IF YOU HAVEN'T done so already, you should start planning how you’ll spend the next 11 months of your life, unless you’re traveling to Mars or someplace where the news media won’t be covering the presidential election. On Mars, for example, you’d be less interested in politics and more concerned about the weather, since an unexpected storm last summer separated Matt Damon from his crew. It also separated several million dollars from Americans who went to see The Martian, but it was totally worth it. As opposed to Matt Damon’s other space movie, Interstellar, which was interawful and had patrons screaming for their money back. (Spoiler alert: It finally ends.)
But for those of us trapped here on Earth, there are probably only three ways to separate ourselves from the incessant noise of a presidential election year:
1. Sell all your possessions and give to the poor, then follow maybe some guy named Rev. Richard or something who lives in a bunker with lots of canned goods. Wait, that’s wrong. Sorry, I spilled some coffee on the last part of Matthew 19 and I was just guessing the rest. So forget that one.
2. Join a monastery. Trappist is always a good choice, as long as you love gardening and thinking for long stretches of time (never tried it myself) and don’t mind wearing a long cassock. Although underneath you can wear whatever you want. (You could walk around in purple bike shorts, with a gaudy corporate logo, because who’s gonna know? And they don’t check.) Monasteries are good places to be in the world but not of it, or the other way around, if that works better for you.
3. Or do what I do: Obtain a granddaughter, 5-ish, who will keep you grounded, literally. You’ll spend most of the year on the floor, helping her assemble Lego’s Enchanted Mountain Ice Castle from Frozen, in various shades of Disney pink, much of that time looking for a tiny little part, like the hinge to the door of the Magic Fairy Unicorn Corral. After an hour of fruitless searching you will swear it has not been lost but was, in fact, not packed at the factory, a deliberate omission prompted by that well-known Scandinavian sense of humor. I can just picture the factory workers in Denmark, holding up the missing piece and laughing at their cleverness, then awkwardly exchanging Danish high-fives (blonde people just look silly when they do that). Meanwhile, back in the U.S., you want to shove something up their ümlaut.
IT’S THE START of the 2016 election year, and I know what you’re thinking: “No it’s not. It’s the middle of December, and I haven’t done any of my Christmas shopping!” Understood. But this is our January issue, and in our minds the ball has already dropped in Time Square, Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve was, once again, not rockin’, and we’ve got serious political work to do.
Although at Sojourners we have to be very careful. In the coming year, we can speak prophetic truth about the issues facing our world but can’t direct that same righteous fire at a candidate, because we’re a certain kind of nonprofit, a 501C-3PO, I think. Nonprofits follow rigid federal rules against partisanship, and most of them don’t make a profit. That part we’re really good at. We never have any money left over. (Although once we bought a ham for our Christmas party. I had three slices. Sometimes it’s okay to have a profit, as long as you eat it.)
Nonprofits are nothing like the political action committees that will be spending billions of dollars in the next election. PACs can raise unlimited money in support of any candidate, but they can’t coordinate with them. Which is why PACs have names such as “We Love Jeb Bush, Just Don’t Tell Him That” and “Supporting Ted Cruz, But We Want It to Be a Surprise.” It protects them from any appearance of collusion, which is unlawful and closely monitored by the Federal Election Commission, which would respond harshly by winking.
Unlike a PAC, Sojourners doesn’t have unlimited anything (there were no seconds on the ham), except our unlimited love for justice, the Risen Savior, and this one sweater I have my eye on for Christmas. (Come on, J.C. Penney gift card!) But we do have a lot of curiosity about the people wanting to be president, the second most powerful person in the country after Jeff Bezos, who invented Amazon because he dreams of a world where the only human contact is with UPS drivers.
AS A FORMER Baptist child who often mocked Catholic school children for their outfits—which paled against my own fashionable ensemble of striped pants, checked shirt, and flannel hat (with flaps!)—I admit that as an adult I have warmed to the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” (Did I get that right?) Catholics have better steeples, usually with bells, and cool smoke during worship, and interesting stained glass windows to look at if the homilist lacks conviction, which he often does, compared to the preachers of my youth. They would sweat right through their white suits as they paced back and forth describing the Coming Judgment which—and they were very clear on this point—will not be pretty.
We didn’t have much to do with the Catholics in our small Indiana town, except to occasionally remark on their odd rituals, their odd prayers (sometimes to a woman!), and their great fish fries, which Baptists could attend, under cover. We also noticed the lack of American flags on their altars. How was that Christian?
But as I grew older and experimented with different church traditions, I became more open to Catholicism and frequently visited on Sundays, under cover.
AS THE STIFLING heat of summer recedes and the winter months approach, I look forward to the promise of snowy walks, steaming hot cocoa, and the sounds of sleigh bells jingling down our street. (Actually, it’s probably a garbage truck spilling bottles out the back, so never mind.) I love winter, because only in winter can I do my favorite thing: not go camping.
Yes, I know, lots of people camp in the winter. Some of my office colleagues are never happier than when their breath crystallizes in front of them as they hike through a wilderness in February, the frozen ground crunching beneath their feet. Me, I prefer the Great Indoors, thick terry-cloth robes, and the crunching of small Lego pieces beneath my slippers, a reminder that little girls should pick up their toys when they’re done. Winter hiking is what I do between the kitchen and the living room, and then back again because I forgot something.
To me, winter is nature’s way of telling us “mmphremshth,” which I can’t hear clearly, because I’m indoors and the windows are closed. But I think it’s telling us to stay inside.
I’m not opposed to camping—I camped twice last summer—but I also don’t hesitate to call it what it is: an exhausting exercise in 18th-century drudgery, but without the helpful oxen. Camping in a tent, with a family, is an unending process of menial labor that begins with deciding what to pack for the trip: everything except the couch. And then consists of an unalterable pattern which, in its entirety, is as follows:
• Pack the car completely full, blocking most windows and floor space. Put bikes on back of car.
• Remove bikes to get something inside back of car. Put bikes on back of car again.
AS ONE OF the few white males who has not declared his candidacy for president, I’m actually enjoying the relative calm before the upcoming election season. Our television shows are still punctuated by soothingly predictable commercials about luxury cars and erectile dysfunction. In a few months they’ll be railing against job-killing gay marriage and the evils of climate science, also job-killing, followed by the reassuring voice of a man who says “I apologize for this message.” (Kidding. But wouldn’t that be great?!)
At this point, with little at stake, the legions of Republican candidates are of interest only for their entertainment value, their speeches lacking in substance but their repetitive talking points ripe with possibility for drinking games. (Caution: When listening to Ted Cruz, don’t choose the words “constitution” or “unadulterated judicial activism” if you’re the designated driver.)
We’re at that sweet spot in time when Iowa is just a state known for its agricultural products (corn, I think), and when Hillary Clinton has not yet been compared to Hitler. If we think about politics at all, it’s to come up with reasons not to support Bernie Sanders. Because, if you set aside the oddity of a Vermont senator who still sounds like the Flatbush of his youth, there’s only one reason: his age. He’s 73, six years older than Hillary Clinton and decades older than Donald Trump, who is, like, 12, right?
IN THE FEW months remaining before our lives are completely taken over by computers, there’s still time to join the Resistance. Or start one, since most of us are unaware of the need to do so. I personally haven’t noticed because I’m waiting for my first heart attack to teach me how precious life is.
You’ve probably missed the warning signs because you’ve been too busy tweeting or friending people on Facebook. These seemingly innocent acts—designed mainly to reduce productivity at the office—are helpfully consolidating personal data for the ever-watchful mainframes to harvest later. And when the computers finally reduce us to a subservient species, unfriending them won’t save you.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the federal government’s massive monitoring of our phone calls, an effort that revealed most human conversation is not worthy of the monthly fees charged by Verizon, AT&T, or that new prepaid service called Boost, which I first thought was a nutritional supplement for old people. (The guy behind the counter looked at me funny when I asked what flavors it comes in. And when he tried to explain “pay as you go,” I was confused. With nutritional supplements, you pay, then you go, a little later.)
BUT THE GREATER threat is the increasing pervasiveness of artificial intelligence, probably the worst artificial substance ever created, if you rule out Cool Whip.