The loyal opposition

This morning on NPR, I heard a Republican commentator say our government works best with a “loyal opposition.”  He was referring to those of his party who did not support overthrowing the most recent election results.

That, I thought, is a low bar.  Members of this loyal opposition have had no problem with disenfranchising people in districts that are likely to vote for Democrats.  They were fine with exploding the national debt to provide tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest U.S. citizens. They were fine with the rise of the homeless population, the impunity of the police state, families going hungry and without healthcare.  And when I say, “fine with,” I mean they enacted legislation knowing that their votes would result in these violations of human rights.

When I think of a loyal opposition, I think of those people who have challenged the corporate Democrats:  the people who have hit the streets, sometimes for decades, demanding that politicians reallocate money from the police and military to communities in ways that would end homelessness, provide affordable housing, employment, food, and healthcare.  I think of the politicians who have primaried incumbent Democrats, saying they no longer represent the people they serve, but the donors who fund them.  

A few months ago, I heard another Republican on AM Joy say that he no longer saw a future in the Republican Party because it had stopped generating new ideas.  It simply said, “no,” to everything. Does anyone think, he said, that the U.S. will not have some form of universal healthcare like most of the developed and developing world?  The debate on what that will look like is happening between the two factions of the Democratic Party.  He wanted to be a part of that discussion.

In the past week, the progressive nature of Joe Biden’s executive orders has surprised me.  I am still not enthusiastic about some of his cabinet appointments.  The Border Police are still holding children in cages. I think his response to the climate crisis is not crisis-y enough.  But it seems that he is listening to the people who put him into office—including the loyal opposition.

Seth Rogen’s This is the End vs. Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind featuring Jesus as Godzilla

This-is-the-End-Film-PosterI recently saw the movie This is the End with my husband after hearing its creators, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. I have since heard it called Left Behind for potheads.

Years ago, I listened to the thirteen books (just found out about the prequels) in the Left Behind series. Truthfully I think I have to give Rogen and Goldberg a little bit of an edge in accuracy over Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their depiction of the biblical end times, because at least Rogen and Goldberg get human nature right.

In Left Behind after all the people who have accepted indexChrist are initially raptured, one character, a flight attendant, who remains on earth faces a terrible wasting illness that could be cured by saying the magic, “I accept Christ as my personal savior.” She refuses to do so because she is stubborn. The last book basically depicts Jesus as Godzilla squishing his enemies underfoot, so their blood spurts up and stains the hem of his robe, while all the protagonists in the novel are cheering him on as they quote Bible verses.

In This is the End, on the other hand, once the narcissistic Hollywood characters realize that all this God and Bible stuff they didn’t believe or care about is true, they immediately scramble to catch up. When Jonah Hill is possessed by the devil, actor Jay Baruchel, playing his Jewish self, picks up a cross, approaches Hill and says, á la The Exorcist movie, “The power of Christ compels you.” He has that point of reference and he uses it. Like a normal person in a horrific situation he does whatever he can think of to alleviate it.

In the real world, if people were racked with the sort of pain described in the Left Behind Series and told they could end it by saying a sentence, they would say it. They wouldn’t continue to suffer unbearable agony out of sheer stubbornness. LaHaye is betraying his own limited vision here. He doesn’t understand why people don’t become Christians when he says they’ll go to Hell if they don’t. Stubbornness is the best reason he’s been able to come up with (and I won’t even get into Left Behind’s Greek and indexChilean Christian martyrs he has going to their deaths singing American Gospel songs in English. Or the fact that the “best biblical scholar in the world” studies Revelation in “all the ancient languages” even though Greek was the only ancient language it was written in, unless you count the later Latin translation, or… let it go, Kathy, just let it go…). I shudder as I think of Christians cheering the slaughter by Godzilla Jesus described in climax of Left Behind. Most well adjusted people wouldn’t. Thousands of bodies being squished under foot would look, sound and smell awful.

But LaHaye, Jenkins, Goldberg, or Rogen— none of them really understand what Revelation is all about. I think the writer of Revelation would be sad about the way Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins and their progenitor, Hal Lindsay, trivialized his magnificent apocalyptic vision. (This is the End would be utterly incomprehensible to him.) Revelation was, at least partially, a letter of comfort, written in code, to desperate people who had seen their loved ones persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith—probably under either the Roman Emperor Nero in 68-69 AD or under the Emperor Domitian around 95 AD. It told them that even if it looked as though the Roman Empire was invincible, God was ultimately in control and would bring it down (btw, just where is the Roman Empire these days?) And all who had suffered and died would be raised again and God would wipe away their tears. God would create a new heaven and new earth where they would never suffer again.

So how would you make a movie about that? I wonder what trials the first century faced might still be applicable? We still have empires—economic and political that say human lives are worth less than mineral wealth or cheap labor. Could someone make a movie about God vanquishing those empires and alleviating the suffering they’ve caused?

Call me, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I think the position of biblical exegete for your next film would be quite close to my dream job.

My NPR Three-Minute Fiction Entry: “You, Me and Leonard Peltier”


I discovered from reading the writer’s blog associated with NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest that writers have no way of finding out whether their 600-words-or-fewer submissions were in the top ten or rejected at the initial sorting out process by creative writing students with no appreciation for the scope of their genius.

Anyway, Round 10 was a story in the form of a voicemail message. Here’s mine:


By Kathleen Kern

Hey, I heard that the President didn’t pardon Leonard Peltier today, so I know that right about now you’ve thrown some plants against the wall, and shredded the piles of petitions, appeals, and endorsement letters by your computer and all the printouts of celebrities holding up the “Free Leonard Peltier” signs around the office. Or maybe you’re just on your couch sobbing while you watch the Cartoon Network. And that’s okay, too. Anything that doesn’t involved hurting yourself is good.

I hope you didn’t shred the photo of us all at the Mitakuye Oyasin awards banquet last year. The award’s legit, you know. It’s the president that failed, not you. And I’m on the edge of the photo. You could just cut my head out and shred me.

I was going to send you an e-mail, but that seemed inadequate. I mean, all the overtime on nights and weekends, all the rhetorical shrieking with Zuzu, Mark and the others. It was…big. Bigger than just you and me. But I guess since I’m calling you and not them, then this is about you and me, too. You, me, and Leonard Peltier.

I wanted to tell you there’s more to life than your computer, your rage, and Leonard Peltier, but there’s also part of me that’s glad there are angry obsessive people with poor social skills like you who won’t give up on him, because frankly, I like going hours at a time NOT thinking about Leonard Peltier. I like getting seven to eight hours of sleep at night. I like being a Religion and Ethics professor for earnest young Mennonite college students who think I’m exotic because I’ve lived in Washington, DC.

They write letters for Leonard, you know, my students. They’ve been writing to President Obama, asking him for the pardon for weeks. They were shocked, just shocked, when I told them the details of his case, the extradition and everything. Remember what it was like when you could still find something that felt a little bit like joy in your outrage? You probably can’t. I miss it.

There’s one girl, Kayla (so many, many Kaylas here) who asked me this week why I left the campaign. The way she said it, she meant, “Dude, Leonard Peltier’s still in jail, and you’re teaching Intro to Ethics? Seriously?” I wanted to smack that disapproving arch right out of her eyebrow. She’s a senior and I’d hook her up with you and the office, but I don’t think she’s got your stamina, or, for lack of a better word, your soul—even though you don’t believe in souls.

That’s another thing I like besides my job and enough sleep, by the way. I like going to church and believing in God without listening to your snide comments. I never understood why in your cosmology only Leonard was allowed to believe in God.

Sorry; sorry, sorry, sorry. This isn’t why I called…

Umm…you know sometimes I wonder whether my motives for wanting Leonard freed are entirely selfish. I mean it; some days, I my reasons have nothing to do with travesties of justice. Some days I just want him out jail because of how it will change your life and my life.

Because maybe then you’ll be free.
And maybe then you’ll pardon me.