Day #2: What Will Never Love You Back

“A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon… the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.”

-Revelation 12:1-4

Here is the thing people get wrong about the book of Revelation: we remember it as a great battle between good and evil, but it’s more about how evil permeates the lives of the good and the evil. The good—the woman and her baby—run away. The dragon chases them, and eventually bestows his authority to the beast. The beast is charismatic and sexy and powerful and so the people submit to the beast, whether they are good or evil. Revelation is about the banality of evil, and how evil is all-consuming. You can run from it or submit to it, but submitting will not spare you. When it comes to evil, no one ever wins.

I’ve watched teenagers fall in love with the beautiful game, I’ve watched them train and tryout and compete and break and submit for love of it, some of them at a very high level. In this World Cup, I’ve eagerly watched the early upsets of the group stages. I know developing countries are getting better at beating European powerhouses because the Europeans are drafting and training their children younger and younger. It reminds me of the advice Tressie McMillan Cottom gave to Black people navigating academia: “the institution cannot love you…. Just get your hugs where you can and let them have their institution.”

No matter how much children love the game now, we are marching them to the wolves. It is nearly impossible to teach them to love the game without teaching them to contort themselves for the institution. I wish I could tell the teenagers I’ve mentored that the institution will never love them back, no matter how well they perform, no matter how far they make it. It’s something Lionel Messi and I both learned recently, at almost the same age: he at FC Barcelona and me within the institutional church. Maybe this is why I still wear my #10 Barcelona jersey.

The individuals love you, but the institution will never love you back. Being good and talented and charming does not spare you. Even if you thrive in the institution, it will try to destroy you. Souls can only flourish in the streets, in the pick up games, where two or three gather without uniforms or straight-edged fields or capital investment firms.

The banality of evil is that we know the institution will not love us back. But we still try to love it.

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A sympathetic millionaire who the institution cannot love.

‘Get Out’ as Apocalypse Story

Director/writer Jordan Peele calls his film Get Out a “social thriller,” and if you’re like me, your newsfeed has been saturated with tasteful Vaguebooking about the film. But Get Out can be described, with equal accuracy and without spoilers, as a “contemporary apocalypse.” Apocalypse has become Hollywood shorthand for the highest possible stakes of an action sequence–any film that uses the destruction of all human life as a plot device. But in the traditional sense, apocalypse represents an entirely different genre of literature.

Classical apocalypse has less to do with annihilation than regime change. The Greek word apokalypsis means revelation, or uncovering. it’s a genre of literature–much like horror.

Get Out 3

I was terrified at “meet my parents.”

Get Out is a social thriller in the sense that it uses social evil (racism) to heighten an otherwise traditional horror film. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend 15 minutes with my hands over my eyes (but I only see four movies a year and have a low tolerance for visual violence so don’t listen to my definition of scary). A black man accompanies his white girlfriend’s family in the suburbs (a terrifying enough premise on its own), and everything you know (and don’t know) about horror film ensues. I’m not a fan of spoilers, though, so what follows is fairly obtuse on plot details.

Get Out is apocalyptic the same way that Revelation–and other books of the Bible–are social thrillers. The plot hinges on a systemic oppression, laden with specific and symbolic details, reaching a low point and with the hope that a protagonist can interrupt the systemic oppression, regardless of personal cost or total efficacy.

In a sense, apocalypse is a Quentin Tarantino-esque fantasy about future or past envision the triumph of the oppressed over the oppressor, resulting in the total collapse of the oppressor’s social structure. This is where our contemporary view of apocalypse comes from: the collapse of the oppressor’s social structure and all the fear that comes with losing the social order. Continue reading

The End of Which World?

In about 4th grade, the kids in my Christian elementary school began reading Left Behind. I never picked up the books myself; I remember a vague sense of confusion about how the authors knew the names of all the people in the future—even in the Bible, when the prophets made prophecies, they didn’t know the names of all the people in the future. I remember a sense of indignation and injustice that God might stop the world before I grew up. Someone said to me once, “Jesus is going to come back when no one on earth is expecting it.” So I spent my spare time thinking about Jesus’s return, trying to buy myself more time. (Let me clarify right here that Left Behind is fiction, and if you read Revelation you’ll notice there is no mention of rapture at all. Zero. It comes from a poor interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.)

Nicolas Cage = not actually in the Bible.

Nicolas Cage = not actually in the Bible.

I got relatively little rapture theology—I call it theology with some trepidation—in my childhood. In sixth grade, one of my friends doodled “the end is near” on her science notes because it was almost the end of the class period, which was right before lunch. (Since then, I’ve been much more relaxed about the apocalypse.) The kids I work with now are steeped in the apocalyptic—not just Left Behind, but Divergent, The Hunger Games, Godzilla—and that’s just in 2014 box office releases. You can’t hardly go to the movies without the world ending. Continue reading