terrible this world has to offer and be fearful of it, even to the point where we reject humanity as a whole. This isn't about getting the proper systematic worldview laid out in a few paragraphs. This is about saying, "I could, in these times, focus on all the bad humanity can bring. But rather, (and this is where I feel you ought to give the Oswalt quote more grace) I can say I'm wrong to see that alone. I should think of those who want it to be different."

Are people perfect? Never. Do we all exist in a gray area, moving between the potential for goodness and hatred a hundred times an hour? Of course we do, because we're human. But that doesn't stop us from wanting better. What's wrong with an ideal? What's wrong with hope? The hope here is, the good in people will outweigh the bad. Also, this isn't about having more praise for the way one person sees the struggle than another.

I agree that Rogers gets more to the point more eloquently. But that doesn't mean that others, like Oswalt or those who find value in his quote, aren't striving to understand their world in terms of goodness. And it's a choice we make to do that. None of this was to say that we can permanently place ourselves on one side of a moral line. We'll obviously all find ourselves moving back and forth across lines we even set for ourselves in our own moral code. But still, when we see that which is hate and hurt, we can say "no." We can reject that. We might just as easily find ourselves betraying our own sense of right and goodness one day, but if that's the case, I hope (for me at least) that someone would look me in the eye and say "no," that someone would name my failings and give me pause. That's learning, and that's part of the journey of building a moral sense. In terms of the church, it's exactly what UM doctrine lays out. We're always moving towards a goal of perfection. And lastly, it isn't about helping you sleep at night. It's about clinging to the kernel of hope that, in the midst of the terrible and the hateful this world can offer, things can be made right if people will name and work for love. We can't sleep comfortably because things will be magically OK if enough "bad guys" are caught (that's not how the world works and you're right to name that), and words like this aren't meant to make you rest easy. They're words of action, words to remind us to seek out what's good in people, and words to (hopefully) give people courage to reject those behaviors that can't reside with love.

The best storytellers don't give us the "happily ever after," but they do give us characters who do their best to seek out what is right and stand with those who speak truth. I don't really want to argue with you, because I think we're seeing certain words in fundamentally different lights here. But I do firmly believe that, while moral certainty and the possible elimination of one moral side that could come with that doesn't exist, we can name love and goodness and set our eyes to its fulfillment to the best of our abilities. And really, that's what the initial quotations and my reasons for sharing them were all about.

Logan: I don't disagree with anything you say, Mark. But it matters how we say these things, and so I still find myself in disagreement with Oswalt. It is his last two paragraphs that color the rest. Step back from the events of yesterday for a moment and read his words. He encourages us to feel okay about violence, bigotry, intolerance, fear, misogyny, hatred, and ignorance because the majority outnumber the minority. That must feel great for the people who can do it. But it is an empty product of of our self-obsessed culture that values heroism over love. Our culture values these kinds of responses in the face of something else -- whether it is an amorphous "evil," or in service to an ill defined ideal.

The problem with the ideal is that it is set up specifically to be unreachable. If we were to reach it, meaning -- which depends upon the present deficiency from the ideal -- would crumble. I reject meaning and embrace faithful love in the face of suffering. It is amazing, inspiring, and praiseworthy that people run toward exploding bombs to help their fellows. Yes. It is absolutely praiseworthy and hope-inducing. Oswalt is right about that. But he is wrong about the forces of evil-doers and good-guys, largely because he worships our culture's gods in comics and movies instead of taking them as pulp fiction. He is also wrong about the way we should feel in the face of the death-dealing perpetrated by individuals, and misses entirely the way actions like the Boston bombings and Sandy Hook are connected to the cultural production of evil in which we are all complicit. Maybe arguing with you, my friend, is the way I'm dealing with the events of yesterday. But the forest be dammed. I think the trees matter very much.

Mark: I also agree that how we say things matters. It matters more than most things, given that language is how we do most of what we do when it comes to community. And the way I'm dealing with the events of yesterday is finding language that rejects the worst in favor of the best. I'm not saying Oswalt nails it theologically or socially, but the heart is there and it's what resonating with my own ache as I watched the video loops, refreshing ledes, and reports of casualties come in. And maybe for him, seeking to understand how humanity can make choices for a better shared life can best be explained by the very human archetypes that comics today deal in. I can't speak for him, but that's the emotion I read.

You and I agree on the problematic nature of hero-worshiping and the ease with which one could separate out "good people" from "evil people." It isn't easy. But in the first few minutes after that explosion, it was clear, if only for a short time before it became muddy and gray again. We as a culture will surely have to do some reflection, as we should be doing every time a public act of violence hits our screens. It's not okay to separate yourself from the hatred, violence, and intolerance of the world because you think it doesn't apply to you as one of the "good folk." You're right about that. But in the moments of pain, all that some of us can do is watch a forest fire blaze in its ferocity from a distance before we step in later to examine the ash, the play of cause and effect, the individual smoldering trees. I think we're just processing differently, and I'm fine with that. So yeah, the trees matter. Especially when they're words, because words matter more than lots of things. But so do the initial emotions that lead one to say "yes" to our hopes and "no" to our fears.

So...

Anyway, we both enjoyed the exchange around what is a fraught subject. I, Logan, feel a bit embarrassed for engaging the way I did originally. However, largely because of Mark's graceful response, the thread turned into a conversation worth having. This is largely because of the mutual respect Mark and I have for each other. It is a respect that should be extended to anyone with which one finds oneself in disagreement, especially in public, and especially around subjects that implicitly carry an emotional load.

We hope you enjoyed reading our dialogue.