Alt-Right Nationalism, Racism and a Theology of Work

In a Time article today, Aug 25, 2017, Christian pastor and social commentator Brian McLaren offers some reflections following his experiences with white supremacists and Nazis during the recent terrible incident in Charlottesville.

He asks, “What would possess these young white men (and a few women) to chant hateful anti-Semitic and racist slogans, to shout homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic slurs, to speak of putting Jews in ovens and driving people of color off of “their” soil (land stolen by their immigrant ancestors from the Native Peoples)?

McLaren then turns to an interview with Christian Piccolini, a former white supremacist. Piccolini suggests that “There are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, so they tend to search for very simple black-and-white answers.”

Further, Piccolini says it’s “not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent.” “I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.”

This insight from a former insider, it seems to me, might be a key for understanding the rise of, and for working against escalating racism and ‘alt-right’ white extremism today.

It might also take us closer to the heart of the contentious and wider social tensions reshaping culture today – such as the rise of ‘Trump America’ and the increasingly aggressive imposition of progressive social agendas.

Identity, community and a sense of purpose – In what ways and in what places do people find these? A theology of work suggests that important aspects of these basic human needs are met in and through our work and working.

Pope John Paul II, in his 1981 encyclical argues that “human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question if we try to see that question really from the point of view of man’s {humanity’s} good. And if the solution – or rather the gradual solution – of the social question, which keeps coming up and becomes ever more complex, must be sought in the direction of “making life more human”, then the key, namely human work, acquires fundamental and decisive importance.”

Do you agree? Might our work and our working, our changing experiences of it, the lack thereof, the way we approach it “managerially”, or some other dimension of this perennial human activity lie at the heart of our social problems?

Might racism, nationalism, and current attempts at social control be symptoms of a more fundamental problem of work? Might a theology of work be be how the Church can best address the problems of racism and nationalism?

How do you ‘Volunteer’ at Work?

Scary and Sad Beginnings
We pulled out around noon on Saturday Aug 19. After an hour on back roads through Dekalb we headed west on the 88. Within 5 minutes we had our first ‘incident’. As a semi flew past I let off the gas to slow down but the trailer began to ‘freewheel’ and push us rather than us pulling it. We found ourselves being tossed back and forth, bucked like riding a bull. The trailer fishtailed to the left then right then left… all over both lanes, bouncing, out of control. I thought I had a flat so didn’t hit the brakes. Wrong move for our situation I later learned.
The rest of the day and the next is white knuckle driving all the way to Kansas – scared to drive 60mph for fear of loosing control and fishtailing. Add to that, on the second day Kristy’s wedding-engagement ring are lost. We call where we stopped and left a message just incase it is found.
By the time we reach family in Wichita on Sunday evening we are both exhausted and discouraged. This is not how we had hoped to start our new life. We know there will be a learning curve, we know there will be hiccups along the way. But so soon? Do we need a bigger vehicle to pull the trailer? Where do we get money for that? We have to be able to tow our new home, and with a measure of confidence. This is not a hobby. It’s our new life.

People at Work who Care
On Monday we watch the eclipse with family. Pretty cool, 93-4% totality in Wichita. Then off to Flint Hills RV to have them look at our tow set up, hoping something can be done, no matter what it costs. Amazing folk. Jim works miracles. At least for now we have tow stability at 65mph. May have to change to ‘truck’ tires eventually, but for now we seem solid enough.
It’s odd. It feels like we are just on another family visit, only this time with a camper. BUT, we’re not. We have no place we have to be, at least until Oct 1. We have no ‘home’ to go back to. We simply ‘are’ where we are. The reality of this hits us occasionally, but what this reality is is still unclear.
But here’s what we have found to help us take heart. Jim at Flint Hills RV cared first and foremost about our safety. He wouldn’t even let us pay him for an hour+ working to figure out and fix our hitch problem. I tried to pay him but he said no. He was just glad he could help. “I just run my business hoping that what goes around comes around.” He said. “You are from out of town, just passing through. I just want to make sure you are safe. I used 3 washers…”
So which is ‘worth’ more to a business – a one time payment of $70 , or a direct recommendation to 52,000 fellow full-time RVers to go see Jim? It’s hard to say. I can tell you this, my full-time RVers Facebook group now know that if they are ever in Wichita and need an RV dealer or service they should go to Jim at Flint Hills RV.
By the way, Kristy called the rest area where she thinks she might have lost her rings. The woman on the other end talks to her for at least a half an hour, trying to comfort her and offer perspective, knowing how traumatic it is to lose a wedding ring. She didn’t have to do this for Kristy, but she cared about the pain of a person she has never met, but to whom she can relate, having a while back lost her ring as well.

We need others. We need friends and family, but we also people we don’t even know, who offer ‘services’, who just go to work. We were lucky enough to meet people in their work who cared, who simply met us in our humanity at our points of need.
The work we do, if we are to stay in business, is to meet some kind of need. This means it is actually a service. It is so much more than working to pay the bills. Our work, our business, is a primary way to care for and serve others beyond our small circle of family and friends. Volunteer work at church or in the community is great, important and necessary, but we spend most of our time ‘serving’ others at work. I wonder how today we might knowingly or unknowingly be serving, meeting needs? I wonder how we would experience our days at work differently if we had the same attitude and joy that we do when volunteering and serving in the community? Indeed we actually are doing so whether we realize it or not.

Extreme Sports: Taking it too far?

March 17th,  2005 St Patti’s Day

Zillertal Austria… beautiful day… time to fly my paraglider.

Launch site: Rastkogel – southwest of Penken

Launch: 2100 meters, 6900 feet.

I’m flying with a local guide. We arrive at the top and its time for the briefing. He has already shown me the landing sites. Wow, it’s actually pretty windy up here – wind from the west, northwest at about 15kph at launch. Guide says if it gets any windier than this we aren’t flying. The commercial tandem pilots taking up skiers are barely penetrating into the wind higher up and they carry the weight of 2 people. Still, the thermals, [rising warm air that take a glider up up and away] are working – the ‘house thermal’ is located. Going up today before I go down. Awesome!

Briefing: There is a lot of wind – and wind and flying in the Alps don’t mix. It can kill you. Stay out away from the hill and away from the lee of the hill, there, there and there. Also, it’s bumpy out there, this is what we call an ‘all hands on deck – active and not passive flying day. Darrell you must fly very actively today, every second be in total control. No relaxing. Total concentration. Mind focused. Fly smart.

You will need to bury the brakes when the wing the surges forward to keep it from giving you a frontal wing collapse where you drop out of the sky like a lead weight. It’s very warm in the valley. The sun is down right hot – but the air at 2100 meters is cool. They are going to be small rising thermals, but harsh and bumpy – especially with all this wind.

Hmm, I haven’t flown in ages. I flew once in Scotland the Ochils in October and one top to bottom glide in Feb in cold and non-thermic air – straight glide down. No really flying. Falling in style.

I am rusty and out of practice, and anyway, last season I was just starting to get the hang of thermal flying and climbing. I was hardly good at it. Think Darrell, be conscious of what you know, and don’t know, and remember the way thermals work. Fly actively but not ‘ham-fisted’. Don’t over do it. I need to apply more brake and really dampen the forward wing surges, more dampening than I did last May at Killin Scotland when I had my full frontal wing collapse. I can do this. I remember. Ok, I’m ready.

Launch: Ok, not my best but fine. Now out and away from the hill toward the house thermal and… Woaaa… a giant vacuum cleaner is trying to suck my wing’s leading edge out in front of me and pull it straight down, and it’s a bit bumpy and windy too. Scary. Dampen brakes hard to keep the wing overhead, and then whack – I ran into the front face of something… oh wow it’s the thermal, a column of warm rising air cutting upward through the cold mountain air, like a riptide of air upward. It’s an elevator ride up… BEEEEEEEEP-uupppp  goes my flying instrument (7m a second upward). Woah, rocket up, climbing, but it IS bumpy. Getting tossed around a bit.

I have to let up on my brakes more quickly from my damping in the pre-thermal wing surge or I’ll be in big trouble. It felt a little funny when I hit the column of air, wing went a little too far back [toward a ‘stall’] for my liking. I’m a little slow letting up on the brakes and when I hit the thermal it really pushes my wing backward. If I’m flying slow and near a stall and this happens – look out! It’ll be the devil to pay.

So, over and over again, feel the surge, bury the brakes to damp, then try to feel the timing, to release them, and then smack, hit the thermal and climb. It’s not pretty, but I’m getting it. Kind of like riding a bull through. But, I’m hanging on to the take of this dragon.

30 minutes of this… very active flying. I have never flown this actively or had to focus on my flying this much. Never. It ain’t smooth but I’m in control, I think. I don’t quite have the feel to keep the wing smooth and steady above my head, but hey, I’m in control and the wing is more or less doing what I ask it. I’m am flying it, it is not flying me. I think.

But boy is it bumpy up here for my level of flying experience and current lack of practice. But OK. I’m getting climbs – from 2100m at launch up to 2550m (back down to 2250 then up again) until I have to leave the thermal and press forward into the valley to avoid the lee of the hill. That would be disastrous to get sucked back over the hill. People die that way. I learnt my lesson last year at Avdou. Leave the thermal and push out into the valley and avoid the hill. A friend smashed into the hill last year and he is now in a wheelchair permanently.

I am high and the thermals are out there for good climbs, and I can get back to the house thermal with my height and catch it again and get even higher… I’m pushing into the wind forward, pushing slowly forward, headwind a little overly strong, but pushing…

Woaaaaa, my leading edge is exploding forward and straight downward toward the ground. That’s not supposed to happen. Bury the brakes really hard,  push more and more…. Woaah it’s bumpy and this is going to be a big thermal ahead. Nope. I need to get out of here now! In over my head.

Weight-shift right and a little more brake… oh no… not good… I forgot to let up on the break first and get the wing flying at full speed after that monster wall of air, and my dampening. Smack – just ran into that wall of air again…

Hey what the…, God or somebody just grabbed me by the back of my neck and slung me backward, – what’s this…? I’m falling out of the sky like a rock. Crap.

Woosh, one. Woosh two. What is this? Oh, I know what this is, it’s a collapsed wing and a spin, or a negative spin I think they call it, since I’m spinning backward toward the ground.

Right, ok now what do I do to get out of this? I have loads of height – no need to panic. Now what is it you do to get out of a spin?

I don’t know, I can’t remember. Bob talked to me about this on the day of the pilot exam didn’t he, I’m sure he did… woosh at least three times around then woosh 4 again and again (maybe up to six before I get out of it)… now what do I do, I’m sure pulling half way on the brake like I am doing now isn’t doing a thing to help me. Maybe I pump the brake… woosh, woosh – backward. This is not good. I am in trouble.

Whew. Great news, I no longer need to worry about getting out of a spin. I’m no longer in one. The slight pumping action instead, took the one wing tip – I cannot remember but I think might have been the left one – and tucked it all the way through the lines into the right side. I’m not spinning any longer, I’m flying on half a wing and am now locked into a nose over spiral dive, a ‘death spiral’ they call it, with a 40-50% of my wing tucked into what they call a cravet.

Round and round and the G’s I’m pulling are getting stronger and stronger. Force my hand forward to find the reserve parachute handle. Found it, but hey, let’s not panic. I’m still really really high, maybe 3k meters, and nowhere near the hill. I’m out over the valley. Good let’s try to get this cravet, this collapsed and tangled mess of the wing, out and start flying. Which line do I tug at, try this one and now this one… no luck.

It’s time for a full stall again but this one on purpose – to get me out of this mess. I remember what I was taught. Everything now in slow motion. Training kicking in… That’s how you do it.

Let’s puulllll and bury the break handles…Woaaah I’m stalling, falling backward out of the sky… OH WOW a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bag of laundry above my head [oh, no, that’s right, that’s my wing above my head, or is it behind my head…? Can’t tell. I’m dropping like a ton of bricks backward out of the sky.

Now what do I do… oh yea, remember not to let up on the breaks too soon. Oh no, my arms just went limp, just a little, not too much but just a little. Too limp too soon – wing surge again… I can’t stop it – bang – a full frontal collapse again. Dropping again, and then all of a sudden, bang – woosh…

Hey I’m out of it, and flying again, straight and proper – still high and bang – I hit a huge thermal and am now climbing again, a fast elevator up, up, and away.

Ok. I’m Ok. Hey I’m not even sick like last year when I puked in my face-mask and all over myself. I can keep flying, active flying the whole time of course. 2300m back up to 2500m, back down to 2300m, back up to 2500m. 20 or 25 more minutes.

UGH… after 30 minutes I can now feel the adrenalin subsiding in my body – weird feeling. Oh, hmm… A funny feeling creeping into the tummy. Woah, a cold sweat starting. I recognize this. Better land now before I puke pretzels and Landjäger sausage all over Mayrhoffen…

What is it about extreme sports? Why do we do them? Its dangerous. Why not just play a board game? Why risk everything? What do you think…?


Why talk about byways?

A byway is a road or path that doesn’t follow the main route. It can be treacherous, or a trek ‘off the beaten path’ leading to amazing experiences that most could only ever dream of.

In the US, Scenic Byways are roads recognized for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities” – historic, cultural, recreational, archeological, natural, and scenic. Scenic does not mean these will be easy routes. Most of the time, they are not. But the joy and beauty sometimes found can make the journey worth the time and effort.

A byway is a good metaphor for describing the ‘detours’  we often find ourselves on having met life’s roadblocks, and increasing in the disruptions of our working lives. Sometimes we are fortunate, and land on a beautiful and gentle path leading to amazing new places. Other times the road is hard, the way forward uncertain, and the destination, if we even know where we are going, is clouded by doubt, fear and frustration. Not all byways are scenic. But some are, even if not at first, and the best byways usually are the roads less traveled.

A byway, whether scenic or not, brings a newness, and often richness and depth to our experience. Literally. it seeks to preserve and protect important but often less-traveled roads and promote recreation and tourism with economic development generating new work.