Friday, February 28, 2014

gated communities, the pros and cons of being invisible, and the 'arclight' of U2's new song

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible..

There is no them
There’s only us

I could never..
would never...
                  live in a gated community.

Yet somehow I live in one.

For years, I quipped, "gated communities are against my religion."

God has a sense of humor (revenge?). When we were looking for a house, the only one available that met all our needs was one in a dreaded gated community.  I struggled, but did the husbandly and biblical thing: submitted to the wife and family.   I told myself-- and them-- it would only be temporary....and grumbled to myself that I would be temporarily miserable.

If you're wondering why I struggle so, a simple googling of  "Would Jesus live in a gated community?"
reveals that the obvious, expected answer is 'no.'

And the New York Times:
... gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders link      
I can't wait to get out.

But in the meantime, I aim to learn all I can about
 exclusion and embrace (Volf's phrase),
                 bounded and centered sets
                                         and  the dynamics and dilemma of

  "us" and "them."

(It's that last pair of terms I'm interested in here; note that language is used in the NT Times audio)

I have even learned that one megachurch (Saddleback) has actually planted a church in a gated community; yes, "a church you can't visit".   No comment yet, but  (like Paul W, see link) I need to wrestle with that reality. Uh oh, I just had a terrible  thought: what if I'm called to do the same, while I live in one?

Get me out of here!  Time to change the scene:

The  indefatigable New Testament scholar Joel Green   (Ha!  I have waited years to use the word "indefatigable" for Joel Green, as he is the one who  introduced me to the word;  using it in reference to  F.F. Bruce) was asked to speak to a group of new pastors. I was a member of that group; and I was thrilled that the meeting took place at the church I pastored.  So in preparing the room for the meeting, I wrote on the top of the blackboard (Anyone remember these ancestors of whiteboards?)  "Congratulations Joel Green on 'Dictionary of the Gospels' winning Book of the Year."

After getting to know all of us, Green  promptly and without comment erased the  announcement and drew a large circle, placing the word "us" in its center.

He had our attention.

He then silently drew another circle, labeled "them."

In the silence, the take-home lesson was already hitting us; and the teacher hadn't yet  even said a word.

What he did next nailed it:  he re-drew the two circles so the "us" circle encompassed and included the "them" circle.

Twenty one years later, U2 releases the song "Invisible," in which the line Bono has used for years (see  my 2008 post here) in conversation and in concert finally becomes official.

"there's no 'them,' there's only 'us.'"

I love that in an early use of this phrase, Bono made it clear who the "them" was; the song was performed at the Dublin Paralympics (Special Olympics).  I dare you to watch who dances (4:15 to 4:51) to the lyric at hand, and not get it.

Steve Stockman:

that lingering anthemic “fade out” nails the prophetic protest,“There is no them... There’s only us..” It is simple, profound and powerful.

The humanising is a recurring theme in U2Original Of The Speciesfrom How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb was about revealing to someone their specialness and Get Your Boots On from Line On The Horizon took on the same aim, “You don't know how beautiful you are...” Invisible seems to throw a wider arclight. This could be about the dalits of India, the forgotten refugees of Syria or Sudan or the disappeared of any war.  link
And to cast an even wider (narrower?) arclight, it could be about anyone who has ever felt themselves a "them," and thus invisible. Tim Neufeld, in a two-part series  (part one,  part two)
on U2's Invisible, offers this helpful connection:

It’s not just albums that I think of when I listen to “Invisible.” A little-known movie that Bono co-wrote in 2000 also deals with similar themes. The Million Dollar Hotel, directed by Wim Wenders, is set on skid row in downtown Los Angeles and follows a number of mentally ill people who live in a rundown hotel. (I know the area well and annually take college students into this environment.) In the movie, Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies) becomes the self-appointed protector of Eloise (Milla Jovovich), a young, vulnerable and withdrawn tenant, resistant to any friendships. The villain, Geronimo (Jimmy Smits), delights in subjugating Eloise which causes great distress for Tom Tom. At a key moment in the film, Geronimo brazenly confesses his conquest of Eloise to Tom Tom. “I fucked nothing!” he brags. "She's not NOTHING!" Tom Tom protests. At this we are confronted with one of the main points of the movie: to all but Tom Tom, (and not unlike most of the homeless and disabled in our society), Eloise is invisible; she is nothing. It’s a heartbreaking moment. Eloise could be writing the lyrics for “Invisible.” “I’m more than you know, I’m more than you see, I’m not invisible.”  link

I am fascinated that, in an amazing book, chemist P.W. Atkins makes the case for the "hidden potency" of things invisible.  He even argues that "invisibility does not mean uselessness" (p. 11).  He's speaking of  oxygen and nitrogen, but this applies to Eloise, and to me, and to any in seasons of invisibility and "them"-ness.

Someone who has been abused/raped/trafficked  often articulates the paradox of invisibility:  due to the need for safety (Dear Lord, here he comes again, please make me invisible!")  and the sense of shame, they want to be/feel they should  invisible/disappear into nothingness (see Frank Lake) and also more than anything need to be validated, believed and believed in... heard and seen.   
 As U2 has sung, some things/people "need to be believed to be seen."    Elsewhere in the U2 canon, we find "I'm in the black, can't see or be seen."

Or to intertext to The Who:  consider Tommy's plea/prayer "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.." 
It all starts with being seen.
 Or the devastating, determined "Can you see the real me, preacher?"
As a preacher, I must see like Jesus sees, and see what and who  he sees.

Jesus sees those outside the gate...

                 and even those inside.

I am not invisible
I am here!

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