Weeds have been on my mind for months. My garden is overgrown as usual, and my flower beds are inexcusable, but it’s easy to ignore them. It’s harder to ignore the weeds that are demanding more and more of our attention in public discourse.
Over the last few days, so many of my friends have suffered real grief as they discover that friends, family, role models, and confidantes are racists. Not a little careless around issues of race, and not somewhat old-fashioned in their thinking, but actually, fully, openly racist, arguing that some races are inherently inferior to others, and that they need to keep their heads down if they want to be allowed to live here. It’s all the more painful when they say these things thinking that we will agree. “You’re a Jew, sure, but you’re one of the good ones. Oh, I’m sure your sister is raising her black kids to be different from those thugs. I didn’t mean you. Just the bad ones.”
What to do? How do we live like this, when people are like this?
My brother Joseph Prever, writing under an old pseudonym, speaks of growing up, when we kids rejected bad ideas so vociferously that we also belligerently rejected the good ideas that went along with them. “Nuke the gay whales,” was the joke—something we’d say to spit in the eye of evil far-left liberals, who, along with promoting abortion, rejecting chastity and attempting to deconstruct the family, also hated nukes, loved gays, and cared about whales: “It’s weird that it never occurred to us that Catholics, too, are supposed to hate nukes, love gays, and care about whales.”
My brother says, after thinking through the evils that people are willing to reveal about themselves:
I hate my complicity in these evils and others—my own evil, believe me, is not limited to the right or to the left; it is enthusiastically bipartisan. Yet, somehow, in spite of all this, I love myself. Maybe it is possible to love others the same way.
And here is why I’ve been thinking of weeds. They are allowed to grow up together with the wheat, says the Lord—not only because good people and bad people’s lives are so intertwined with each other, but because good and bad are so intertwined within the same single human heart. I know there is evil in my heart. Maybe not the same evil that is in a racist’s heart, but true evil. And I don’t want to be thrown out because of it.
Leah Libresco has some ideas about how to endure this almost intolerable wheat-and-weeds situation. She begins by challenging the idea of doxxing (deliberately publicizing private or identifying personal information, with malicious intent). She calls it “one more avenue our society has discovered for throwing people away.” Not only is this unchristian, it’s counterproductive, if we want racists and white supremacists to repent. Libresco says:
It’s harder to walk away from the group you’ve attached yourself to when you know (because everyone is telling you) that you’ve blown it—that you shouldn’t have a job; that you can’t be forgiven; that everyone needs to know who you are right now, so they can shun and disemploy you for the rest of your life.
This is where doxxing can create a desperation that ultimately solidifies, rather than breaks, alt-right associations: If a first-timer who wants “out” finds himself doxxed, he may come to believe that only the alt-right will still have him; he may remain there, boxed in, simply to prevent complete social isolation.”
It tells him, in short, that he is nothing but a weed. So he will go and live with the weeds, and help them flourish. Is that what we want?
I … can’t do this. I can’t befriend someone who’s screaming in my face. But I try to respond as rationally as possible to vile arguments, and to take the high road as much as I can manage, when I do engage. I try to keep up with the news, so I’m informed about the direction our country is taking. I try to joke and tease about politics, to lighten the mood.
Then Tom Zampino challenged everyone on social media:
For every political post you write, balance it off with a poem, a music clip, a short story, a favorite joke, whatever. Let’s connect here in some non-political way. Flood social media with your best self.
When I read this, I was startled to realize that even some of the things I think of as wheat are really weeds.
What kind of things? Righteous indignation that goes on too long, feeding on itself, delighting in itself. Vigilance that turns into paranoia and unseemly scrutiny of friends. An important political argument that takes so much time and energy that I have nothing left for my family. Whistling in the dark that finally stops hoping for comfort and starts revelling in the darkness.
This is what I mean by “wheat and weeds together.” We all have a heart full of weeds, constantly threatening to overwhelm the wheat. All of us, even those who are fighting the good fight.
So, what to do? We do something different, at least some of the time. “See, I will do something new.” After a full day of rage and sorrow and horror as I watched young men march down a street in my homeland, calling for the ovens for Jews like me, I then watched a video posted by a friend.
It’s short, and doesn’t mean much. It’s just a newborn baby having her hair washed for the first time. Watch it, and see if it doesn’t answer those young men in some small way, better than doxxing, better than screaming back, better than hotly defending my family’s right to exist.
Maybe it will be something else for you. But we all have something that we can turn to that refreshes us, reminds us what the world is made of, puts our hearts back in balance. When we find something like this, we should share it, at least as often as we share anger (righteous and otherwise), bitterness (understandable and otherwise), criticism (fair and otherwise).
As long as we are still alive, our hearts are not all weed. I know I can’t befriend a KKK member and persuade him to leave. I know I can’t calmly approach a neo-Nazi and gently help him to see the humanity of the people he hates. I just don’t have it in me. The weeds of rage, indignation, and the desire for revenge are too thick in my heart.
But I do have the capacity to see that there is more to life than the ugliness on display in the news right now. And that is something I can share. I can do something new.