I’ve been thinking over the recent Stewart/Colbert rally. I watched it livestream and liked for the most part what they were trying to do. Even if their own shows and political views stray definitively toward the left, they managed to keep the rally itself pretty neutral. I appreciated that as someone who (gulp!) has actually voted for a Republican on more than one occasion.
Really, the only part that lost me was Stewart’s concluding speech. It wasn’t bad, and I had no particular problem with what he said, except maybe that I think he and a lot of left-leaning individuals tend to underestimate a lot of peoples’ motivations for being “unreasonable” in the first place. Rather, it was the fact that he gave the speech at all. I kind of imagined it like this: Maya Angelou recites one of her beautiful poems as only she can do, only to be immediately followed on stage by an interpreter who then tries to explain the poem. They had already accomplished what they needed to accomplish…which was what?
To join the swaths of pundits, what I thought and hoped Stewart and Colbert needed to accomplish was a break in contemporary political discourse; they needed to offer a stop, like a dam to a river, to the torrent of commentators that keep mouthing and jawing in the 24 hour news cycle. In this regard, I thought comedy a perfect apparatus to do such; comedy can take people off guard, allow what is seemingly sensible to be seen as less sensible under a new light. Take, for instance, the late Mitch Hedberg’s line, “Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.” The statement takes a perfectly normal (and delicious) food and just sort of sees through it, breaks our previous relationship with it. I think that’s what I wanted and partially received from Stewart and Colbert.
This idea, however, got me thinking that maybe what I expected of Stewart and Colbert was not necessarily their job at all. I say this because I wonder if such explicit disruption isn’t one of jobs of the Church? As a Christian, I take it as a given that Jesus of Nazareth was united to God as God’s revelatory self-expression, enough so that Jesus as a person was definitively divine—nothing particularly new, here. I also take it that, in the New Testament witness of Jesus, we can, among other things, understand Jesus as a moral example without reducing him to one—again, nothing new here. Among the seemingly infinite lessons to learn from this God-man, then, was that he was constantly disruptive: from reinterpreting his own scriptures, telling his mother whom his “real” brothers and sisters are, expressing parabolic ideas about the kingdom of God, performing miracles, driving the money-changers from the Temple, to his taking on the cross and resurrecting. In fact, these latter two disruptions (the cross and the resurrection), Paul interprets as having disrupted the greatest scourge of creation death itself. The Gospel is at least, then, a Gospel of God’s disruption in this world, in almost all aspects of what it means to be a world.
To push this point further, it seems to me, in fact, that many influential church leaders have taken just such a clue from the Gospel. Martin Luther-King Jr. comes immediately to mind, whose disruptive voice helped to usher in civil rights legislation in the U.S., for instance. Or, take again, Martin Luther who, love him or hate him, ushered a poignant critique against the corruption of the Church of his day while reinterpreting one of the core tenants of Christian belief, Justification; or take again Thomas Aquinas, whose brilliant synthesis of Aristotle and Augustine made the church leaders of his day definitively uncomfortable, to the point that he was accused of and had to defend himself against heresy; the list could go on.
Perhaps we can take something from both the original disruption and the exemplary repetitions of this disruption, even if only imperfectly, as each situation demands, and without having to believe that any disruption we enact is even as terribly effective or as important as our predecessors’. In other words, if God has broken into and interrupted our lives for the better, couldn’t we at least attempt, even if we utterly failure, to do the same in any number of our contemporary situations and regarding any number of contemporary issues?
Maybe, then, the U.S. Church could stand on the coattails of Stewart and Colbert, who, attempting to explicitly do so or not, have brought at least a partial disruption to U.S. political dialogue, especially the provocateurs who inhibit if not only from developing but beginning at all. The Church need not address or stand for any particular standpoint in this case; it really might need to just stand as the Church at all, disrupting the situation as it stands
At any rate, taking a cue from Stewart and Colbert, I’d love for churches from around the U.S. to also hold a rally in D.C. at the mall under a banner of something like “Rally to Eat Nachos.” It’s neither overtly Christian nor particularly political, but it need not be; as Saint Francis tells us in what I think are mutually interpreting statements: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love” and “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Even if such a rally didn’t directly do terribly much, it would be both funny and very disruptive in its own Christian way. By offering, if not for only a couple hours, what is basically a big church picnic on the steps of the capital (one where we eat the greatest food that God offers to creation), such a rally might continue to offer just enough of a break in the current political situation to ripple its way through the political atmosphere. It would be a subtle but perhaps poignant protest against the altogether absurdity of our current political climate. Such a rally doesn’t fix the economic outlook or directly help the many individuals and families currently in despair (which, of course, we ought to be doing, too), but maybe it’s a piece of a larger pie that can help instigate dialogue that can more definitively help.