the rabbit hole

There’s a series on Hulu I’ve fallen for lately, only 8 episodes, so not too much of a distraction. It is called 11.22.63, which, of course, is the day Kennedy was shot and killed in Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

The short story is that Jake, a high school and adult ed teacher from Maine in 2015, learns through a friend about a time portal, the “rabbit hole,” through which he can travel back to October 1960. The friend, dying from cancer as a result of Agent Orange, persuades Jake to go back and prevent the assassination, to prevent the ramp-up in Vietnam, which he blamed on Johnson, and so ultimately to prevent the friend’s cancer. So Jake tries it. And without ruining the whole thing for you, I can tell you this lesson he learned pretty quickly: when you try to change the past, the past pushes back.

I’ve been thinking about that, not so much because I believe in time travel (although there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know and am not willing to write off), but because of things we can’t see that try to make us conform, that try to keep us from causing “trouble.”

In social and political discourse, we refer to the “system,” and in some corners, folks still talk about “the man.” In this electoral season, it’s “the establishment.” As in the parties, PACS and profiteers that control us, that write the social equation to their own benefit, that won’t take no for an answer.

At both ends of the political spectrum, there is a disgruntled bunch saying “no” and trying to make it stick. The ones on the far right and the ones on the far left have only this in common: an acute awareness that something isn’t working. Of course, we don’t agree on what isn’t working, much less how to fix it, but each edge has embraced what it considers an off-the-radar candidate to carry its flag.

Now, you know me, and you know I believe the right has it wrong. You probably could guess that I don’t think the left is nearly left enough. I get this from scripture. So, let’s concede that I’m out of the mainstream, the 80 percent in the middle where candidates will duke it out in the general election.

But from that vantage point, here’s what I see: people challenging the system, and the system fighting back. Against the people. Like this:

– Disenfranchising voters. Voter ID laws that confuse and manipulate; voting machines that don’t work, or ballot shortages in critical precincts; voters inclined a particular way finding their party affiliation changed or their names inexplicably dropped from the rolls; people of color, captured their own communities and hauled off to some other, whiter, community where they won’t have a right to vote or where their personhood will be counted differently;

– Tilting media coverage. I know. I can’t believe I ever doubted this, but it has been so blatant this season as to give me chills. After the debate here, CNN’s clips on the post-debate show were manipulated to flip the story about who got the most applause; after one recent
primary, the tabulations of the less desirable, but winning, candidate were on the screen, but it was the face of the one who lost, the establishment’s choice, which was shown prominently on the screen, perhaps to boost the public impressions of the candidate’s strength. Writers I trust seem to have given up on their long-held ideals, suddenly jumping on some other bandwagon. Is it because they’re syndicated by major corporations? Even facebook seems to be manipulating coverage; watch what “trends,” and tell me if you think I’m wrong.

It could be that I’m just a jaded conspiracy theorist. Or it could be that the establishment is in full defense mode. Because the system isn’t working and people are catching on.

Establishment. System. The man. Big Pharma. Wall Street. In church, we call them the powers and principalities. And some would add “church” to the list.

No good for you, no good for me.

Paul, the apostle, wrote that our fight is not against people, but against the forces of self-absorption, against the powers and principalities. With all due respect to Paul, the powers and principalities are a system made of people, not just unidentifiable energy or auras or karma. Actual people.

Three folks I trust read advance copies of this newsletter and all three told me it didn’t really go anywhere. One said she felt me holding back. I am. Because I’m trying to say something about the system that isn’t about a particular candidate.

So here’s the truth: I feel manipulated. Bottom line is that the system has an agenda and I’m in the way. So are you, FYI. We are component parts, and we are being sold off for parts. I’m not against having a system. But I am against one that uses, exploits and manipulates us. The system we have has steered far off course. I resent the system that seems to have decided well in advance who will be our next president and how life will go for the foreseeable future, even before we’re done voting.

“Rabbit holes,” they say, are metaphors for disorienting, nonsensical realities. And I’m looking at the rabbit hole we’re being asked to jump into, and I’m disgusted and angry. More than any other political season.

But if “rabbit hole” is a way of talking about disorienting or nonsensical realities, perhaps “resurrection” is the way of describing the antidote — the only thing that makes any sense at all.

So I guess I would like to say that voting is part of a resurrected life. So are donating, and organizing and protesting and boycotting and choosing animals from a shelter instead of from a breeder and questioning where food comes from and challenging the tax benefits of a Panamanian life.

In a system that likes keeping all the power for itself, maybe resurrection is just life fighting back.



(This appears today in Woodside World, the newsletter of Woodside Church, Flint, MI)