Dear Pious Petunia: How do I cope?
Miss P: I’ve been receiving many letters of late whose plaintive pleas boil down to that very question. Thank you for summing up the general mood so concisely. What with a cacophony of conflict and chaos in Washington, the looming gloom of global climate cataclysm, the tragic nexus of tax season and Lent…. Dear me.
We often do not know how to give grief and lament the space and time they require. However, painting, sculpture, music, dance and other forms can express unutterable emotion, create space for reflection, and provide healing. Art can help us do the “Holy Saturday” work of acknowledging the darkness, opening a space to respond with and beyond words.
Of all the good books I received as Christmas gifts this year, one has captured my heart: You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia (Bloomsbury, 2016). I realize it’s hard to imagine a geekier volume than a history of reference books.
Come amid the salt-crusted cars lined up at the light,
amid the clamor and bustle of commerce,
the grocery store cash drawer rings,
“There are two elements of the constitution, wrote Walter Bagehot in 1867, the efficient and the dignified. … The efficient has the power to make and execute policy, and is answerable to the electorate. … The dignified gives significance and legitimacy to the efficient, and is answerable only… to God.”
That is not what I got with Arrival. Instead, this film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, manages to be riveting and meditative at once. Rather than marching us through a briskly paced action thriller, Villeneuve invites us to dwell in the mysteries of language, time, and otherness.
I’m grieving. Not because I have policy disagreements with the winner. Not because the lady didn’t win. Those things matter, but it’s so much bigger than that. I’m grieving because a person who rode to power on a calculated surge of hatred and bigotry, who dishonors women and brown people and any kind of Other in myriad ways—I’m grieving because only half the country rejected that. The other half rewarded it, or at the very least, thought the bullying and vulgarity and incitement to violence was unimportant enough to ignore.
INT. KIDS THESE DAYS CAFÉ, HEAVEN – ETERNAL DAY
Small clusters of saints in white robes, vaguely glowing, chatter convivially around heavy wood tables in a cozy bistro. The bright robes contrast with the dark wood paneling, rough ceiling timbers, and flagstone floors. Though everyone is drinking, no one is drunk.
MARTIN LUTHER, JOHN WESLEY, and CHARLES WESLEY sit in leather-clad chairs around a table, drinking excellent beer.
Last Friday, when the Trump video hit the news like a meteorite, my spouse spent the day watching the reaction in the news media and Twitterverse and reporting back to me every hour. By evening, we were floating on waves of Schadenfreude, wickedly enjoying the pile-on. Eventually, standing there in my kitchen placing pepperoni on a pizza, I felt the ground under me shift a little, and I grew thoughtful. Was this… A Moment?
While Bérubé is concerned with questions of broad public good and the use of public funds in higher education, the Christian community, I would contend, has even better reasons to steward robust study of arts and humanities. Christians are plagued by economic anxiety and influenced by public discourse like anyone else, so if the data-driven, instrumental arguments can help, so be it. But Christians are called, as my college’s mission statement puts it “to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.” For that, as a body we need all the fields of human knowledge and the fullness of human creativity and imagination.