Le plaisir et la douleur : antithèse et métaphore dans le Sonnet No VIII de Louise Labé

labécopyright 2016 by S. J. Munson

 

Dans son Sonnet No VIII, Louise Labé, poétesse lyonnaise du seizième siècle, emploie des figures de style pour décrire la nature ineffable (et quelquefois indicible) de l’amour et de la sexualité humaine. D’après François Rigolot, ce poème bien connu, dit le « sonnet des antithèses », suive la formule du poète romain Catulle (odi et amo, Carmen 85) redynamisée par Pétrarque et ses disciples, « [et] reproduit en vif les <alternances du cœur> que la traité Du Sublime (du Pseudo-Longin) décrivait justement à propos de Sappho ».[1] Comme dans les sonnets du Pétrarque, les antithèses de Labé servent à souligner que l’amour est un paradoxe qui provoque également la jouissance et la souffrance intenses. L’amour signifie la joie, un délice vertigineux, mais aimer est aussi se brûler, s’exposer au pire danger, et même mourir un peu. Dans cette rédaction, nous analyserons la manière dont la poétesse utilise l’antithèse et la métaphore en particulier pour se fait le champion de la libre expression de la sexualité féminine.

Dans le premier quatrain Labé empile ses antithèses de manière hyperbolique. « Je vis, je meurs, » elle se plaint ; « je me brule et me noye ».

J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure :

La vie m’est et trop molle et trop dure.

J’ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye :[2]

Le contraste entre vivre/mourir ; se brûler/se noyer (v.1), chaut estreme/froidure (v.2), molle/dure (v.3), ennuis/joye (v.4) donnent l’impression que l’amante est bouleversée par la passion; elle ressent une hyperstimulation sensorielle et elle a perdu ses repères. Le langage semble tellement exagéré qu’il est possible que la poétesse se moque un peu de sa propre susceptibilité. Mais elle ne se blâme pas ; c’est le pouvoir d’Amour, comme elle le dit dans son Sonnet No XXIV :

Ne reprenez, Dames, si j’ay aymé :

Si j’ay senti mile torches ardentes,

Mile travaus, mile douleurs mordentes :

Si en pleurant, j’ay mon tems consumé,

Mais estimez qu’Amour, à point nommé,

Pourra, s’il veut, plus vous rendre amoureuses.[3]

Dans ces deux sonnets, comme dans la tradition de la poésie antique, elle personnifie  l’amour comme dieu païen qui s’attaque à l’improviste aux êtres humains. Dans les deux cas, elle est sous l’emprise d’un pouvoir espiègle et impitoyable.

Dans le deuxième quatrain de No VIII, l’amante (est-elle la poétesse elle-même ? Nous ne savons pas) continue sa plainte en juxtaposant les verbes. Elle dit:

Tout à un coup je ris et je larmoye,

Et en plaisir, maint grief tourment j’endure :

Mon bien s’en va, et à jamais il dure :

Tout en un coup je seiche et je verdoye.

Elle rit et pleure (larmoye), endurant le plaisir et la souffrance en même temps. Elle a le sentiment que son bien-être (mon bien), son existence même, est menacée pendant cette expérience ardente. Elle craint que cela ne finisse jamais, bien qu’elle ne veuille pas que les sensations se terminent. Le contraste molle/dure du troisième vers résonne dans vers 7, où le pronom masculin (à jamais il dure) est ambiguë (elle veut et ne veut pas que l’amant continue).

Dans ce contexte il est évident que ces antithèses et les jeux de mots fonctionnent à deux niveaux : le romantique et le sexuel. Même des lecteurs modernes peuvent être étonnés par le caractère sexuellement explicite de sa poésie et la manière libérée dont elle représente le point de vue féminin de la sexualité. Contrairement aux femmes célestes ou idéalisées des poètes italiens ou courtois, pour lesquels l’adultère « platonique » est « la seule forme d’amour authentique »,[4] pour Labé la femme a toujours les deux pieds sur terre; elle est créature complètement terrestre, en chair et en os.

Quoique ce soit moins développé que dans des autres poèmes (p. ex., Sonnet No IV, Élégie No I), Labé utilise la métaphore de la guerre pas simplement pour juxtaposer paradoxalement la guerre et l’amour, mais pour montrer que l’amour est une sorte de guerre, une agression sensorielle, un assaut contre le corps et ses passions. Dans la deuxième strophe la poétesse répète la construction tout à un coup/tout en un coup, et l’emphase n’est pas seulement sur la soudaineté ou la simultanéité de l’action, mais aussi sur l’action elle-même: par un seul coup, elle est prise entre le plaisir et la douleur.

Cependant la femme ne reste pas passive dans cette guerre. Par des jeux de mots elle laisse entendre qu’elle est parfaitement capable de lancer sa propre attaque, au moins de légitime défense. Il y a peut-être un jeu de mots au cinquième vers. L’éditeur de l’édition de Rouen (1556), estimant beaucoup l’humour, l’emphase en rendant larmoye comme l’armoye[5] (MF, armoyer, « combattre, faire guerre »).[6] En plus, au huitième vers (les deux vers sont liés par la rime) le mot verdoyer peut avoir le sens en moyen français de « combattre par escarmouche », ou au sens figuré plus ancien, de lancer « une attaque verbale » (cf. AF, verdoier, « défier, provoquer »).[7] Bien sûr, l’idée que l’amour est une escarmouche et les indices que l’amante est agressive verbalement ou même physiquement, un partenaire plus que disposée dans le jeu sexuel, font mentir la conception traditionnelle médiévale de la femme comme réceptrice passive des avances masculines. Ces sous-entendus semblent d’autant plus coquins du fait qu’ils sont cachés sous le couvert d’un langage qui se plaint de la victimisation par l’amour.

Dans le sestet la poétesse emploie plus d’antithèses pour indiquer l’ambivalence continuelle de l’amante :

Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine :

Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,

Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certeine,

Et estre au haut de mon desiré heur,

Il me remet en mon premier malheur.

Elle se plaint qu’Amour, ici identifié (et personnifié) pour la première fois comme source de son instabilité, la mène « inconstamment », un jeu de mot qui se réfère à la variabilité de ses humeurs, ainsi qu’à la performance sexuelle de l’amant. Au niveau du cœur, elle n’est pas maître de ses émotions, mais comme une barque dans un tempête, elle est battue par les flots. Elle « pense » [remarquez les antithèses] que cette « douleur » va continuer, mais soudain, « sans y penser », elle se trouve « hors de peine ». Au niveau physique, au moment où elle croit être au sommet de son extase (heur), elle est déçue (malheur). Au dernier vers le pronom masculin est encore ambiguë : ce n’est pas seulement Amour qui la laisse insatisfaite ; c’est aussi l’homme qui, dans son égoïsme, arrête trop tôt. L’image ici n’est pas subtile ; les connotations sexuelles sont conçues pour choquer, ou tout au moins pour défier les conceptions littéraires traditionnelles de la sexualité féminine. Comme le dit Dudley Wilson :

Elle évoque une sensualité mutuelle basée sur un contact de quatre lèvres…[L]’haleine qui sort de ses lèvres n’a rien de spirituel…à la manière envisagée par Castiglione—un pur rendez-vous entre deux âmes. Au contraire elle est poussée par un instinct qui a certainement ses racines dans la partie reproductive du corps, et elle finit par perdre pied dans des extrêmes de bonheur terrestre, de ravissement sexuel. [8]

Il faut souligner que ce langage sexuel qui imprègne le poème entier est un concetto (métaphore filée) de l’amour à toutes ses étapes : de l’euphorie de l’attirance première, au chagrin de la perte d’un amant. C’est à dire que la poétesse décrit la nature fuyante de la passion et la douleur de l’amour en utilisant le langage de l’extase sexuelle au point de vue féminin.

On ne peut s’empêcher de croire que Labé, la rebelle, savourait l’idée de choquer son public. Comme elle écrit dans l’épître dédicatoire de ses Œuvres :

Estant le tems venu…que les severes loix des hommes n’empeschent plus les femmes de s’appliquer aus sciences et disciplines : il me semble que celles qui ont la commodité, doivent employer cette honneste liberté que notre sexe ha autre fois tant desiree…et montrer aus hommes le tort qu’ils nous faisoient en nous privant du bien et de l’honneur qui nous en pouvoit venir…[9]

Ici elle demande la liberté intellectuelle des femmes et lance un appel pour plus de femmes de lettres, mais dans sa poésie elle est plus explicite : en particulier sur la capacité féminine de ressentir le plaisir sexuel : « Baise m’encor, rebaise moy et baise » demande-elle à son amante dans le sonnet No XVIII.[10] « De ce point de vue », Wilson l’explique, « Louise se montre beaucoup plus fière, en envisageant le rôle de la femme d’une façon qui pourrait nous paraître plus moderne, même plus raisonnable. »[11]

Cependant, dans la poésie de cette « nouvelle Sappho »,[12] on a toujours l’impression que, malgré son esprit et son égalité, la femme est toujours par nature plus sensible et donc plus vulnérable dans le jeu et plus souvent brisée dans le sillage de l’amour. Dans un autre sonnet (No XIX), elle développe d’avantage ce thème :

Et lui getay en vain toutes mes flesches

Et l’arc après : mais lui le ramassant

Et les turant me fit cent et cent bresches.[13]

Ici la femme, en tentant de flirter avec une connaissance, est plutôt tombée éperdument amoureuse. En lançant ses flèches enflammées, c’est elle qui est brûlée.

Dans son huitième sonnet Louise Labé utilise les antithèses et les métaphores pour repousser les limites de la langue (et de la pudeur de son époque) en exigeant une place à la table pour l’expérience, la perspective, et l’expression de la sexualité féminine. Ses jeux de mots créent un thème féministe sous-jacent qui dépeint l’amante comme une vraie femme de chair et de sang. Comme poétesse, elle laisse le soin à ses contemporains masculins de décrire l’amour spirituel et de créer les images idéalisées des femmes célestes. Dans sa poésie la femme est toujours enracinée dans la terre, pleine de l’énergie sexuelle, et quoique elle soit peut-être par nature plus vulnérable aux flèches de Cupidon, elle reste un partenaire sexuelle plus que disposée.

 

Notes

[1] Françoit Rigolot, Louise Labé Lyonnaise, ou la Renaissance au feminin (Paris: Champion, 1997), p. 64.

[2] Enzo Guidici, ed., Louise Labé : Œuvres Complètes (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1981), p. 148.

[3] Œuvres, p. 164.

[4] Karine Berriot, Louise Labé: La Belle Rebelle et le François nouveau (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1985), p 68.

[5] Œuvres, p.148 n.

[6] « Armoyer », Dictionnaire du Moyen Français, http://www.atilf.fr/dmf/definition/ armoyer1, retrieved 3/9/15.

[7] « Verdoyer », Dictionnaire du Moyen Français, http://www.atilf.fr/dmf/definition/ verdoyer2, retrieved 3/9/15

[8] Dudley Wilson, «La poésie amoreuse de Louise Labé et la tradition poétique de son temps», Louise Labé, les voix de lyrisme, 1990, p.28.

[9] Œuvres, p. 17.

[10] Œuvres, p.158.

[11] Wilson, p.18.

[12] Bruno Roger-Vasselin, « Louise Labé et l’écriture au féminin », L’information littéraire, 2004/4 (Vol. 56). http://www.cairn.info/publications-de-Roger-Vasselin-Bruno–16400.htm, retrieved 8-9-15.

[13] Œuvres, p 159.

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Two-Way Bilingual Instruction: Benefits and Challenges for Students and Teachers

bilingualedcopyright 2015 by S. J. Munson

 

In her article “Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship” (2015), Sharon Carstens contends that

In an increasingly interconnected world, the monolingual American norm is no longer an acceptable option for American students. Whether viewed from the necessity for intercultural communication in our progressively multicultural societies, from the commitment to fostering critical understanding of cultural differences, or from the standpoint of future employment opportunities, the significant advantages imparted through bilingual and bicultural education should be available to all students.[1]

The model of bilingual education that the author refers to, however, may not be one that many of us are familiar with. When the words bilingual education are mentioned, perhaps most think of the “transitional” bilingual programs in their local school system, in which native languages are employed to instruct new English language speakers in order to facilitate their integration into the main English curriculum. Certainly, this kind of model serves a purpose. There is no doubt that language minority students face daunting challenges, and anything that will improve educational outcomes may be seen as worthwhile. However, as Carstens points out, the ultimate goal of transitional bilingual programs is not, in fact, bilingualism, but rather monolingualism. As an anthropologist concerned with issues of social justice and equity, she believes that we “cannot neglect the crucial importance of challenging an educational system for majority students that remains Eurocentric in focus and fails to impart [to all students] understanding of and appreciation for diverse culture perspectives.”[2]

These issues have long been debated. Twenty and even thirty years ago, a multiculural pedagogy was designed to promote awareness of diversity, what eventually began to be referred to jokingly as the “holidays and heroes” approach. This kind of curriculum came under fire almost from the beginning, and to such an extent that multicultural education moved away from merely validating ethnic diversity and practices, toward a focus on programs to improve outcomes for minority students.[3] This is essentially where we are today. Undeniably, this kind of focus is important; however, there still remains the question of how to instill respect and understanding of diverse cultures to majority students in this country. Carstens believes that one model of bilingual and bicultural education has been shown to achieve this.

For the past ten years, a growing trend has been dual language programs in K-8 public and private schools. For purposes of clarity, let us refer to these programs as two-way bilingual instruction or two-way immersion programs. Many of these dual-language or bilingual programs are based on the language immersion model developed in Canada,[4] where the second language (French) is used to teach regular course content to English speakers for all or part of the day. The difference is that the Canadian model was used for English speakers only (one-way immersion). In two-way bilingual instruction both minority and majority language students receive instruction in both languages. For example, curriculum may be divided evenly between the two languages, with students receiving Math and Social Studies in one language and Science and Language Arts in the other, sometimes on a rotating basis. The problem with most traditional bilingual programs is that minority language students are often isolated for all or part of the day, receiving no or limited interaction with their English-speaking peers. In the two-way system both groups benefit from mutual interaction in both languages.

We must recall, too, that the Canadian system was born out of frustration with the status quo of cultural division between native Québécois and English speakers, all against the backdrop of the so-called Quiet Revolution, a cultural uprising of the country’s native French speakers. It was, however, a small group of rather forward-thinking English-speaking parents, who, deploring the linguistic and cultural bifurcation of their community, set out to create a more “ harmonious and integrated society” by finding a way to make their children fluent in French. Contemporary research had shown that bilingual Canadians tended to have a more positive view of the other ethnic group.[5] Crawford (2004) argues, however, that such tolerance may often be limited to the language itself, rather than the actual people group, if significant interaction is lacking (as in the case of one-way immersion).[6]

What are the reasons for which majority or minority parents or care-givers might choose a two-way dual language school ? The motivations are diverse. Some parents of a particular ethnicity or some bicultural families might select such a program as a means of educating their children in and preserving a specific cultural heritage. Others believe that bilingualism will give their children an economic advantage in a rapidly globalizing and competitive world; still others that childhood is the optimal time to learn a new language, as much research bears out.[7] Others may believe, quite rightly, that learning various content areas in the target language is a more effective way of learning the language than simply memorizing rules and passing tests.

Studies conducted by the National Literacy Panel over a twenty-year period (1985-2006) established the benefits of teaching minority-language children to read first in their home languages. These meta-analyses firmly concluded that primary language instruction promotes achievement in English. Interestingly, however, it was noted at the time that in some of the programs studied, children also were benefitting from learning to read in both languages simultaneously, although at different times of the day. As Goldenberg and Cohen (2010) write :

This suggests that instead of students’ having to learn to read in the home language first, and only then learning to read in the second language (the typical bilingual education model), they can learn to read in both simultaneously. [8]

Linguistically speaking, those who tout a dual-language approach argue that “ teaching language through content gives students the context for meaningful language use,”[9] which has long been considered as essential for successful second language acquisition. Moreover, there are more conclusive studies that demonstrate the potential short and long-term benefits of two-way dual language programs.

In a ground-breaking though still controversial 18-year study published in 2004, Collier and Thomas of George Mason University analyzed more than 6 million student records nationwide. Their conclusion was that “full-immersion bilingual programs in which native and nonnative students are given instruction in both languages [two-way bilingual instruction] are the most effective.” Their largest school district research site included bilingual programs in the Houston Independent School District. There they found that native-Spanish speakers remained either at or above grade level in both Spanish and English in the first through fifth grades. Interestingly, as Carstens notes, the study also found that “dual language schooling can help transform the experience of teachers, administrators and parents into an inclusive and supportive school community for all.”[10] As Collier and Thomas explain,

In addition to enhanced second language acquisition, two-way bilingual classes resolve some of the persistent sociocultural concerns that have resulted from segregated transitional bilingual classes. Often, negative perceptions have developed with classmates assuming that those students assigned to the transitional bilingual classes were those with “problems,” resulting in social distance or descrimination… Two-way bilingual classes taught by sensitive teachers can lead to a context where students from each language group learn to respect their fellow students as valued partners in the learning process with much knowledge to teach each other. [11]

According to the researchers, the astounding results of this study were a “wake-up call” to the entire field of bilingual education.[12] Goldenberg and Coleman, among others, however, tend to be more cautious in their enthusiasm for the study’s conclusions regarding academic achievement, since the study’s authors seem to have made no accommodation for selection bias.[13] Instead, for them, more conclusive are the data in the area of fostering cross-cultural appreciation and sensitivity.[14] Scanlan (2009), however, contends that the model does indeed promote “important social justice goals: bilingualism, cross-cultural appreciation, and academic success for Latino students who are typically underserved in schools.” He credits two-way bilingual instruction with creating

more unified communities in public schools among parents and caregivers, since speakers of both majority and minority languages are grouped together in an effort to develop literacy skills in both languages and consequently foster cross-cultural relationships in both cultures.[15]

In a series of key studies, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, too, has observed patterns of achievement similar to the Collier-Thomas study.[16] She also found that dual language programs are particularly strong in promoting among minority parents a positive attitude toward the school and a sense of belonging, since in these schools English-speaking parents tend not to dominate and both languages are treated with equal respect.[17] In addition, she states that data

suggests that ethnic minority children in a high-quality educational program that incorporates the language and culture of both groups and fosters academic achievement could also enhance the perceived scholastic competence and global self-worth of those students. [18]

In addition, other studies have shown a higher motivation and passion toward the pursuit of higher education among high school students who previously attended two-way programs (Cobb, 2006).[19]

Such models of bilingual education are not without their challenges, however. For example, finding content resources and materials in a target language that are appropriate for non-native speakers can be difficult.[20] Also finding instructors with expertise in teaching content in one or both languages is also challenging. To teach a language is one thing; to be able to teach content in that language requires additional skills and experience. Bilingual education in general also connects to hot-button issues such as immigration and multiculturalism.[21] Based on this political blow-back, California, Massachusetts and Arizona, in particular, have already banned bilingual programs in favor of an English-only approach. Lastly, some non-cognate languages, such as Chinese, require much more effort (up to five times) to learn than other cognate languages, such as Spanish. Immersion programs must therefore make careful decisions as they choose what types of content will be offered in the second language. The danger is that students who experience difficulties learning content in a second language not only may fall behind, but as a result may also grow frustrated with the second language itself.[22]

Although the research in the field of dual-language instruction is still incomplete, it seems clear that two-way bilingual instruction may show much promise, in promoting bilingualism and biliteracy, short and long-term academic success, and attitudes of respect and understanding among minority and majority students. All of these goals could be said to be the direct result of a structure that provides meaningful interaction among the two language groups. We must be cautious, however, in assuming that just because a program is labeled dual-language, it will meet all these goals. Much depends on how the school is organized and administered and on the training and experience of teachers and staff. Support from the surrounding community is also key.

With the ever expanding immigrant and indigenous minority populations in our nation’s school systems, two-way bilingual education is possible in a variety of languages.[23] For those who can see immigration and diversity as a vast cultural and linguistic resource and opportunity, rather than a threat, it has tremendous potential not only to provide an enriching educational experience, but also to help ease some of the problems and tensions between immigrant families and English-speaking communities.

 

Endnotes 

[1] Sharon Carstens, “Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship: Creating an Integrated Language/Culture Curriculum for Mandarin/English Students,” Human Organization, (Spring, 2015), retrieved 12 September 2015.

[2] Carstens.

[3] Carstens.

[4] Carstens.

[5] James Crawford, Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom, 5th ed., (Los Angeles: Bilingual Education Services, 2004), 214-215.

[6] Crawford.

[7] Carstens.

[8] Claude Goldenberg and Rhoda Coleman, Promoting Academic Achievement among English Learners, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010), 26-27.

[9] Crawford, 214.

[10] Carstens.

[11] Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas, “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All,” NABE Journal of Research and Practice, (Winter, 2004), 2.

[12] Collier & Thomas, 1.

[13] Crawford, 300.

[14] Goldman and Coleman, 30.

[15] Martin Scanlan and Deborah Palmer, “Race, Power and (In)equity within Two-Way Immersion Settings,” Urban Review, (December, 2009), retrieved 18 October 2015.

[16] Brian Cobb, Diego Vega, and Cindy Kronauge, “Effects of an Elementary Dual Language Immersion School Prorgam on Junior High Achievement,” Middle Grades Research Journal, (Spring, 2006), 36.

[17] Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, “Review of Research and Best Practices on Effective Features of Dual Language Programs,” Draft (March, 2005), 40.

[18] Quoted in Crawford, 304.

[19] Cobb,

[20] Carstens,

[21] Christine Armario, “U.S. Bilingual Education Challenge: Students Learning English as Second Language at Risk,” Huffington Post, April 14, 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2015.

[22] Carstens.

[23] Crawford, 307.

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America’s Original Sin

Great article by Maj. Danny Sjursen, former history prof. at West Point. It deals with slavery and the “devil’s bargain” made by wealthy Virginia landowners in the 17th century. In order to keep their unequal share of wealth and quench growing class unrest, they ‘racialized’ class in America. And we’ve been stuck with this ever since.

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How the Church Is Helping to Destroy America

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism…A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”cabinet1

In his Farewell Address to the nation (1796), a retiring George Washington made it clear that while the new Constitution was a sound foundation for a growing nation, it was by no means foolproof. Though designed with checks and balances to protect against the tyranny of both individuals on the one hand and the masses on the other, one thing it could not withstand was the tyranny of factionalism.

Our first President was not conjuring bogeymen to frighten us; partisan division was already a reality, the seeds of which had been sown even before he declined a third term. Now, without this unifying figure, almost universally revered, the country would surely descend into factions. He saw this in his own cabinet: with Jefferson and his camp on one side, and Hamilton’s party on the other, the acrimony was growing daily, pitting those who wanted less government against those who wanted more, a nation of gentleman farmers against a new moneyed class, an agrarian economy against a mercantile one, the wealth of the soil against the wealth of cities. In the press, in the taverns, on the streets, in the halls of Congress, the two sides began to demonize each other. Yes, the Constitution could withstand many things, but it could not withstand leadership that put party above country.

In many ways our Constitution is a realistic document, a work of genius and compromise, with safeguards based on a keen understanding of power, fallen human nature, and history: how democracies die, how some are overthrown or others rot from within. Yet it is also a hopelessly idealistic one, taking for granted that those who safeguard it will be men and women of principle who put the public interest before any other. Over the past year we have seen just how naïve a document it is and how limited in power, especially if the people entrusted with implementing it will not do so because they are bound to party over country, or selfish ambition and greed over the rule of law. This is how democracies decay, falter, and eventually collapse.

And where is the church in all this? Well, the most powerful and vocal part of it is poised defiantly on the funeral pyre crying for more tinder, more kerosene. There is something so attractive, so hypnotic about a conflagration. For decades pulpits from coast to coast have either thundered with anathemas against “liberals” or echoed with silence in the face of growing intolerance. Instead of railing against poverty, intolerance, racism, militarism, American exceptionalism, and the greed of fundamentalist capitalism, many ministers have sided with the moneychangers, turning instead on the “lazy” poor, immigrants, and the weakest, most broken members of society, or else aiming their cannons at a manufactured “war on Christmas.” Now constantly fed by a powerful propaganda machine fueled by corporate and foreign cash, it is perhaps improbable that these Christians will ever come to their senses. Ironic isn’t it, that this country should be destroyed by the very church that could have saved it?

Politics is all about compromise and tolerance. It takes both sides to keep the political log rolling. Fundamentalism, however, does not function that way. It is all about drawing lines in the sand, refusing negotiation, excluding and anathematizing the opposition. That is why fundamentalism destroys whatever it touches, including democracy. Fundamentalism and tyranny go hand in hand; they are both about control, my way or the highway, fear of dissent. The opposition is demonized, treated with contempt, because dissent and differing points of view represent a threat.

I would add that among the left, a contempt for religion, a disdain for religious values and language, and what is viewed as a pandering to the non-religious segments of society have alienated America’s heartland. Americans are a religious people. That’s what makes us resilient and hard-working. But if conservatives have claim to being a “party of biblical values,” so should liberals. Issues such as racial and economic equality, or caring for the poor, are just as biblical as the rights of the unborn, traditional marriage, or prayer in schools. That certainly used to be the case when, for example, in the wake of the Second Great Awakening, American evangelicals took on the evils of slavery, poverty, child labor, and poor working conditions. If the far-right has now co-opted Christianity, it is because the left has allowed them to do so without even a fight.

It is interesting that what we call Washington’s Farewell Address was probably written in stages by his constitutional adviser James Madison, a protégé of Jefferson, and later Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, both representing the opposing factions. Compared to these men, Washington was no scholar but he certainly must have laid out what he wanted to say; the idea of warning against factions was something he felt deeply and would probably not have originated among the members of the warring factions themselves. Still, he entrusted to these very men the laying out of the case, a task they performed with their usual erudition and skill. Their success is nothing short of ironic, and one wonders what was going through their minds, given the fact that as they wrote it, they were probably already plotting who would succeed him.

We will see within the next year or two whether our Constitution can withstand such a test, or whether Washington’s frightening vision was true, that partisanship just might prove our undoing. Our first President was certainly an idealist, and though he was no friend of factionalism, he admits that political parties are perhaps unavoidable, may even be a necessary evil. What he is appealing to here, however, is what Lincoln would later call “the better angels of our nature,” our love of country. The question still resonates: will we learn to put aside party spirit for the good of the Union, or like a noisy gang of two-year-olds, will we smash it all to pieces if we can’t have our way?

It is a tragedy that the church has nothing to say in this regard. If only the Scriptures had something to contribute on the subject of mutual respect or tolerance, selfish ambition or party spirit, instead of “Shatter the teeth of the wicked, O LORD!” and “Slay mine enemy!”

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American Evangelical Worship of White Jesus

Great article in HuffPo about white evangelicals’ worship of White Jesus.

“White Jesus is a work of fiction, a tool that Christians have historically used to seize political power and justify the logic of colonialism and imperialism. Donald Trump is a man made in His very image…

“White Jesus arrived in America when white people did. The early colonizers needed to justify the brutality of Manifest Destiny ― massive land theft, genocide and enslavement. From the earliest days of U.S. colonization, it was vital that their God agree with their hostile takeover of the continent, and their desire to dominate, suppress and eliminate anyone who resisted. Jesus was the key to their success, but not just any Jesus. They needed permission and anointing from White Jesus…

“White Jesus is not a person, but a tool, a tool that has been used by the religious and secular white alike to justify voting for Trump.

“We must consider how one can use the name Jesus ― a marginalized Palestinian who espoused non-violence, love, inclusion and a preferential option for the poor ― to endorse a president whose violence, bigotry and love of money is unprecedented.

People vote with their values, and when “Christian values” bring us to Donald Trump, we can tell that we have lost the real meaning of Christ along the way. But there’s not a problem with Scripture or with Jesus; the problem lies with a community that has so lost the image of God in itself that it worships the idol of a White Jesus who endorses every political leader that they back…

“The irony should have struck Christians at the start, but we missed it. Jesus, coming to Earth in the form of a marginalized human, constantly defined being “great” as becoming the least, the most vulnerable, the weakest and the most gentle. Donald Trump looks nothing like the Jesus of the Bible; however, he is the spitting image of White Jesus. Coming in the name of country, of racial superiority, of patriotism, of acquisition of wealth, of garnering and maintaining power through violence. Donald Trump and White Jesus are one and the same…

“Much like our colonial forefathers, evangelicals are committed to having a divine justification for the political values that they espouse. If they hate Muslims, so does Jesus. If they want to maintain patriarchy, so does Jesus. If they are homophobic and exclusive, it’s because Jesus ordained it. If they are afraid, it’s because they are persecuted. If they are anti-abortion but pro-war, it’s because White Jesus protects only the lives that they believe matter. Certainly other religious communities throughout history as well as Christians of color have used their versions of God to justify their own prejudices and collective political decisions; however, in the 2016 election, it was the power of whiteness and a commitment to White Jesus that ushered Trump into the White House.

“It seems as if white evangelicals will overlook every moral inconsistency and offense if it means ushering in the Kingdom of White Jesus. They will overlook the assault and dehumanization of women if it means stopping legal access to abortion. They will overlook the belief in traditional family models if it mean having a president who will espouse and protect “traditional marriage” despite having been in multiple problematic marriages of his own. Trump allows white evangelicals to protect whiteness and its benefits and tenants because white supremacy and the values of evangelical Christianity are so intertwined.”

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Trump a Nebuchadnezzar?

So at last you think you’ve found a church where you can be safe from all the Christo-nebuchadnezzar-iifascist noise, racism, and ignorance. But you can’t. It’s everywhere, at least here in the South. Last week we were just about to take the plunge and sign up for a membership class in our new church (our seventh since moving here), when our pastor got up and said that God had shown him that Donald Trump is a kind of “Nebuchad-nezzar,” an enlightened despot, who, though not perfect, will be used mightily by God. Yeah, we’ve heard that analogy before in the mouths of white Christians vying to come up with the most abominable biblical justification for voting for and supporting a racist for President of the United States.

We were shocked when our pastor said this but not altogether surprised. If you’ve visited as many churches as we have since moving here, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still, we felt hurt, since we thought we had finally found a church home that our daughter loved and where we felt the manifest presence of God.

Of course, most of the congregation, who are white, erupted into applause. But what saddened us no end is that this church has a growing degree of diversity. How did those few black, Latino, and immigrant families feel about this encomium to a man whose racist administration has brought nothing but fear, degradation, and misery to their communities. Basically, in spouting the same metaphor as those Trump apologists, our pastor was, inadvertently, saying, “I’m white and I want Trump to make America white again, to give the white church back its power and dominance, and to hell with the rest of you!”

Really? Nebuchadnezzar? He was the Babylonian king who in the Bible conquered Jerusalem, sacked its temple, and deported its inhabitants, but who, in the end, was taught to fear God and who eventually restored power and influence to God’s people. Sure there are similarities, especially in the awful deportation thing, the defilement of the temple (cf. Trump’s degrading of the church), and the overweening narcissism (according to the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar made a giant statue of himself and forced his subjects to bow down to it. Today, he would have simply called Fox News and had them ratchet up the fawning praise). Ironically, of course, the Babylonian king was initially seen by the Hebrew prophets as executing God’s judgment on God’s people. Okay, okay, so perhaps he might be a Nebuchadnezzar, but not in the positive sense they mean. If the American evangelical church is regaining political power and influence, it is at the expense of its soul, the suffering of its brothers and sisters of color, and its reputation in the eyes of the world.

A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, NY, said it best. He was one of only a few clergymen of color to join Trump’s pastoral advisory panel, and he was the first to resign. He knew the man could not be reached after the first day. Pastor Bernard believes Trump is more like a King Saul. Israel begged God for a king and he sent them one–as a judgment and as a manifestation of something deeply corrupt in their hearts.

Our pastor is a kind and compassionate man, and I really don’t think he meant to offend anyone. That’s why I took the opportunity to offer some feedback. I very respectfully submitted my objections to what he said and explained why. I guess I was hoping for some kind of apology (naïve child that I am. I was always taught to apologize even if I did not think I had done anything wrong). What I got was a terse reply from an assistant who denied any wrong doing. I doubt the pastor even saw the note.

What’s it going to take for white Christians to stand up against racism and call it what it is? Just yesterday the President showed his true colors (again) in his comments about immigrants from “shit-hole countries.” As if we needed any more evidence. Didn’t we have plenty even before the election? No, there’s no excuse for it. No excuse for defending racism, which is by its very nature indefensible. It’s called sin.

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A Theology of Glory

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice… Against stupidity bonhoefferwe are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”   –Bonhöffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Dietrich Bonhöffer lived and died in a period like our own, when the established German church went mad from fear: fear of losing power, dominance, and control, fear of modernism on the one hand and communism on the other. So they put their trust in a brown-shirted, frustrated painter who told them what they wanted to hear. Their problems, he said, were the result of a vast, international Jewish conspiracy, which had conspired with the liberal Left to undermine their economy and good German values. Sound familiar?

Over the past 40 years the Christian right has been radicalized and weaponized by the hate-mongering of conservative talk radio, evangelical pulpits, and Fox News. They have come to believe the conspiracy theorists that the government is out to get them: to take away their guns, their prejudices, and their Jesus. Just like the Muslim terrorists they fear, they’ve become the deliberate targets of a concerted campaign of misinformation, one that plays upon a trait in the American psyche that stretches back over centuries: a pioneer distrust of government and of slick big-city sophistication. That is why the apocalypticism of the New Testament strikes such a chord in the American heart; it seems to justify what they are feeling and even gives it a religious veneer.

But the problem of today’s white evangelicalism is not just political; it is also a theological one. The first disciples did not understand Jesus. “Never, Lord, this will never happen to you!” said Peter in response to all that morose talk about suffering and crucifixion. Heaven forbid! Yes, the chief disciple said this, not merely to cheer Jesus up, but to try to correct a growing tendency in his thinking. Didn’t the Lord understand they were on the verge of a great political victory? The heathen Romans would be crushed and the Twelve would reign with Jesus from Jerusalem!

Theologian Robert Kolb notes ironically, “Of all the places to search for God, the last place most people would think to look is the gallows.” The problem of why the church so loves political power could be traced to a simple human trait that we all share: an unwillingness to suffer pain, rejection, ridicule, or poverty. After two thousand years, little has changed, for human nature itself has not. The cross remains an offense, a scandal to the mind, an object of loathing to the flesh.

For Christians, the pattern of our lives, like that of Christ’s own cross and resurrection, is not one that moves from glory to glory, but from ignominy to glory, and from death to life. In his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), Martin Luther makes a clear distinction between the “theologian of glory” and the “theologian of the cross.”

“He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”

LothairThe theologian of glory looks for the Almighty to reveal himself in ways that parallel earthly kingship: that is, in power, triumph, and splendor. One of Luther’s greatest accomplishments was his restoring the cross to its proper centrality in Christian theology (and thinking and daily living). He saw the church as having forgotten the cross in its pursuit of earthly glory. Since Christ was Lord of the universe, some reasoned, and the Pope his vicar on earth, should not the church reflect something of this absolute power? For centuries popes had been locked in a death struggle with the crowned heads of Europe over who had preeminence; some pontiffs even saw themselves as both Caesar and pope!

And so it is with those believers today who believe that the church should ever be top dog, ruling in every aspect of our culture, from politics to Hollywood, somehow crossmisguidedly linking a suffering Messiah to American exceptionalism, militarism, and empire. Like the Twelve Disciples, we want Messiah to come first in glory because we want to reign with him now. Though erroneous, such a view is doubtless an enormous comfort to the flesh, which cannot and never will comprehend God’s self-revelation and ultimate triumph in the rejection, failure, agony, and nakedness of the cross.

 

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