I’m Scrooge: In Defense of Selfishness, and Against the Broadening of Community

I’ve got a lot of problems with St. Paul. This much should be clear. I think I’d have fewer problems with him if he hadn’t written nearly as much (like Peter or James), but I mostly wish that Christ had said the things that Paul said, so I’d know where Paul’s opinion ends and Christ’s words begin.

Today’s Paulian problem:

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Broad, broad, broad statement. Probably a true statement, but I need some parameters here, and a bit too open-ended for my tastes. So here are my qualifying questions:

How many are we to suffer with?

Who are we to suffer with?

How far away are we to suffer?

How long are we to suffer?

I’m asking for a moratorium on general grief. It’s a cold response, certainly, to the sacrificial love and grief Paul outlines. In my defense, Paul wrote his letter to a Christian world much, much smaller than our world. He believed the end of the world was upon his age, and believed even marriage was not as expedient as evangelism and devotion. In the first century, there was no internet, no video footage, no news sources, no mass media. Life unwound from birth to death in a few mile radius. There was a community to mourn with, certainly, when something inevitably went wrong. But there were fewer prayers for the outsiders, the enemies, the foreigners, and the unknown (though Christ certainly sent up plenty of these).

Now we have the choice—and it’s a very loaded choice—to stay “informed.” To choose to tune into a world that has a billion cameras pointed at seven million people. To choose “awareness” is to opt into a boundless stream of information that only works to overwhelm you or harden you. The responses I have to horrible, true news—whether continuing American injustice toward blacks or the back-lash of fear and violence toward police—tend to be either mute acceptance and a shutdown of emotion or brief rage that burns out with weariness.

Knowing the suffering of the world means never sharing any joy. To “weep with those who weep” is a full-time job. This cannot be the purpose of human life.

One of the great criticisms of Job’s friends is that they were full of advice but lacked any sense of empathy. If they could have stayed silent and supported Job without laying on the judgments so thick, they might have been more of a comfort. But they were interested in the means and ends, in the rationalizing of Job’s suffering. Their interest was academic and it was a way of protecting themselves from the wrath that Job had befallen.

Instead of staring transfixed at the big picture of a swiftly tilting planet (as L’Engle dubbed it once), or attempting to assemble the pieces of an impossible puzzle, we should instead suffer with those near, and share the joy of the same. A community can mourn, though a world cannot. Perhaps for some of us that community is bigger—perhaps Christians ought to suffer with all Christians, or women with all women, for instance. But I can’t really get behind this: there’s too much to overwhelm our short, brief lives on this earth. Training for eternity is not training in suffering; eternity is the fulfillment of joy, not lamenting the sufferings of a broken planet.

We are shattered people. As much as we ought to be otherwise, we can’t really suffer with a hurting world. But we can shrink parts of that world down to community-size. Broadening a sense of community doesn’t mean anything until I’ve met a member of that community. I can’t feel real empathy until I’ve spoken with, lived near, or fought beside someone—until we’ve become a community. I don’t think you can forge those bands over TV, and certainly not on Facebook.

All this to say: we have our communities, and that’s where our joys and griefs should remain. You cannot force your sense of community on someone else; you cannot call out someone’s membership as it suits your aims. You can ask me to acknowledge a community as it may relate to me, but you cannot expect me to shoulder the griefs you shoulder, just because I “ought” to.

Ultimately, it is not selfish to love one’s family, one’s friends, one’s coworkers, one’s schoolmates, one’s community, even one’s country (though that is an abstracted whole). But to love the world as an entirety is meaningless—we are not built for such a thing. It is something to personally strive for, in pursuit of following Christ, but it is an undue request upon another.

You don’t have the right to remove my joy, just as I don’t have a right to dismiss your suffering. There has to be some balance in between. I don’t want the world at my funeral. The world doesn’t know me. I want those to grieve me who also celebrated with me, spoke with me, taught me, moved me. I want a real community, not a nonsensical world community. We’re not made for it.

(Ed.’s Note: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, because I may be utterly off-base in writing this. I’m mostly just tired of following the news.)

Interview with a Famous Lady Cat

The mysterious lady cat.

Poetry in Stasis

Editor’s Note: This was a long time in coming, but we’ve had a lot of good feedback from an earlier interview so we’re going to try it out and see where it goes.

Stephen: So tell us, Calla Lily, what’s it like being a solo cat for the first time in ages?

Calla: Relationships have always been hard for me, Steve.

S: Please don’t call me Steve. How have they been hard?

C: As a fellow rescue cat, I think you’ll understand what I mean when I say that two cats is two too many.

S: I don’t actually understand that; care to elaborate?

C: I’d prefer not to.

S: [Long pause.] Understandable. Read any good books lately?

C: That feels like a throwaway question. I’m going to pass.

S: Sharpened any good claws lately?

C: [Glares.] Do you really want to find out?

S: [Shake head.] Where are you working these days?

C: I work from home. I have been able to save money while doing what I love most of all.

S: Which is?

C: Running in circles chasing that cloth mouse thing.

S: Tell me more about how that chase drives you.

C: You could say it’s in my blood; it’s not exactly something I can explain. Though I will try to put it into terms you can understand. It feels good, Stephen. It just does. And I know I’m helping people when I jump and roll and flip.

S: And the money? How does it work as a job exactly? Who pays you?

C: [Hisses.] Not all work is about money. That’s a pretty bipedist thing to say.

S: Sorry, I’ll let that one go.

C: I take it from your wallet when you leave it on the bookshelf.

S: Ah, yes, that explains a lot. Well, I appreciate your honesty.

C: [Stares into distance.] Yep.

S: Okay, well, I noticed you like that bookshelf perch. Your shelfy selfies are blowing up on Twitter right now. How is fame treating you?

C: It’s not something you can put on or take off, like an old set of furs.

S: Right, that’s probably why you’ve become something of a recluse lately, correct?

C: I’m not sure what you mean by that, but, yes, fame is my ultimate aspiration.

S: Not what I meant, but that’s fine. Your new movie, should we see it?

C: Meh. If you’re into that.

S: Was it more of an afterthought?

C: Once you end up in Hollywood’s star-making factory, you tend to just sort of nod and let people groom you, because it’s a lot easier in the long run than making any particular stance or “kind” of art. I’ll wait for the fame to blow over (probably about 40-50 cat years and it’ll be gone) and then I’ll work on my own projects.

S: What exactly do you want to do? What kind of art are you interested in producing?

C: Who said anything about art?

S: I just mean, making art rather than making films for money-making purposes, you understand?

C: I understand precisely, but I don’t like using loaded judgments like “art” versus “craft.”

S: [Pause.] What’s your favorite food?

C: Turkey with all the fixings. You brought some?

S: Of course! [Did not.] We’ll get to that later. Do you have a message for young queens like yourself? What should the kitties take away from your success?

C: I will fight to keep my success and all else that is mine.

S: Sorry, I said that wrong: any tips for your fans and followers?

C: Sharp claws, sharp mind.

S: Thanks for being here!

Editor’s Addendum: She remained on the shelf for three hours after the interview.

Why You and I Are Voting Jeb Bush for President

This may be a little premature; technically, he’s not running for president yet—and he may never, depending on how money, family, supporters, and his sense of self-preservation direct him. But that fact that he has admitted to considering a run for the highest office in all the land, it’s safe to say he’ll make a go at it. Most would-be presidents are pretty cagey about admitting to their presidential interests until they’ve already found themselves knee-deep in closet skeletons.

But Jeb is not most politicians. First of all, his name is Jeb, which means he’s running for president about a century-and-a-half too late. But we’ll forgive him that one—he didn’t name himself, did he? No, and that’s why his name matters so much to his campaign. Though he’s the 43rd governor of Florida (I know I’ve seen that 43 somewhere), what’s more important is that last name of his.

It’s hard to be a royalist in U.S. politics (it’s actually hard to be anything at all, if you’re paying much attention), but I do my best. It’s hard to pass on bloodlines when choosing a new leader. Now, there’s something to be said for a potential House of Clinton sort of family ruling party. But the Bushes are already multi-generational, and unless Chelsea decides to go into the family business, there’s not a lot of Clintons left to rule in the future. I’m trying to plan long-term for this, and the Bush clan is, while not Duggar-big, still substantial. (I’ll be working on the Duggars’ own Arkansas Dynasty eventually, so stayed tuned.) If we’re getting technical, all the presidents (except that Dutch-speaking freak Martin Van Buren) are all basically cousins, anyway. But I’m not one for technicalities.

At this political moment, another Bush in the White House does make a bit of sense: Cuba and the U.S. are finally talking to each other again, after fifty years of cold-shouldering. Bush and his family have Miami and even Cuban connections: it couldn’t hurt. But Cuba’s small, and though Jeb has other Latin American connections (his wife, Columba, is Mexican-American), China, Russia, and the Middle East are all in the opposite direction.

I’m going out on a limb here: I do not have any real understanding of Jeb Bush’s positions or policies. In fairness, though, the prior Bushes’ positions also were pretty complicated, so I figure that’s kind of a wash. I didn’t hate the other Bushes (sorry): you can’t hate that smile. Unless you really, really didn’t like his policies. Or were carved from marble.

He’s got that Bush face. I can’t say no to it.

Maybe that’s what it is for us: we will always take the devil we know. At least that will take the edge off the surprise when comes the unveiling.

Like the ancient Israelites, I think we all want a king, not a president (or judges, or whatever). We miss that kind of nobility. We miss knowing that the leader of state isn’t just some guy we had econ class with. There has to be something nobler than money or glad-handing. Maybe it’s in that smirk?

Truthfully: it doesn’t matter who I vote for—too many people vote for that to be the case, and politicians change with the winds (Thanks, Obama!). Also, I am immune to persuasion from all quarters. Just throwing that out there.

But you know Jeb’s wife is Columba, and I’m going to take that as a sign. In 2016 I’ll be voting for the King and Queen of Columbia!

His Majesty’s Last Name

It’s tough to be king these days; you even have to pay your child support. If you’re Albert II of Monaco. Technically he’s a prince, but since he’s a monarch, we’ll just say king. At any rate, I know almost nothing about this man except that he’s pretty loaded (He owns a good piece of Monaco) and he has trouble keeping his heirs legitimate. (That’s a kingly burn.)

I find this interesting not because of this last piece (all kings have a pretty tough time keeping their pants on) but because of the result of it. Albert II is short for Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi: like most royals, he has a slew of names, likely all with historical significance. The last name (but not his last name, per se), Grimaldi, was the house that ruled Monaco (and Genoa) in the twelfth century.

How does all this connect? Glad you asked. Albert has a pair of legitimate offspring, and he also has a few other children. One of the latter daughters was given “Grimaldi” as a surname. This surname may have had something to do with subsequent child support requests, but it’s also an interesting liminal marker between the royal and the usual. Thus, while giving a child a last name—often this makes some sense as per the usual naming conventions of our time, it’s odd if you consider the child to be royal offspring.

Obviously her illegitimacy is a barrier to ruling in Monaco, but even without that, the fact of having a last name at all is its own barrier, oddly enough. The closest thing to a last name Albert or any royal has is the House or Line he belongs to. In that sense, Albert of the House Grimaldi (or something like that) could be a “last name” of a sort, but really his last name is (Prince of) Monaco. Royals don’t have last names, because they don’t need them. They are already identified automatically so there’s no need to distinguish their first names from anyone else’s. That is, unless they are pushed outside of their monarchical state and become something else: a civilian, citizen, or even a subject—of themselves, or at least of their own Houses, presumably.

This kind of problem shows up in other royal places: for instance, when Princes William and Harry of England joined their nation’s military. Military forms, like all bureaucracy, are made to standardize. Forms don’t take no for an answer. Thus, when two royal princes attempt to enlist, they still have to fill out the “surname” portion of the papers. Both of them adopted the “last name” Wales for the purpose of military service. Again, this mostly makes sense—they are the sons of Charles, Prince of Wales, so their last name might as well be Wales. Still, they might have also gone by “Windsor,” as this is their Royal House. Having “Wales” stitched across the front of their fatigues has an interesting effect: it identities the men with their nation and land. Surreally, Wales defends Wales; Royal England fights for Royal England, so to speak.

Of course, the monarchy is complicated today. Albert II’s parentage was a royal mix: his parentage combines Hollywood royalty (his mother was Grace Kelly) and traditional royalty (Prince Rainier III sired him). William and Harry’s mother Diana was noble and later became Hollywood royalty. Now Royals have to write in their last names, too, just like the rest of us, whether on military applications or for child support forms. “Sir, you’re going to have to fill all the boxes, for me.” “Certainly, but I don’t have a last name.” “You do now.” Kings have to take a number at the DMV.

Monarchs are simply a link to the past. They remind us of a time when there were few enough people around that last names were optional. When a king and his country were inseparable. Now our kings are citizens, not gods on earth. They have to follow a law that is great than themselves. Still, they have their ancestry, their direct connection to the old world, and that’s not a small thing. Royal institutions are living ruins: they are castles slowly disintegrating, long after they’ve gone out of use and become just another tourist site. But let’s not give them last names, and let’s not pass their names out, either. Let them have one last royal distinction. I don’t want to see Mr. George Wales in line at the soup kitchen. At least let him be Poor Prince George.