The Means of Justice Must Match Its Ends
The last few weeks since Trump’s election have been more than a shock. They’ve been an assault, a trauma.
Quickly, we have had to abandon any delusion that things would be OK. Looking at the people who now surround Trump, it’s clear that we are in for a long dark slide, including assaults on our educational system, housing, environment, health institutions, and more.
So what do we have to say? How do we respond?
In the last few weeks, I have sat down with many friends, including wise friends like Luke Powery (dean of Duke Chapel), Bill Hart (my critical race theory professor), and more. I have listened carefully to Reverend Barber, Cornel West, and Eddie Glaude, inviting their wisdom. Hart reminded me of what I hear from many African-American friends: this is not new. This is not just about Trump. This is what racism in America has been like. What is new about it is that it is now merged with the state apparatus at the highest level.
Powery and I shared a conversation that had a different focus: how does one respond to racism with dignity? Powery delivered a powerful sermon after the election, written in the form of a letter to his children. These inspirations have lifted me up, and stay with me. Many of my friends have been speaking, quite understandably, about the need to fight, to organize, to mobilize, to reach out in solidarity. I share all of those sentiments.
But there is also a moral question here that Powery has left me with. A spiritual question beckons: How do we respond to hatred and bigotry? Can we hate hatred? What about hating the hater?
Yes, I keep coming back to W.E.B. Du Bois. And pondering his four questions:
“How shall Integrity face Oppression?
What shall Honesty do in the face of Deception,
Decency in the face of Insult,
Self-Defense before Blows?
How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction, and Lies?
What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force?
In thinking about integrity, honesty, decency, and virtue in this age of bluster and hot air and outright lies, I also think about so many of the best people I know who want to lash out at Trump and Trump-ism. I know that urge, for I feel it in my own veins as well.
And yet I wonder if that’s not giving in to the same Dark Side of the Force.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t confuse the racism and xenophobia and misogyny of the Trump regime with the desire to fight for a better world. I don’t. These are not mirror images of one another.
But I think there’s a spiritual lesson here for us as well. We cannot hate our way out of Trump.
We need something to illuminate the darkness, and it may not be cursing it. Our very being has to become a candle, bringing light into a world deeply in need of it.
Oh, yes, there is urgent need for righteous indignation to awaken us from the state of slumber, but we need more than just that. We need something divine to lift us up above hatred, and it’s love.
I still believe in love.
I still believe that love will have the victory.
I was turning recently back to one of the defining movies of my life: Star Wars. I can do without the lightsabers and the CGI. I watch it for Yoda, for the Force.
There’s a powerful scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke takes on Darth Vader. At first Luke refuses to fight his father:
Vader: You cannot hide forever, Luke.
Luke: I will not fight you.
Vader: Give yourself to the Dark Side.
It is the only way you can save your friends.
Yes, your thoughts betray you.
Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for…
So… you have a twin sister.
Your feelings have now betrayed her, too.
Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me.
Now his failure is complete.
If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will.
It is in the next scene that Luke seems to give in to his own inner demons. He lashes out again and again and again at Darth Vader. Yes, there is real power in this. The Dark Side of the Force is also real. Anger, hatred, revenge. They are not merely the absence of love, compassion, and light.
This scene reminds me so much of how many of us would lash out, if we could, at Trump and Trump-ism. Righteous indignation so easily turns into the Dark Side.
Somehow our means and our ends have to be consistent. We can’t hate our way out of Trump. There is still the need for love, for love to move into the public spaces. There is still the need for that love to be called justice when it is public, and for that same love to be tenderness when it moves inward.
In confronting the Dark Side, let us never turn to the Dark Side. Let us not become the very quality we so despise.
Let us counter this vicious hatred with an insistence on love for all, including a redemptive love for those who are seduced by the charlatans’s promises, starting with those who at the moment find themselves weak and vulnerable.
Back to Star Wars.
Emperor: Good! Your hate has made you powerful.
Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side!
Luke: Never! I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.
You’ve failed, Your Highness.
I am a Jedi, like my father before me.
May we heed the wise words of that wise Sufi master, Yoda:
“Once you start down the dark path,
forever will it dominate your destiny,
consume you it will.”
The Dark Side is not stronger. It is, as Yoda taught us, “Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
I still believe that love will have the victory. Let us make sure that our means, our way, our method, is as refined as the beloved community goal we espouse.
It may not be quick. It surely won’t be easy. And let it not be seductive. Be let us cling, o prisoners of hope, to the light side of the Force in this age of Trump.
It’s a marathon…