I threw away 15 copies of my book last week. They got caught up in one of my pandemic purges. (Note: Time has lost all form and structure, when I say “last week” it could be referring to any span of time including yesterday, a month ago or this morning.) They were proof copies that got caught in the middle of my process: perfectly fine except for missing a few lines in one poem that I changed at the last minute. For months they had been stacked in a corner of my closet while I wrestled with what to do with them. Wrestling that had become increasingly more complicated as I’ve become increasingly more ambivalent about my book in general. I love it. And I’m proud of it. But I’ve also outgrown parts of it. Because my religious state, much like this quarantine situation, is nothing I could have ever seen coming. Most Christians won’t be in church this Easter Sunday, due to the ‘rona; I won’t be there due to deconstruction. Not this weekend. Not ever again. But this blog isn’t about that. This is about versions of books that I have thrown away. Including the Bible. Metaphorically. No physical copies of the Bible have been harmed in this transition, but the way I read it has been trashed (or become trash, depending on your view), but again, this is not exactly about that. This is about a piece of that book that made it into my book: a passage from Genesis 15.
13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.
That’s a passage that jumped out at me in November of 2016 and had me very intrigued about 2020. Because, as I noted on the very next page in my book – In other news, the slave trade in America began in approximately 1620. Approximately four hundred years ago. Hmm.
And however you read (or don’t read) the Bible, if nothing else, it is a book about life and people, that reinforces several universal truths, including this one: Nothing lasts forever. Every life eventually ends. And every empire falls. Every empire. And despite everything American Exceptionalism would like us to believe, The United States of America is no exception. This is an empire in decline. As it should be. Literally: America is collapsing on what America was built on – cruel capitalism.
At it roots, America is a nation that has always valued profit over people. From the colonizers who killed, raped and tortured to steal land from indigenous people, to the slaveholders who tortured, raped and killed to drive the workforce that built this economy – cruelty has always been the not-so-secret ingredient. And over time, as the recipes have changed to become a little more sophisticated, the cruelty remains. Deep-rooted in every one of our systems. Name an American system that doesn’t profit, not just at the cost of people, but at their expense. I’ll wait.
Actually, I won’t. I’ve got nothing but time and I ain’t got the time for that. Because it’s 2020, it’s four hundred o’clock and the empire is falling. Right on time.
Whether observing Passover or Easter this week, thoughts of before-and-after are all around us. Major events that split time to show us the seams of the systems we live in. And give us the opportunity to lean into the breaking point, let the unraveling finish and choose something different. Which is scary. Both Passover and Easter are marked with death and darkness, loss and confusion, empires going overboard to retain power, reinforce the structures and revert to status-quo; and bedeviled people who are comfortable with the devils that they know. We know our systems don’t work, but they’re all we’ve ever known, so we’ve clung to them. Trying to make the best of them, when we could be doing so much better. We can do better. And I hope we do. Because the other option is that things stay the same by getting worse.
“And afterward they will come out with great possessions.”
You know what I just realized? (As I was trying to end this post on a not-completely dystopian note…) When the Israelites left Egypt, as the story goes, they took a lot of stuff – silver and gold and treasure and such – but even if they had left completely empty-handed, they still would have left with great possessions. And when Jesus did what He did, whether you believe it was to free people spiritually from sin, psychologically from an empire and/or theologically from a religion, He also left with great possessions. Because it wasn’t things that they removed from the system to render it worthless; it was themselves. We are the greatest possessions. Our greatest possessions. And we deserve a nation that honors that. With liberty and with justice. For all. But for real, with real things like liberal and just access to healthcare, housing and safety.
So while we’re all staying inside, I hope we all decide to take ourselves out. To accept the inevitable discomfort of the end of an empire, but also look with hope to what the future could hold. The new world we could build. A better version of this book we’ve been writing. It’s time.
Tell your friends.
Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.
ps… you can also read her book, The Divide (aka the book she spent this entire post trashing).