The Long Defeat

I have joined the long defeat
That falling set in motion
And all my strength and energy
Are raindrops in the ocean

I can’t just fight when I think I’ll win
That’s the end of all belief
And nothing has provoked it more
Than a possible defeat

–“The Long Defeat,” Sara Groves

As I compiled an extensive Dystopian fiction reading list for myself, I remembered how Kali once described me as a “pessimistic idealist.” I am someone who stares into the middle-distance and sees the ideal hidden behind a veil, within our grasp, should we choose to reach for it, but I also recognize that this is an imperfect world, where people are more attuned to their selfish desires than to squinting to see a world they cannot see. I’ve resigned that this sad fact is true for the world, but still hope, still dream, and still strive to reach for that ideal even if I am the only one looking.

When I heard “The Long Defeat” by Sara Groves, I had to look up the phrase because she seemed strangely defeatist. I found that in Lord of the Rings, Galadriel says to Frodo that she and Celeborn “together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete or without loss, and evil will rise again. Apparently Tolkien wrote in a letter: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” I think Tolkien was a pessimistic idealist, too.

As a historian of sorts, and as a Christian, his words struck me as contrary to the popular belief I know to be held by most Christians: We have won. Christ defeated death and Satan when he triumphed Easter morning, and it’s only a matter of time before Satan gets his come-uppin’s and is thrown into the lake of fire. We continue in this imperfect world knowing that we are the victors, come the end of all things.

Yet the road is long, and the load is heavy. This is an imperfect world and each day comes a little farther apart at the seams. The universe spinning spinning toward entropy. We claim the hope that one day it may all be restored, but where does that leave us? The hope we hold restores all things by first destroying the old. For this universe, perhaps it is a long defeat. With every kind word, every time we place the interests of others ahead of our own, every time we are motivated by love instead of selfishness and choose the harder path over the easy one, we fight a losing battle against the powers of this world. But it is a noble battle, too.

“And nothing has provoked it more than possible defeat”—is this not true? The words of my philosophy professor come to mind: “You cannot claim your faith asĀ  your own until you have stared atheism in the face.” He made much of the class uncomfortable. I have considered whether faith is only poetry and song, of the possible defeat, and I have made the conclusion that even if it is, it is poetry to lift the eyes of the downcast, song to lighten the hearts of the weary, and is the noblest lost cause I can think of to live and die for. The history of Christianity is far from perfect, and those who call themselves Christians imperfect still, but if God was someone we could fully understand or something we could be fully comfortable with, then he would be of human design. And that is not faith. The stubborn hope of the unseen, inspiring those who believe to fight the long defeat, and in the process bring a little light into the darkness—this is faith. We who believe, we must continue even when we think our victory unsure, for to give up is certain defeat indeed.

These thoughts spurred from a song, dystopias, and riding with the horse-lords of Rohan. The answer to the question, “What are we holding on to?” is, as Sam says, “That there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

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Fire with fire

Strike on Gaza School kills 30. They attacked a school. Not just an Islamist/fundamentalist school, but a UN run school at that—not that the former would make it any better. How in heaven or hell does Israel justify bombing, murdering children? I have been watching the development of this war with increasing disgust and frustration that I can do nothing to stop it. Why this continued pandering to Israel? The facts are clear: the Palestinians were removed from their homes, shoved into refugee camps that they’re still living in 50 years later. Yeah, Israel says it has the right to protect itself, but the Palestinians have an equal right to be angry. And when they’re unable to obtain the education and work that is their right, they’re more likely to respond with violence. This is horrific beyond words.

Meanwhile, I’m also praying for Danielle’s safety. What a time to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Dreaming

This still brings tears welling up in my eyes and down my cheeks, and a wish that I could have been there in person, or be involved in something just as great. Let us never stop dreaming.

Hope?

Tonight I had an unexpected opportunity: I got to hear Greg Mortenson speak at Trinity University. He is the founder of the Central Asia Institute and author of Three Cups of Tea. He builds schools for girls in Pakistan. A friend gave me a copy earlier this summer and I was excited to read it because I had been eyeing it in the bookstore for months. Last week, my mom and I heard that he would be in town. Of course I was going to risk missing Obama’s speech (I would record it) in order to go hear Greg Mortenson.

Mortenson is just as personable and inspiring in person as he is in print. This is a man who grew up in extraordinary–or at least, not your typical American–circumstances, is down-to-earth, and works towards the betterment of our world because, well, it doesn’t occur to him not to. This is a man who had brunch with Pervez Musharraf three days before he resigned as president! I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this book. Read it. Let it inspire you, compel you.

A couple quotes:
“If you fight terrorism, that’s based on fear. But if you promote peace, that’s based in hope.” (In regards to the subtitle to his book. The hardcover said “One man fighting terrorism… one school at a time. The new softcover says, “One man promoting peace…”)

“The real enemy is ignorance, and it is ignorance that breeds hatred.”

We made it home in time so I could still hear Obama’s speech. It’s been interesting watching the DNC in the family room, with my dad in the other room, because he is a staunch Republican. “He’s going to promise the world,” my dad said tonight. “And McCain will next week,” I quipped back. We’ve had mild verbal sparring like this all summer, mainly because I won’t stand for anyone to be spoken badly of, whether I agree with them or not. At least my father stayed in the other room, and didn’t get up to go upstairs.

Tonight Obama spoke about change and what it would look like. I listened. I thought. President Wilson urged Congress to ratify the 19th amendment, and he was a Democrat. President F.D. Roosevelt picked up the pieces of a broken America with the New Deal, and he was a Democrat. The Civil Rights movement was fought during a Democratic presidency, and it succeeded. That same presidency was that of an Irish Catholic. It would seem that Democrats are not afraid of change. When I look at Barack Obama, when I hear the arguments against him, they are mostly from older people, working from a world-view foreign to those of us born in a post-Cold War, post-segregation world. Perhaps it is a good thing for a young candidate to become president. He would better represent the upcoming leaders and workers of this nation, people like me who when she saw him running for president didn’t notice the color of his skin until someone else pointed it out to her. Who saw a person.

In 1962, President Kennedy said, “The Irish were not wanted here. Now an Irish Catholic is President of the United States. There is no question about it, in the next forty years a Negro can achieve the same position.”

We’re six years late, but we’ve made it. There is no question about it: it’s possible. And we should be willing to consider change, and not fear it. In the past, such risks of change brought us independence, universal suffrage, civil rights. We should not fear to hope.

Tonight I also heard Obama say, “We recognize ourselves in each other.” It reminded me of why I read and study and hope to create literature. Literature often brings us face to face with the Other and the unknown; it compels us to see in their face a reflection similar to ours: two eyes, a nose, and a head full of fears and dreams, and a heart aching to be known.

Skin Colored

A plug for a friend-of-a-friend’s blog:

Skin Coloured is intended to be a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture. Make-up, plasters and tights – even when they’re marked “flesh-coloured” – are not the colour of skin that isn’t white. And whilst white women may have trouble matching these items to their skin, for women who don’t class themselves as white, this inconvenience is symptomatic of a wider problem.

To help illustrate this problem, therefore, Skin Coloured is looking for submissions. Send us photographs that illustrate the inadequacy of provisions for non-white people, and we’ll post them on the blog, and hopefully both those submitting, and those who’re here to learn, will gain something from it.

Further information can be found here.

(I’d appreciate it if this were passed along to anyone who might find it interesting; the great difficulty here is finding other women (and, people of any gender) who deal with this issue. Many thanks.)

To a Candid world

Happy Signing Day, everyone. You [presuming you are American] should read–I dare to hope, reread–the Declaration of Independence today. You really have no excuse not to: I have provided a link for you here, and it is short and quick to read. Instead of [or in addition to] eating hot dogs, getting drunk because we can, and watching fireworks, we should be reading the Declaration in public places today. I say this not because I am a patriotic person [as I am not, really, as evidenced by an earlier post regarding patriotic music], but as an historian and as a citizen. Perhaps if we read the Declaration more often we would remember the purpose of government, of the contract we have made as the governed with the governing, and the rights and duties we have as the governed

Instead of America the Beautiful, I listened to America by Bree Sharp. Instead of going to a cook-out, I’m going to go feed the homeless. Instead of making any big plans for today, I have been rereading Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rousseau, and Jefferson. I am reminded yet again of my love for political philosophy and how it stirs in me the purpose of the individual in a larger social organism, of the duties and obligations that individual has to his neighbors and the world. [I had written a rather long post expounding upon these thoughts inspired by Locke, Kant, et al, but I’ve transferred it to my journal instead. If you are interested, I’ll still share.]

I think I would be one of those unconventional Englishwomen who lived in Paris before the French Revolution, going to salons every night and mingling with Voltaire and Montaigne, supporting the Revolution as it began and then being absolutely horrified at the monster it turned into.

On a similar, side-tracked note: I heard on The World today that Iran is considering a bill that could charge bloggers as being an enemy of the state and of God on earth [full story here]. I am incredibly thankful to have the right of free speech and intellectual copyright.

This is our summer of freedom and civil disobedience.

A drop in the ocean

UN classifies rape as a ‘war tactic’

Huzzah! It’s a step in the right direction. I don’t even know how many petitions and letters over the past… well over a year, I’ve signed to get that passed.

A difference in perspective: on our way home from dinner, I was driving so we were listening to NPR, and the announcer was highlighting various news stories. After one about gas prices and the current state of the U.S. economy, my mom said, “Well that’s annoying.” Meanwhile, I was inwardly seething that the present administration, which has so verbally committed itself to the promotion of democracy, seemed to be doing little to promote democracy in Zimbabwe, when Mugabe is clearly going against the democratic process by vowing that the opposition would not win the run-off, charging the opposition with treason, and already announcing that there would be “war” if the opposition did win. I held my tongue, for a variety of reasons. Maybe I shouldn’t have.

My copy of Utopia by Thomas More has a sunflower on it. I took it out to read a quote from it to Brittn and now it’s on my desk. I want to reread it… Such a good book.