Fall Issue 8
More to the Story:
Trump and the Rural/Urban Divide
By Matt Nelson
And worse, these same people are casually, incessantly mocked and disrespected in the media. Shouldn’t we, especially as Christians, care about this?
Regarding media, Wong also notes the irony of the Blue entertainment industry’s role. He writes, “'But Trump is objectively a piece of s***!’ you say. ‘He insults people, he objectifies women, and cheats whenever possible! And he's not an everyman; he's a smarmy, arrogant billionaire!’ Wait, are you talking about Donald Trump, or this guy,” Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man? In other words, Trump is the “a-hole on our team” that everyone wants, as conveyed by numerous Hollywood heroes.
It’s easy and somewhat understandable to concentrate all our attention on the unquestionable awfulness incarnate that is Donald Trump. No argument there (though perhaps we might also mention Clinton isn’t merely a “competent, seasoned politician,” as if critique of evidence of her corruption is obviously misogynistic or otherwise illegitimate). That said, we cannot neglect to seriously consider the concerns of the people with whom at least some of Trump’s message (if not his character, intelligence, consistency, or Constitutional understanding) has resonated. As Christians, most importantly, we should acknowledge the concerns of the marginalized—even if they be white, male, or rural Red State Christian.
It would be wrong to suggest that much of Trump’s support is not also attributable to the worst aspects of him and his campaign. However, if nothing else, Wong’s article is an example of a somewhat simplistic yet compelling counter-narrative in a sea of similarly simplistic and compelling narratives propagating online. At minimum, on those terms, it’s a unique perspective worth critical consideration.
One final point: even if you disagree with Wong’s analysis itself, his article also exemplifies one aspect of cultural engagement which should be characteristic of Christians, namely that quality of being able to reframe a familiar discussion in different terms, such that an easily-overlooked truth can be brought to light. It’s easy to mindlessly parrot opinions in our world of social-media-organized thinking (I know I’ve been guilty), easy to let our thoughts, choices, and frame of reference be limited by the electronic media we consume. Writing like this helps us see that there may indeed be more to the story.
As Christians we can’t stop here, of course. We must go yet further and ask: what “more to the story” does our Lord Jesus Christ and his ways—higher than our ways as the heavens are above the earth— have to tell us?
Well, here we are. Election Day for the United States of America. Not quite Judgment Day, Terminator 2 or otherwise—but then again, I don’t know who won yet…
To commemorate the occasion, I thought I’d comment upon one of the more interesting analyses of this election season debacle, coming from a source one might not immediately consider as a potential resource for Christians: Cracked.com. The title of David Wong’s article sums up all too well the way many people feel about this perplexing situation: “How Half of America Lost its F****** Mind.”
The essential idea here is that this election is most fundamentally a conflict between rural vs. urban America, which Wong illustrates by a color-coded electoral map (red=Republican / conservative, blue=Democrat / progressive) divided up by counties, not states. This map effectively shows a sea of red with little blue islands here and there—the densely populated cities.
Wong explains basic lifestyle differences between rural and urban Americans (e.g., rural=home ownership w/greater self-sufficiency, urban=apartment living, etc.) and then makes the point that the way of life of rural Americans is dying. Much of this dying lifestyle can be attributed to economic restructuring resulting from liberal Democratic party policies, including detrimental trade deals, and “culture war” value revaluation. So goes the narrative at least. In any case, he emphasizes that the ensuing sense of hopelessness from these vast changes is staggering. See: double the suicide rate among young people, skyrocketing drug abuse, Wal Mart’s demolition of mom and pop stores, and the overall diminishing of career possibilities. Rubbing salt in the wound is media radiating from the affluent, elite Blue Cities, which persistently makes rural Red Americans the butt of jokes, contemptuously dismissing poor rural whites as ignorant, racist, homophobic hillbillies.
Enter Donald J. Trump: voice of the voiceless.
Wong makes it clear he’s no Trump apologist. However, he looks deeper than the simplistic dismissal of Trump voters as gun-toting bigots to see a group of people who are truly people in the fullest sense. For instance, he points to news media coverage of Hurricane Katrina to underline one notable manifestation of this dismissiveness, noting how New Orleans—the culturally important city of New Orleans—was solely focused upon, to the complete exclusion of Katrina’s destruction of rural Mississippi that caused $125 billion in damage and left 238 dead.
Wong’s basic point is that the ascendance of Donald Trump is directly traceable to his giving voice to a marginalized group of real people who are suffering in real ways.
The Weird, the Wall and the World to Come
BY DAFYDD RUSSELL-JONES
With culture vulture wings a’flapping, I swooped into Tate Gallery in London last month to gawk at the 2016 Turner Prize entrees. This is a notorious prize for British Artists and previous winners included Damien Hirst who famously put a dead shark in a tank and called it art, I wondered what wackiness I might find.
Whilst picking away at the first entrée’s by Helen Marten I found myself gnawing on dead bones that failed to enthuse me with any sense of awe, beauty or wonder. The second entrée by Josephine Pryd had a giant toy train in the middle, a craft easily appreciated by a child from the comfort of home. The third room by Michael Dean called ‘United Kingdom poverty line’ is described as a sculpture, but from what I could tell he dumped £20,436 pennies on the floor to represent the government's figure of the breadline. Whilst an interesting representation, the questioned loomed, can this really question really be called art? I began to wonder if I should have gone somewhere else to dine. As I flocked into the final room, my attention became fixed on a sight recognisable to the human condition, a gigantic pair of bare buttocks. Whilst those with a keen eye for refined craftsmanship that subtly weaves delicate intricacies into a whole may honourably find this piece of art tasteless, obnoxious, and crass, it is worth considering why this particular arse has been generating so much hot air.
Anthea Hamilton’s exhibit Lichen! Libido! (London! Chastity!) is comprised of two spaces standing in contrast to each other. On the one side was the 10ft butt cheeks pulling a ‘moony’ in a room characterised by brick wall paper. Beautiful dresses were draped from two swords that were wedged violently into the bricks. Another dress stood in front of the wall with the same brick aesthetic so to make it seem camouflaged in its environment.
On the other side of the division was a heavenly scene with wall paper that transported you up into a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Whilst this gave the impression of limitless horizons, suspended in the centre of this heaven were six twisted chastity belts made of Iron.
Whilst mulling over the two realities standing in contrast to one another, Erikson’s exegetical method started to kick in and I questioned the social, political and theological context of this representation and wondered how Mounce might parse this arse for it’s inflected meaning. In this state of contemplation, my pithy summary would be that the ‘moony’ against the brick wall speaks of a society where individuals seek liberation from fear of being considered mundane, ordinary and ‘another brick in the wall’ and this takes place in expressions of identity characterised by anarchy and entertainment. Contrastingly the chastity belts, external visual symbols of internal and invisible values signify an alternative religious identity that is disciplined but out of touch with society. Ultimately this alternative reality is presented with extreme discomfort: imagine dangling from the heavens with only a chronic iron ‘wedgy’ preventing you from falling to earth.
This exhibition will be judged in the context of the US general election that will come to its long drawn out climax tonight. Anthea Hamilton may be pitching this exhibition towards those alienated by the political system, particularly American voters who would rather vote for neither Donald Trump, the unashamed arse that knows no modesty, nor Hilary Clinton, the ungrounded wedgy-giving chastity belt.
However the paradox that emerges from searching for a third option to these opposing pairs is that the third option, not voting, will lead to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being elected. So friends, if it is not too late, the choice is still yours.
Anthea Hamilton’s exhibition undoubtedly emerges from the context of toxic right wing politics we have seen in the Brexit campaign and this presidential election. This poisonous rhetoric has attempted to strangle the truth and turn every positive into a negative. Even if the USA witnesses the first black president handing over office to the first ever female president, you can bet this will be tainted with accusations of lying and cheating. Even so Trump with his brick wall has manipulated some strong emotions and these deserve consideration in a technological era where people seek authentic emotion and feelings they can relate to, rather than abstract politics and expressions of faith that are ‘out of touch’.
The struggle we have as believers is witnessing to the unseen spiritual realities and biblical virtues through the way we live and relate with other creatures on a daily basis. This challenge will remain regardless of who gets elected for both of these remarkable candidates have already changed the future in a new political landscape. And so, how are we to avoid being another brick in the divisive wall of bitter rhetoric? How can we remain grounded in a world bent on division whilst witnessing to the reality and hope of eternal harmony?
Talking with our Mouths Full: With Diane Stinton
WITH ED SMITH AND TROY TERPSTRA
This week Ed and Troy gird up their loins and courageously descend into The Dungeon for our restaurant review. For those of you who may not know, “The Dungeon” is the colloquial name for the food court that is located in the basement of the strip mall to the east of Regent. Our guest this week is Dr. Diane Stinton. If it wasn’t already obvious, the words “basement food court known as The Dungeon” clearly demonstrate the truth that Troy and Ed know how to show a girl a good time. The Dungeon has several options and we decide on Donair Town, the middle eastern restaurant selling, unsurprisingly and among other things, donairs.
While it’s not rare among Regent faculty to have also studied at Regent, Diane actually studied here on two occasions, first completing the MTS program and then later returning to do a ThM. She mentioned how, when she was on the fence about coming back for a second program, one of her profs told her, “I can’t tell you who it is yet, but we got a new professor who has agreed to come teach at Regent and it’s someone you won’t want to miss.” That professor turned out to be Eugene Peterson (the guy who wrote the Bible). Diane returned to Regent, and took Peterson’s Tell it Slant and claims that it was one of the best courses she ever took.
Our conversation moved to the topic of teaching. Diane expressed how she loves the relational aspect of teaching. It is not surprising. One of the enormous strengths of the Regent faculty is the warmth and openness with which they interact with students and in this company Diane excels. I find myself wishing that I was in one of her classes so I could sign up for her office hours.
Diane shared some of the trials of raising a pre-teen daughter. Her daughter, Zadi, is eleven years old and “is dying to have a cell phone.” While there may be a host of reasons why one might want to refrain from letting an eleven year old have their own cell phone, it is doubtful that such reasons will have much traction with said eleven year old. The issue is more pronounced as Diane has close ties with Kenya, having lived and visited there for several years. She told about the contrast she had, once taking Zadi to a birthday party for a six year old where there was a mountain of big gifts and a magician, and a clown and all the rest and then a few months later Zadi was playing soccer on a dirt field in Africa with a ball made out of plastic bags.
We asked Diane to reveal a hidden skill set or knowledge base that most wouldn’t know about. After some time she reluctantly revealed that she has a talent for playing violin, although she emphasized that she hasn’t played in years.. Her first trip to the UK was with a youth orchestra that she played in. Troy likens teaching to a type of performing and asked about her favourite performers, and without hesitation she said Robin Williams, which took me by some surprise. There doesn’t seem to be too much in common between her and the loud, spastic comedian. There’s clearly more to Diane than she might normally let on.
Ambiance: Diane first awarded it a C+, though she later qualified that saying that our company moved it up to a B+. Being students, we have lower standards and thought it was an A-, considering, as Troy stated, a profound lack of seating promotes community. Diane mentioned that the food court was right up Zadi’s alley and she would likely give it an A+ so I suspect you need to give it your own appraisal. It’s not a true Regent degree if you don’t go for food there at least once.
Food: B-. The food was good, but not the best. The pitas disintegrated over the course of the meal so that the last few bites were messy and awkward.
Service: B+ Good but not exceptional. It’s a busy food court during the lunch rush so perhaps it’s to be expected.
Price: Diane thought that it was reasonable and gave an A. She also generously (and somewhat deviously) snuck to the front of our group and paid for us before we had a chance to zealously pretend to protest, so we were obliged to give an A+.
Company: A new category that Diane insisted on. She gave an A+, a decision that we ardently concur with.
Poem of the Week | Chris Campanelli
What is it in the human face?
What is it in the human face that sends
these shivers trilling through her tiny frame,
and beaming through her cheeks, and up her chin,
like water pooling in a curve of stone?
How does this one who has no words, who is
just lately gathered out of nothingness
read happiness so readily and have
an instinct to respond in kind like this?
Do cheekbones speak? What words do eyes declare?
Or are these the primary means of speech?
From what I see, her mother’s glanced-goodwill
is gathered in and returned to its source;
as if the act of looking on someone
manifests a power of response.
This poem is part of a series which I am currently writing in response to the birth of my daughter, Beatrice.
“It’s Not About the Grades,” Claims Straight-A Student
An anonymous second year student claims to have found the secret to a fuller, richer experience at Regent College.
“They actually tell you right in orientation: it’s not about the grades, it’s about formation,” said the student who had reportedly never received anything lower than a 9 in his DQs last year.
The Bunyan caught up with him as he was rifling through envelopes at the downstairs mailboxes. He was smiling and nodding while reading comments on a returned gobbet. “How about you, what’d you get?” he asked a fellow student who didn’t look as happy with her own mark.
We asked him if he was ever anxious about professor feedback on assignments.
“Look,” he said, resuming his search for returned papers, “I’m not here for the letters or the GPA. I mean, do I want to go on to a PhD? Sure. Do you need pretty much perfect grades to do that? That’s what they say. But what I’m really for is to learn.”
He found a second manila envelope and nonchalantly tore it open as he continued.
“People get so worked up about the grades,” said the student, who had aced every Greek vocabulary quiz this past summer. “They’re really not that big a deal. You have to remember that it’s not about performance, it’s about…uh…it’s about…a person…um…”
At this point, the student trailed off, seeming to lose his train of thought. His face went pale as he stared at the paper in his hands. “Um, excuse me,” he muttered before rushing away.
Said student was last seen harassing an exhausted looking TA, waving a BIBL 600 summary marked heavily with red pen.
From the Kitchen: Tagine
With Joel Strecker
Served at Regent, November 1, 2016
1/2t coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds
6 garlic cloves, minced
80-100g ginger, minced
1 onion, julienned
600ml chicken stock
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
15 oz crushed tomato
meat from 4 chicken thighs, shredded
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
juice and zest of 1-2 lemons
1 sprig mint
100g dates, chopped.
Over medium heat, toast the coriander, fennel, and cumin in a splash of olive oil until the seeds start to split. Add the remaining spices and toast until fragrant. Add onion, garlic, ginger; sweat until onion is soft and translucent. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Add chick peas; simmer for 90 minutes. Add squash, tomato, and chicken; simmer for 15 minutes. Add carrots; simmer for 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish with lemon zest and juice. Garnish with mint and chopped dates.