Yesterday it rained. I sat inside and wrapped Christmas presents for my family.
Just me and my Aunt’s house, with a nativity scene knitted by my Great Grandmother to keep me company.
To pass the time I listened to people much wiser than myself explain things I can’t yet understand: Rage and Donald Trump.
First I listened to Eugene Peterson here and here.
Then I listen to Judith Butler here.
Butler talked about how Trump had been able to give a voice to the rage that some people in some parts of America quite legitimately felt; people who were unemployed or underemployed or underpaid. Trump’s campaign provided a way for the rage that can accompany economic dissatisfaction to speak.
He gave it a language.
A hateful language that channelled legitimate rage towards illegitimate targets: Immigrants, women, ethnic minorities.
But a language nonetheless.
Butler pointed out that the Democrats didn’t give any alternative way for that rage to speak. Instead they moved to emphasis love over hate.
This was sort of my response too.
The day of the American election I cleaned a stranger’s house in suburban Dunedin.
My Aunt knew the owners and wanted to, as an act of altruism, help prepare their house for an upcoming birthday.
She gave me the job of cleaning the toilets.
And so as Trump was elected I was scrubbing a stranger’s shit off his toilet.
A stranger who seemed happy with Trumps win.
And at the time I thought: Maybe that’s all that’s left – small acts of altruism that we can freely give one another in the face of a hateful political situation.
Love over hate.
Being Christmas and all, that felt very Christian too.
But Butler and Eugene reminded me that that isn’t really enough.
Rage remains a part of human experience. To live is to encounter both love and hate. One cannot pretend away the existence of the less pleasant half of the relation; to do so is surely to send it underground.
To overemphasis love and positivity is to abandon the task of giving our inevitable rage a healthy expression.
To abandon the task of expression is to allow it to be monopolised by those like Trump who can provide only a twisted language of hate.
For Eugene Peterson the Psalms provide an adequate language of rage, of anger, of frustration.
The Psalms is a book in the Bible that has at once both beautiful poetry celebrating the joy of life and incredibly violent imagery. Many passages move quickly between both extremes making it difficult to pick out just the ‘good’ bits.
It is a book of both ‘From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines in glorious radiance’ and ‘How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.’
For Peterson this is the gift of the Psalms, they offer figurative imagery to express deep rage.
Such expression allows one to live honestly through all the terrifying and delightful emotions life.
While the Psalms might not be the most appropriate language for everybody, Peterson and Butler taken together point to the necessity of some language, and Trump shows that not all languages for expressing anger are equal.
They also point to a task beyond acts of altruism and affirmations of love, which is not necessarily any less Christian, but requires much more than the Christmas nativity scene alone can offer.