Category: Race

Our Rachel.

When I first heard the name Rachel Held Evans, I made one major assumption. I thought she was a white woman writing for other white women. I knew she had a popular blog, and I heard she wrote a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But I didn’t pick it up until a huge announcement came from Lifeway Bookstore. They weren’t going to sell her book in their stores. That was major. A prominent white woman not being able to sell her Christian book in Christian bookstores would mean a hit to her sales for sure, but it also was a significant power play. Rachel would have to decide if she would alter her manuscript to make it acceptable or not. She chose “or not”. The prevailing story was that Lifeway wouldn’t sell her book because of her use of the word “vagina”. She later wondered if that was the whole reason… but suffice it to say, the issue was that Rachel was being too extra. At first she was willing to “clean it up” but then she heard from all of you. Bolstered by your adamant voices that she publish the book as she wrote it, she made her decision. She wrote on her website, “I’m disappointed, of course, and not just because I’ll take a hit in sales. While Lifeway certainly has every right to choose its own inventory, I think the notion that Christians should dance carefully around reality, that we should speak in euphemisms and only tell comfortable, sanitized stories, is a destructive one that has profoundly affected the evangelical culture as a whole.” Now, if you read A Year of Biblical Womanhood you know that Rach was questioning a lot about white, evangelical culture before the Lifeway controversy. But I think Rach began to see that if even she was a white woman could be punished, pressured, pushed aside- than what did that mean for the rest of us who didnt carry her privilege? This moment was a spark in Rachel’s unwavering commitment to fight systems of exclusion. When I picked up her book and laughed my through it, I never imagined Id soon hear from her. I had just started this blog. I began so sweet and gentle and here-allow-me-to-teach-you-all-the-things-dear-ones. But as I watched the country treat our first Black president with hatred and disdain, as I read about Trayvon and Mike Brown, as I watched a little black girl get assaulted by police at a pool party and dealt with my own rising fears following Sandra Bland’s case, my writing quickly shifted. And Rachel found me. Back then, my blog was just a baby. I had very few followers on social media. I never really intended to become a writer. I just had no other avenues for talking about the things I was most passionate about. So my blog became my outlet. But I was mostly talking to myself. Until Rachel popped up in my email and said, “Would you be interested in being featured on my blog?” I couldn’t believe it! Overnight my follower count grew and suddenly I had this thing called an audience. I wasn’t just talking to myself anymore. I was writing and people were reading. Then Rachel joined forces with Nadia Bolz Weber. The pair decided a new kind of conference was needed. A conference full of testimonies. A conference that asked, “in light of all the shit in the world, why the hell are you still a Christian?” Rachel and Nadia decided not to ask all of their famous friends to be speakers. Instead they found a bunch of misfits. The only thing we had in common as a group was a fearlessness of dropping f-bombs. Other than that, we were from different backgrounds, different denominations, different family structures, difference races, different, different, different. And the success of the conference was entirely dependent on the audience of Rach and Nadia because they purposefully chose to uplift new voices. Those who attended the first Why Christian conference know what a powerful community those two women created for everyone. What went unseen was the mentorship Rachel and Nadia provided behind the scenes. They brought us in a day early. Gathered us into one room. Sat us down in a circle. And said, “What do you want to know?” For a couple hours they answered every question we had about writing, publishing, speaking, money, travel… anything we wanted to know. They pulled back the veil on how one becomes a “writer and speaker” as a career. Kind. Generous. Funny. Honest. It was my first time meeting Rachel in person. And I was sick as sick can be. Rachel took care of me. She gave me her stash of medicine. She had volunteers go get me more medicine. She watched over me as I slept on the couch in the greenroom between sessions. And when it was my turn to hit the stage, she was right there, steps away, making sure I wouldn’t fall over. That group of women she gathered together have become such faithful friends. We call ourselves The Hedge because we are still a collection of misfits who like the f-bomb. After Why Christian, Rachel didnt disappear. She offered me a personal introduction to her speaking agent, who decided to take me on. When publishing houses started expressing interest because of the blog, Rachel made a personal introduction to her literary agent, who decided to take me on. At every step in my career, she has been there. Cheering and supporting and making shit happen. I have tried to read through all the emails she sent. The advice for marketing my book when you have just given birth to a human. Advice for choosing an accountant. Advice for traveling with kids. Advice for choosing an agent, a publishing house, an editor. Advice for advances and royalties. Advice for calming my anxieties. Celebrations over the little things. Encouragement. Reminders- not only that she believe in my voice- but why she believed in my voice. She was always specific about what made each voice she valued so special. I once emailed her to ask what I should do about all the requests I was receiving for “a quick coffee date”. She gave me some great advice about boundaries. But then she wrote, “Of course there are exceptions. I make a special effort to respond to anyone who is coming out for the first time, because its such a big deal and I want that first time to be a good experience. And I usually take time for parents of LGBT kids. They are special to me. So know who is special to you, even as you think about boundaries.” That’s who my friend was. She was a champion of inclusion- not just in theory… not in some vague sense that writers can often get away with. She was a true champion- in real life- with her platform, her money, her time, her contacts, her access. Just before my book released, I was shooting my shot everywhere i could to get it into the hands of people I admire. I reached out to Rachel. “Want to do something really, really silly with me?” I asked. “Want to DM Ava DuVernay about my book?” Rachel took exactly zero seconds to say, “Yes, I want to shoot that shot with you.” We both knew it was the longest of long shots. She didnt care. She believed impossible things were possible. And she never underestimated the mischievous nature of the Holy Spirit ( a phrase she used a lot). Generous is the word I keep coming back to. And she was a lot of other things, y’all. Funny. Kind. Grounded. Analytical. I mean what a big, beautiful mind. But she was also generous… to me. Just today, I received my very first royalties check. And all I want to do is text my friend who found my blog, who encouraged my writing, who introduced me to a literary agent, who promoted the book endlessly, who believed I could be a writer before I believed it. Im not entirely sure what to do with myself now. So I think what I’ll do is what she did. Here is an author you can support today: Rozella White is a wonderful human who just released her first book Love Big. Her book explores many kinds of relationships in which we can choose to Love Big, but since I know you all love racial justice as much as I do, here is just a sliver of an excerpt: “All too often in conversations about racial justice, people jump immediately to talk of reconciliation. No one wants to directly address the harm that has been done. But true reconciliation requires facing hard truths head-on and giving back what was taken from Black and Indigenous people, honoring the labor that built this country and created generational wealth for white Americans. Any other starting point is bullshit…” Buy this book. Remember Rachel well. Because Rachel loved BIG.(*as always, sorry about typos. You know what i meant.)
Syndicated from Blog - Austin Channing Brown


Spirituality and Sexuality?

I grew up in a church environment that was quizzical and afraid about everything sexual. I mean everything! Anything that could be misconstrued as a sex act, or could lead to sex, or could make people think about sex, was forbidden. As a youth this meant purity rings, True Love Waits seminars, and books like … Continue reading Spirituality and Sexuality?
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

Chaplains of Destruction

  It is National Poetry month and all month long, I will be sharing some of the pieces that I have worked on over the last few years. Here is one that I wrote last June, called Chaplains of Destruction.        Here we are doing the best we can Giving all we have … Continue reading Chaplains of Destruction
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna


    It’s National Poetry month and all month long I will be sharing some of the pieces that I have written over the last few years. First one up is a piece I wrote last spring, called Close. I always thought I had to be perfect to approach you That I had to be … Continue reading Close
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

New Fruit

As is terribly obvious to me at this point, I have no longer been updating By Their Strange Fruit. I have attempted for some time to return to this discipline that has been so formative for me over the years, but it has become clear that it's time for me to focus on new fruit.Maybe now that I’m daily living out my justice convictions in my work at UM Church for All People, rather than writing from the sidelines of academia, I don’t feel the same need for the outlet of expression.Maybe in this post-post-racial era of blatant bigotry, pointing out the subtly pernicious manifestations of systemic racism felt too trite.Maybe after the election of Trump, my heart just needed to find new modes of resistance.Maybe after the many repeated unarmed killings there is simply nothing more to say. Simply, "see too many previous posts": Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Ralkina Jones, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Trye King, on and on and on. Say their names.Or maybe after nearly 10 years, every act of resistance just has its season. Time to bear new fruit.Racism is no less prevalent, Christ is no less relevant.In fact, both are arguably much more so now than ever before.The work continues.I have so much love and gratitude for these years of learnings and relationships that have come out of this space. What began as a simple medium for my own self-education, grew deeper, richer, and much larger than I had ever anticipated. I am so grateful for the many who were so crucial  to the journey.I will leave the site up, both for my own reference and for others’ use, as long as the internets allow. ICheck out the "All People Podcast"may even use it for the occasional outlet to speak up on specific issues as they arise, or as a platform to promote ongoing visibility for justice work happening around the country.As this chapter draws to close, I include some links below to revisit a few of my favorite BTSF posts from over the years. Going forward, I’ll be hosting a new podcast in collaboration with Pastor Greg Henneman, in which we explore being a Church for All People, and the practices that we believe are critical for building the fully just and inclusive Body of Christ. Check it out and subscribe here.I continue to yearn to know how we as Christians can and will get out ahead of this ever-evolving beast we call racism. There are so many brilliant, talented groups and individuals do the work to whom I will always be grateful.And so, what say you readers?How have you been coping in this new era? How do you continue to resist?With so much love, gratitude, and hope,KatelinA few BTSF favorites from over the years:          Is God Colorblind?          White Savior Complex          They Will Know We Are Christians          Timeline of Racism          White History Month          Logical Fallacies: Model Minority          That Mascot Doesn't Honor AnyoneClick here for the full BTSF topical index

Syndicated from By Their Strange Fruit

Unveiled and Unfettered

  I am seminary trained and have spent my entire adult life working with the biblical text in my preaching. And yet, life has also taught me that God’s image and God’s Word is bigger than the Bible (or any of our other ancient scriptures from other faith traditions) alone. Many of our ancient narratives … Continue reading Unveiled and Unfettered
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

In Search of a Soul

It’s a rare thing indeed to observe members of the media from across the left-right spectrum offering something like a collective mea culpa in response to how they reported something. But this is, incredibly, what is happening in the aftermath of the storm generated by the already infamous video of the encounter between the Covington Catholic boys, the Native American elder, and the Black Hebrew Israelites at the Lincoln Memorial last week.
A relatively ordinary dustup at a protest that probably wouldn’t even have been news before the dawn of the smartphone touched off a quite predictable conflagration of outrage and virtue signalling and the reinforcing of moral and political narratives. When the story turned out to be a bit more complex, a bit more resistant to tidy narratives of obvious good vs obvious evil, some journalists did a peculiar (and commendable) thing. They said, effectively, “We should have resisted the hot take. We were too quick to judge in ways that served our preferred version of the story.” In some cases, there were even calls to withhold judgment (can you imagine?!) going forward. To take a step back. To ask inconvenient questions. To be the adult instead of the reactionary child.
Of course, these sober pleas probably won’t live long in our collective memory. Like everything else on the internet, they will disappear after their few hours on the online shelf, to be replaced by the next shiny digital object. “Cold takes” don’t sell, obviously, and as long as there is money to be made on online outrage, people will continue to be shepherded toward snap judgments and the stoking of inquisitional flames. Our dopamine-hungry brains will continue to obediently trawl the internet for vindication of our views. These calls for more measured responses to the news of the day (or what passes for it) will bounce around for a while in the aftermath of the Covington fiasco, but I doubt we will learn much from them. The next viral video of the next outrage-worthy offense will offer us the next opportunity to perform and parade our righteousness online. And we will, I suspect, gladly seize it.
This is the point where I often pivot to a plea for a lowering of our collective anthropology. We are all self-interested, all biased, all stupid and sinful. We should be more suspicious of our virtue and our rightness, etc., etc. But today, I find myself inclined in a different direction. It’s not that I don’t have a low anthropology. I do, certainly. I think it’s vitally necessary to make sense of ourselves and of the world, and to act with the humility appropriate to our station. But I also think we have lost something vital when it comes the inherent value and worth of each human being. This is evident in how we speak about our enemies, how quickly we leap to hammer their every transgression (real or imagined), how eagerly we shame and mock them, particularly online. Very often we don’t think nearly as highly of one another as we ought to.
I sometimes take pictures of quotes in books when I have nothing to write with. I found a note on my phone today with a snapshot of the following quote. I had no idea where it came from, initially, but I sleuthed out the source as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The quote itself is from the nineteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle and is approvingly cited by one of the characters in the novel:

Does it ever give thee pause, that men used to have a soul—not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then… but yet it is a pity we have lost the tidings of our souls… we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us.

I don’t know the specific context of the quote. On one level, I imagine it is probably a religious argument for the eternal destiny of human beings. We’re not just the accidental products of biology and sociology, little more than a quiver in the dirt destined to eat and breed, make a bit of noise for a few decades and return to the dirt. We have souls, damnit! We are more than that! It’s probably a plea for an exalted view of human uniqueness that many in our day are quite keen to (inconsistently) leave behind.
But today, I’m also wondering what it might be like for us to, as Carlyle alludes to, act upon the idea that we are en-souled creatures. We might cast a thought toward God now and again, certainly, but we might also pay more attention to our fellow en-souled human beings. If we really believed that our neighbours, whether insolent teenagers in MAGA hats or Native American war veterans or Black Hebrew Israelites or whoever else, really had souls that could be shaped toward goodness, truth, beauty, eternity, even… That they weren’t just object lessons in the reinforcement of our worldviews. That they were particular and precious, not just placeholders in some irredeemable category in our brains. How would that change our discourse? Our behaviours? Our judgments? What if we actually believed this? It is indeed a pity that we have lost the tidings of our souls.
I’m not naïve. I know that people have always behaved in beastly ways toward each other, even when most people were convinced that they had a soul. But I’m with Carlyle. I think we shall have to go in search of them again. Bad things are befalling us and we need healthier and more life-giving ways of understanding ourselves and our neighbours if we’re ever going to find a way out of all the ugliness, both of the news of the day and of our reactions to it.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Writing for My Liberation

For me, writing is about sharing the stories that I want to tell. It is about finding a sense of purpose, of liberation even, in communicating my truth with the rest of the world. Through writing, I attempt to make sense of my experiences in the past and also begin to speak into existence the … Continue reading Writing for My Liberation
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

I Am Not Sin

It’s been a while since I blogged. This is not because I haven’t been writing, because I have journals and manuscripts full of solid content. But it is because my focus in blogging online has drastically shifted. At one time, I was most concerned with the intersection of faith and justice, and trying to convince … Continue reading I Am Not Sin
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

2018 in Review

Another year has nearly come and gone and this liminal space between Christmas Day and the start of a new year seems inevitably to provide opportunity to reflect back on the year that was on this blog. Blogs are, I am told, becoming something of a relic. Not many people are writing on or reading blogs anymore. Not many people are reading period anymore if the stats are to be believed. Who has or wants to make the time? People’s clicking and sharing seems to have migrated over to less wordy platforms.
I’ve been writing here for nearly twelve years now. Sometimes I feel like that’s about enough. I think back to some of the blogs I was reading back when I began and very few are left anymore. Perhaps I’ve overstayed the internet’s welcome. Other times I feel like I’m simply running out of things to say. I’ll start writing a post and then halfway through discover that I’ve almost literally written something identical three years ago. But there are other times—fewer than in the past, I grant, but they still come around now and then—when the conversation around things I write here is stimulating, generative, corrective, even rewarding. Which is good.
At any rate, if I haven’t discouraged you from reading on by now, here are the five most viewed posts I wrote in 2018 along with a brief description of each.
For Those Who Want to Grieve in a Religious Way
I wrote this after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash back in April. Few things capture Canada’s collective attention like hockey, and the deaths of junior hockey players in their prime on the way to a game was national news for weeks. It was all anyone could seem to talk about across the Canadian prairies and beyond. This piece about the language and categories we use around collective grief in a post-Christian context seemed to resonate.
Why Appreciate a Pastor?
This was a bit of a personal reflection on the experience of being a pastor in a cultural context where the news for the church is more often discouraging than encouraging. In hindsight, it seems a bit more woe-is-me than it ought to be, but it does give a sense of what it sometimes feels like to inhabit this strange role during these strange times.
Believe in Something
Nike’s advertising campaign featuring outspoken former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick raised temperatures (and revenue for Nike) when it came out and it highlighted how deep our cultural divide is when it comes to issues of racial violence. This piece wasn’t really about race or identity politics—it was about the slogan itself (“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”), whether or not it was coherent, and what it says about our cultural moment—but it quite quickly and predictably became about these things in conversations online.
The Disconnect
Another post on the state of the church in the post-Christian west and the disconnect between a culture that claims to be almost literally dying for lack of community and meaning and a church that claims to be offering these very things.
Somewhere to Be
I broke a self-imposed blogging sabbatical in spring to reflect on ten days spent in Palestinian territory. This post was a juxtaposition of the experience of walking through an Israeli checkpoint with Palestinians and listening to a Zionist Christian tour guide sketch the geography and the theology of the end of all things.
So, there are the “top fives” from 2018. As I’ve said before, though, the main benefit of compiling these year-end posts is to provide an opportunity to thank you for actually reading what I write here. I am grateful for the engagement and connections that take place in this space. I wish you all the best in 2019.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Loving In The Loser’s Club: The Gospel According To Stephen King’s IT

“A frightening possibility suddenly occurred to him: maybe sometimes things didn’t just go wrong and then stop; maybe sometimes they just kept going wronger and wronger until everything was totally fucked up.”
“OH SHIT! I BELIEVE IN ALL OF THOSE THINGS!” he shouted, and it was true: even at eleven he had observed that things turned out right a ridiculous amount of the time.”
“There was power in that music, a power which seemed to most rightfully belong to all the skinny kids, fat kids, ugly kids, shy kids—the world’s losers, in short.”

One of my favorite things about Autumn is October because, well, Halloween. I mean, Hallowen. HALLO-FREAKING-WEEN. As I wrote elsewhere, I believe Halloween can be observed in a very Christocentric manner, all month long.
My main way to observe this sacred time has been to reread through Stephen King’s masterpiece, IT, once again. I cannot rave about this book enough. If you are even vaguely interested in reading it, please for the love of everything holy and uholy, read it. Haha, get it? IT. What’s that? Puns are evil? Nah.. oh.. okay..
If you haven’t read IT and are still interested in reading this post, please check out this brief plot summary so as to make sense of this gibberish I’m conveying. However, if you’ve seen the original film adaptation, that should be sufficient. If you’ve only seen the first part of the recent remake, be aware there are spoilers ahead.
There are many themes I would love to draw out, but for the sake of brevity let’s tie some random threads together and hope we acquire something sensible! Seriously, though, this book conveys many beautiful truths: the Christocentric gospel, mimetic theory, death anxiety,  and the centrality of love (here I mean agape, not eros) in living a satisfactory life. To name a few.
The first thing I’d like to point out about this book is that Stephen King manipulates the ‘haunted house’ horror trope. He expands this common microcosm from haunted house to haunted town (ie: Derry). Pennywise doesn’t live in a house, It lives in Derry.  Pennywise appears to be an almost omnipresent being in Derry. It can appear just about anytime and anywhere. Derry is Its town – one could say It owns Derry. It influences people and events. In this way, Pennywise is symbolic of the zeitgeist of a town. Now, the dictionary definition of zeitgeist reads as such:

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time

and while I am using it in this way, I’d like to expand a bit. The zeitgeist is not simply covering a particular period of history, although it certainly embodies that. It can also mean the cultural atmosphere of any place, period of time, or group of people . For example, here are some questions that can get at the zeitgeist of one’s workplace: how casual is one permitted to dress, what goals does one’s workplace have and how does it seek to implement them, and what are the policies for showing up early or late? In relatively simple terms, I’m referring to culture. On a smaller scale this means the culture of a house, a workplace, a family, a person (ie: one’s psyche and way of thinking). On a larger scale, this could look like a county, a state, a nation, a non-geographically connected group of people.
The thing about culture is it is very real, and many ways even tangible, but it is often overlooked. People live in it, and often follow its mandates, without consciously thinking, “I’m obeying the rules of my culture.” Those who don’t obey get punished whether most explicitly via prison, mental asylums, or social stigmatization. Most people do not go through life self-examining themselves to choose what they want to consciously absorb and meld into and what they don’t. People just go with the flow.
Some, though, consciously follow the rules for fear of being cast out. They may theoretically disagree with an aspect of their culture, but we live in the postmodern age, and who knows what the hell is right…right? Let’s just do this thing, or go with this motion – why stir the pot and be looked down upon?
This is Pennywise. It manipulates Derry through apathetic ignorance and fear, just like the zeitgeist. Pennywise is simultaneously Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann. It is in-your-face evil, but It is also the type of evil that apathetically pushes papers and blindly follows orders, irregardless of compassion and empathy.  It is not mere malice, it is willful ignorance, which, I would argue, is just as heinous.

“I started after him…and the clown looked back. I saw Its eyes, and all at
once I understood who It was.”
“Who was it, Don?” Harold Gardner asked softly.
“It was Derry,” Don Hagarty said. “It was this town.”

See, almost all of the residents of Derry ignore Its presence. It is implied they are all very well aware of It, but they refuse to really acknowledge It, think about It, talk about It. They quite literally just live with It. But they can’t just ignore the mass murder of children. They have to put the blame on someone or something, even if that blame is not directly or consciously related to the initial problem. In other words, the people of Derry conjure up some form of scapegoat.
This sort of thing plays out everyday in a multitude of ways. On a microcosmic scale, imagine a father having a terribly stressful day at work, not dealing with the problem directly and consciously, but instead taking out his frustrations on his unassuming child. The child becomes the scapegoat for something unrelated to him, and the father’s stress may be relieved (sort of…not to speak of the guilt that should come from within). On a macrocosmic scale, one need only look at the current state of American politics – we have two generalized political bodies blaming the other for seemingly every problem in the nation state. It’s scapegoating on a broader scale.
More specifically I am referring to the Mimetic Theory proposed by Rene Girard. If you are unfamiliar, please read here. Briefly, the scapegoat functions as the guilty person/party, whether directly involved with the issue at hand or not. The scapegoat may be a person of blemish, embarrassment, quirkiness, etc… they just have to be an easy target which the larger body of people can unify against. In Christian theology, the scapegoat is Jesus Christ. On a practical, socio-politic-historical level, the political powers of His day (ie: Caesar) and the religious authorities (ie: the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc…) used Jesus’ crucifixion as a means to unify the people in the midst of political and religious crisis. On a theological metanarrative level, the Trinitarian God lets humanity kill Him in order that His love may be known, and the absurdity of violence and vengeance is shown. In other words, Jesus Christ functions as the scapegoat for humanity’s own self-inflicted harm. However, unlike other scapegoats, the victimization of Jesus Christ leads to the eventual end of violence and the absolution of sin, therefore ending the need for a scapegoat mechanism.
Now, in Stephen King It, the scapegoat just happens to be The Loser’s Club. As stated above, this scapegoat process is hardly conscious. There isn’t the clear and coherent thought: “We have to ignore Pennywise, but deal with this problem. Let’s indirectly take out our frustrations and qualms with the inhumane aspects of our zeitgeist (personified in Pennywise) on these weird kids.” I’d like to point out, as well, that The Loser’s Club may not be the only scapegoats. Because the narrative is centralized around this group of people, they are the scapegoats given, but that does not mean they are the only people of blemish in Derry. For example, King writes that Derry is extremely hostile to the LGBTQ+ population. This group of people are also scapegoats in Derry’s zeitgeist.
The Loser’s Club consists of a ragtag band of outcast kids who all have some sort of turmoil or social abnormality that makes them just not quite…right. These social quirks make them easy targets. Many would consider them to be a curse – but it is these very oddities that bring The Loser’s Club together in the first place. They bond over them, gain the strength to face Pennywise, and learn to love themselves and each other in the process. (Blessed are the persecuted.) The Loser’s Club comes together over their own insecurities and abnormalities to form a community. This community is guided by the gentle voice of the Turtle. The Turtle appears to be an omniscient Being of benevolence. The Turtle occasionally steps in to guide and assist The Loser’s Club toward agape love and victory of evil personified. The Turtle represents the Trinity, especially the Holy Spirit.
In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit guides humanity toward truth, holiness, and love. The Turtle in It does the same, and while I think this comparison is the biggest stretch I provide in this analysis, I still think it works. Some Christians may argue it is a bit blasphemous because the emphasis in the narrative is obviously on the power of love as found in The Loser’s Club and the Turtle is only in the background helping out. The kid’s do not explicitly worship the Turtle, and care far more about loving those around them. But that’s just it – Christ himself calls the Church his body, and therefore any true agape love found in the Church is also the love of Christ manifested on Earth.
Which leads me to my next point: The Loser’s Club is the Church. Now, you may be thinking, “hold on a minute. You’re comparing the scapegoat, outcast, loser group with one of the most powerful religions in the history of mankind?” but just bear with me a second. I do not in any way mean the powerful church, lower case c. I mean the Church, capital C.
Okay, that probably doesn’t clear things up all that much. I’m sorry. What I mean is that I believe the Church is always powerless. If the Church has political power or privilege, it is not the Church, just some piece-o-shit sham. In fact, that church is Pennywise. A modern day example: Pennywise embodies many aspects of the American Evangelical Church movement. This movement, culture, zeitgeist, is full of middle/upper class, white privileged, cisgender, powerful men and blindly submissive women that knowingly (or often more common: willfully and blindly) use their power to oppress many groups of people and spit in the face of Christ. Now, I’m not saying that if you or someone you know considers themselves to be an Evangelical in America that they (or you) are equivalent with Pennywise. But I’m definitely saying there is some truth to the claim that, by and large, American Evangelicalism is heinous, blasphemous, and evil.
Before you flip and get pissed at my statement, I’m not saying that other forms of Christianity aren’t evil, either. I’m pinpointing a group of people I myself am a part of. I’m not singling it out to, well.. scapegoat it. I’m using American Evangelicalism as an example because I am well acquainted with it, and feel more comfortable critiquing my own circle than another’s.
But what does this mean for the real Church? The real Church is, according to the precepts of the ‘world,’ powerless. It is all those Christians who consciously attempt non-conformance to the evils found in the institution of Christianity. It is those who refuse to simply go through the motions to make themselves feel better – to numb themselves with the opiate of the masses, as Marx so eloquently put it. Those actively working against the principalities and powers of the zeitgeist – they are Its explicit enemies. But they don’t work against people, they work for people, all people, seeking the reconciliation of everyone.
The real Church is often oppressed, sometimes willfully so. Oppressed not by “happy holidays,” or some non-existent Islamic overlord, but by choosing to live with the oppressed. The real Church works to end the oppression of peoples everywhere, all the while taking residence with them, if the oppressed are so willing to accept them into their community. The real Church gives up its power to become one with the powerless. The real Church is a co-suffering Loser’s Club. And just like the Loser’s Club, the real Church flips the principalities and powers on their head to reveal it holds true Power, thanks to the co-suffering love given by the Trinity.
The Loser’s Club overcomes the evil of Pennywise twice. The first time is while the members are children. During this period they defeat It, but don’t kill It. However, they hope it is over and finished. They promise each other if It ever comes back, they will reunite and fight It again. Almost 30 years pass, and It resurfaces as strong as ever. They reunite and fight It, of course succeeding because, c’mon, all you need is (co-suffering) love.
All this is sweet and thematic, but the thing I’d really like to point out here is the 30 year gap. King tells us that The Loser’s Club almost completely forget about It as they ‘mature’ into adulthood. Only one original member stays in Derry, and while he does his best to remember and stay vigilant, he eventually forgets. The perspectives of all members as adults are shown to us one by one. Some of them appear content while others appear discontent. All of them are comfortable though – even those in abusive relationships. They are comfortable in what they know, or refuse to admit. But none of them remember any of the others, and life has completely moved on.
Until Pennywise’s activity is made aware to Mike by the Turtle. Once Mike remembers he reluctantly phones each of them. The individual club members are forced out of apathy to confront the zeitgeist, to confront the true way the world works. It wrecks one of them, driving him to the point of suicide. He simply couldn’t deal with the difficult journey of non-conformity.  The rest forcibly move out of the comfort of their blind stagnant lives, and decide to face the current.
But for about 30 freaking years they conformed. They grew into the adults society told them they should be. Self-absorbed, afraid, loveless (agape-less). Despite a very explicit face-to-face victory against evil incarnate, they succumbed to blind ignorance. They assumed one battle, one victory was enough. But that’s not how the zeitgeist works. Evil is paradoxically constant and malleable. As soon as it is conquered (if it ever truly is this side of life), it manifests itself anew. This is why political revolutions just never work. The Church always trips up here. It justifiably stops to celebrate a victory, but quickly gets lost in said victory and loses focus. It quickly conforms to the status quo and trots forward.
Herein lies one of the most important lessons of King’s masterpiece: as a unified group, we are able to maintain our focus. We are able to encourage each other to keep moving, to stay the course. Separated, we become weaker, the temptation toward apathy grows stronger, and we lose sight of everything we once strove for. Agape becomes impossible if we are isolated – there is no one to love.
The other important bit we cannot forget lest our undoing ensue is found in a simple quote from It:

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

The point is we are all, always, a little bit apathetic, a little bit compassionate. A little bit evil, a little bit good. One may outweigh the other at a given point in time, but we are ever-moving creatures, always growing, always changing. We are nuanced and beautiful, even at our worst. The person you have demonized as evil is still a person, there is still some good in there somewhere. The person you have glorified as divine is still a person, there is still some evil in there somewhere.
In the novel, people are not the problem that must be overcome. The evil is Pennywise. As stated above, Pennywise is the zeitgeist incarnate. Evil manifested. One must work to lovingly change and challenge the cultural zeitgeist of one’s place. One must fight those things, not people. Love people. Our enemies are institutions, principalities, cultures. Our enemy is Pennywise. Not the people It manipulates. People are always precious. No nuance about that.
While King himself may not agree with this interpretation, and while I have taken some liberties, this shows only a fraction of why I love this piece of literature so friggin’ much.  It’s the gospel in horror narrative form. Many Christians I know find it to be abhorrent, find horror and Halloween to be abhorrent. They’re missing out.
Perhaps they’re too blind to see that

“…God favors drunks, small children, and the cataclysmically stoned…”

Peace be unto you this spooky season. May you learn to overcome the ego and the fear of death so as to truly live a life in and for Love.

Syndicated from Interdependently Independent


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