Shock and awe is the tactic of a bullying invader who wants to demoralize a country into surrendering before a defense has been mounted. It a strategy you choose if you don’t think you can win in a long, drawn-out battle.
Trump has surrounded himself by a protective scrum of advisors who spend much of their time keeping him steady and massaging his ego to assure him the people are all behind him. I don’t think he knows how to deal with the size of the opposition so far. He turns to conspiracy theory to try to convince himself that what he wants to be true really would be except for evil “dudes” out there — George Soros hiring actors to protest, millions of undocumented aliens voting, etc., and of course the original Trump conspiracy that refused to think a black American could be a legitimate president.
It seems a lot of conversations I’m in these days, on social media and IRL revolve around how we should be responding to Trump’s election. I know there’s a certain danger in being too deterministic, but a lot of answers seem to match where individuals are in the vulnerability scale. Some are counseling patience: let’s see how it goes after the inauguration. Maybe we don’t know the real Donald Trump.
Well, I think we do know the real Trump by now, but what I don’t think we know is the actual flavor of a Trump presidency. Have we ever seen a president elect who was so thin on actual policy? Trump rode his lack of policy experience to victory, of course, citing his independence from the people who govern as one of his chief qualifications. But it’s also his personality: on the campaign trail and in his famous 3am tweets from the toilet he often contradicted himself.
He’s a man of high-concept ideas, not detailed policy. This means the actual policies – and the governance we should and shouldn’t worry about – will depend disproportionately on the people he hires. Right now it seems like he’s trolling lobbyists and a handful of neocon dinosaurs that started the Iraq War on forged documents. He’s bringing the alligators in to “drain the swamp” and in the last 24 hours they’ve already signaled that a lot of key campaign pledges are open for reconsideration. How much we have to worry – and just what we have to worry about – will be clearer as his team assembles.
This weekend was the annual Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey, a two-day celebration of shoreline sentinels during which every working lighthouse is open and staffed by volunteers. The truly committed drive hundreds of miles over the two days to visit the eleven lighthouses open to the public. Because of a scouting weekend for Theo, we just hit one on Saturday and three on Sunday. But these are the last four for our lighthouse-obsessed son Francis, who has been to the others over the course of the summer.
Tinicum Rear Range Light
The family looking off in different directions, of course
Francis goes full nerd talking about construction dates with the lighthouse volunteers.
The Tinicum light is closed because of some structural bowing.
The lighthouse is right in the middle of a bunch of ball fields. A neighbor has a great snow cone stand, a tradition in the town going back to his childhood at least.
The area where the Tinicum Front Range light used to be is now a sliver pocket park along the waterside. Pretty except surrounded by refineries.
Francis at Tinicum Rear Range
Sea Girt Lighthouse
The Sea Girt Lighthouses is house with a light on top.
The residence of the Sea Girt Light is incredibly homey and cute.
Climbing down from the light.
The lights of the Sea Girt light
Francis lectures on the fresnel lens.
Models of NJ’s lighthouse laid out on a map of the state.
Twin Lights of Navesink
Some family (Gregory is behind Julie here)
The giant 10 ton former lens.
Sign for the lens.
Beautiful workmanship on the bilding
Detail from light well
Looking through the window of the south toward toward the north
View from atop the light
Grill metalwork of the cage of the Twin Lights
Theo looking less wise-guy than normal.
Gregory tries the lock to the top of the south tower
The Twin Lights of Navesink are up a high hill, part of the Palisades perhaps, giving our kids a rare hill to roll down.
Francis looks out over the hill top.
The Twin Lights of Navesink
Sandy Hook Light
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse is on a former base.
The lighthouse house houses the museum.
The Sandy Hook is the oldest continuous light in the country, predating the country itself.
The original lighthouse was just the outer mortar. Later brick helped shore it up
Details of bricks
The setting sun coming into the Sandy Hook Light
Detail of stairwell.
Francis looks across the view
Two 1000 watt bulbs shine out over 19 miles because of the fresnel lens.
There’s a lot of cool old structures up on Sandy Hook.
Gregory unsuccessfully tries the heavy door.
Sandy Hook has pretty dunes
NYC skyline from an observation deck on Sandy Hook.
Sun setting, Gregory makes a mini sandcastle before we leave North Jersey.
The Golden Rule project is an improbable accomplishment by unlikely volunteers. Members of Veterans For Peace, they are a motley bunch that might have appalled the original crew, all conscientious Quakers. They smoke, drink and swear like the sailors, though most of them are not. Aging and perpetually strapped for money, the mostly retired men sought to banish their war-related demons as they ripped out rotten wood and replaced it plank by purpleheart plank.
But this striving for perfect humbleness can easily become dogmatic. We can come to reject anything that looks remotely like attention-seeking, and we miss God’s message in it.
Jon weighs in with some good, juicy questions. Where is self-promotion a way to promote something bigger? And when is it ego-driven? t’s not just a internet question, of course. This is also at the heart of our Quaker vocal ministry: someone just stands up in worship with an implicit claim they’re speaking for God.
Samuel Bownas is a good go-to person for these sort of dilemmas. He was a second-generation Friend who shared a lot of the inside dirt about Quakers in ministry. He wrote down the trials and temptations he faced and that he saw in others in their “infant minstry” as a conscious mentorship of future Friends.
One of Bownas’s themes is the danger of apeing others. It’s tempting to get so enamored of someone’s beautiful words that we start consciously trying to mimic them. We stop saying what we’ve been given to say so as to sound like the (seemingly) more-articulate person whose style we envy. Most creative artists walk this tension between copying and creating and as Wess will tell you, the idea of remix has become of more importance in the era of digital arts. But with ministry there’s another element: God. Many Quakers have been pretty insistent that the message has to be given “in the Spirit” and come from direct prompts. Unprogrammed Friends (those of us without pastors or pre-written sermons) are exceptionally allergic to vocal ministry that sounds too practiced. It’s not enough that the teaching is correct or well-crafted: we insist that it be given it at the right time.
When thinking the pitfalls about ministry I find it useful to think about “The Tempter.” I don’t personify this; I don’t insist that it’s central to Quaker theology. But it is a thread of our theology, one that has explained my situation, so I share it. For me, it’s the idea that there’s a force that knows our weaknesses and will use them to confuse us. If we’re not careful, impulses that are seemingly positive will provoke actions that are seemingly good but out of right order – given at the wrong time.
So, if like Jon, I start worrying I’m too self-promotional, the Tempter might tell me “that’s true, it’s all in your head, you should shut up already.” If I work myself through that temptation and start promoting myself, the Tempter can switch gears: “yes you’re brilliant, and while you’re at it while don’t you settle some scores with your next post and take some of those fakers down a notch.” There’s never an objective “correct” course of action, because right action is about stripping yourself of self-delusion and navigating the shoals of contradictory impulses. The right action now may be the wrong action later. We all need to grow and stay vigilant and honest with ourselves.
Careful and deliberate discernment held in a manner of unhurried prayer is fine in most instances, but what’s a group if Quakers to do when a fire alarm goes off? Do we sit down in silence, stay centered there some number if minutes, and then open up a period of ministries to reach toward discernment.
Of course we don’t. Who would? Like any group if people in the modern world, we assemble without question and leave the premises. But why? Because of shared language and testimonies.
A ringing bell does not, by itself, constitute a call to action. Power up your time machine and bring your battery-powered alarm system back a few thousand years and set it off. People would look around in confusion (and might be afraid if the alien sound), but they wouldn’t file out of a building. We do it because we’ve been socialized in a language of group warning.
Ever since our schooldays, we have been taught this language: fire alarms, flashing lights, fire pull boxes. We don’t need to discern the situation because we already know what the alarm means: the likelihood of imminent danger.
Our response also needs little discernment. We might think of this as a testimony: a course of action that we’ve realized is so core to our understanding of our relation to the world that it rarely needs to be debated amongst ourselves.
I must have participated in a hundred fire drills in my lifetime, but so far none of the alarms have been fires. But they have served a very real purpose.
When we do media in an advocacy sense, most of our time is spent developing and reinforcing shared language and obvious courses-of-action. We tell stories of previous situations and debate the contours of the testimonies. We’re readying ourselves for when we will be called to action.