It was such a wonderful thing to log in to Instagram every day (ok, yes, multiple times a day!) and listen to the new remix. The Advent calendar started on December 1st, of course, which was the day I left home to fly to Oslo for the WXL concert. I remember being in the airport listening to the remix of 'There Goes Another Year', and then immediately upon arrival in Oslo, opening Instagram to listen to the next track - a super awesome version of 'The Ghost of Xmas Past'. December 7th and 8th were my two favorites - mixes of 'Revelation Song' and 'Come Back Home', both of which gave me chills.
This won't be a surprise to any of you who followed along as avidly, but may be news to some: on December 20th, Magne posted a track that didn't make it on the album. We don't know the name of the track, and I didn't save the text he posted along with it, so I have very few details about it other than a vague memory of him saying something along the lines of maybe he should release it someday..? Anyway, all you need to know is that in the midst of all these known tracks being shared each day, something completely new was out there for what I think amounted to less than 24 hours.
I remember two good friends messaging me, saying how 'sweet' the new song was, and using heart emojis. I found some time in my work day to listen to the track, and...I was honestly shocked. Shocked by the topic, shocked that my friends described it as 'sweet', shocked at my reaction overall.
The song was about sexual (I assume, based on context) abuses in the Catholic Church.
I am Catholic. I went to Catholic school my whole life, I was confirmed in Israel, I went to a Catholic university, I married in the Church, and my Methodist husband agreed to raise our children Catholic. And I was probably 25 years old when I first heard about contemporary sexual abuses in a parish local to me. Of course I had read or heard various historical facts about such things, but I didn't know for example that the priest at my parents' parish school was a known abuser of altar boys until two years after I moved out of their house and stopped going to that church. The common way of dealing with these situations was apparently to (1) keep it under close wraps and keep the congregation in ignorance; and (2) transfer 'problematic' priests to other parishes, where I suppose they were free to start up the same behavior again, until they were transferred once more. No criminal prosecution, no jail time, just cover ups and hypocrisy.
Needless to say, I am older and wiser now. I pay close attention to the news reports and the whispers. I am ashamed of what my faith community has allowed throughout its history, of the disbelief in those who reported abuse, of the disgraceful denial of wrongdoing and denial of justice for victims, of the lack of oversight and protections for children (and any others) who suffered at the hands of religious leaders in our community. But that doesn't mean I feel comfortable having a non-Catholic writing a song about this topic in such a way that casts judgement on all Catholics. The lyrics that stick with me most are:
"the congregation's quiet
they bow their heads in shame
the priests have all been outed
the Pope is so ashamed
the cardinals must go to jail
for all the lives they've maimed"
I find nothing 'sweet' about this song, even while I can admit that these abuses happened and that when there is justice, the resolution described in the song would be a wonderful thing.
My mother would say that it's not Magne's place to write a song about the Church when he isn't a member; she'd say that within the Church tradition, we have always had the responsibility to root out abuses and punish them within our own community, and we don't need outsiders to tell us what we should be ashamed of or imply that a large portion of our leadership should go to jail. I can hear her in my imagination, "Where does he get off, singing about this?"
What I struggle with most is that line 'they bow their heads in shame...' The idea that as a member of the Catholic Church, I share some part of the blame for the terrible crimes of others is difficult to wrap my head around. At first I resolved never to listen to the song again. I couldn't believe Magne - who has described himself as not very religious, and who lives in a predominantly Lutheran country, in any case - would feel moved to tell this particular story in the context of Christmas music; and this was, to me, jarring and even a bit disappointing. How could I have known about something that was actively hidden from view? How could I share in the blame of those who committed atrocities when I honestly - hand on heart - didn't have any clue it was happening in my own parish?
It took some time and introspection to really dig into my reaction to this song and acknowledge my own part of the blame. I could possibly have pleaded ignorance of specific situations that I had no knowledge of, of course, but once I learned about that priest in my old parish, what did I do? Nothing. I didn't research to find out what happened to that priest or their victims, I didn't ask the leaders of my own new parish what they are doing to prevent any such abuses in our community, I didn't take on any personal responsibility for either justice for victims or systemic improvements designed to ensure this wouldn't happen again. And this self blame sits heavily on me now, where there was none before. It would be so easy to resent Magne for being the catalyst for this awareness of blame and guilt, and I did (mildly) for a little while, but that's because it was an uncomfortable and unwelcome realization.
On some level it's natural to want to reject uncomfortable self knowledge like this. We're human and we want to believe in our own goodness. Does my inaction on behalf of those who suffered abuses in the Catholic Church make me a bad person? Or does my action in other areas of my life, on behalf of others who are suffering or at a disadvantage, somehow help balance the scales in favor of goodness? We can't all act on every injustice, and we can't all solve every one of the world's problems. But I do believe we should strive to be informed, and to act in the service of justice and faith and love whenever possible. The song has given me a lot to think about.
When 'This is now America' came out originally last August, I remember there was a vehement resistance to it from lifelong fans who are Trump supporters.
'You've lost me as a fan now!'
'Stick with songwriting, and stay out of politics!'
'You should pay more attention to what's happening in your own country!'
'Why do you hate America/Americans?'
'Where do you get off, singing about this?'
I thought it was so interesting how some people refused to acknowledge at the very least that what happens in America impacts the whole world, and as such, our politics are a matter for everyone and anyone to respond to in their own way. But I simply chalked up that resistance to 'party opposition', a hill that many would die on for far less than this song asserts, and didn't think about it for very long.
It wasn't until the release of the second music video, in February, that I could recognize the same pattern from my response to the unknown, unreleased song I wrote about above. I had done the same thing: heard a song that went counter to my belief about a community I belong to, and counter to my own sense of responsibility as a member of that community, and felt resistance and disappointment first and foremost. Trump followers denying the content and implication of his words made sense to me because his perspective is uncomfortable and unwelcome to some, and that was how I felt about the December song.
In other words, I finally got it. It's difficult to accept responsibility, especially when it's not *personal* responsibility - I didn't abuse any altar boys, and Trump followers (for the most part) didn't actually cage any babies or shoot up any schools or personally condone all of Trump's immoral, selfish, inept, racist, traitorous, greedy, crazy behavior. Yet they listened to the song and perhaps felt some new, implied responsibility weighing on them, and they didn't like it.
In the same way that I have a responsibility to be an active part of my faith community's prevention of and response to any abuses, citizens have a responsibility to hold their leaders accountable. And not just the ones you voted for - all of the leaders whose sworn job is to serve the best interests of their constituents and the nation at large. Which means that when I hear 'This is now America', I not only heartily agree with everything said about Trump, who I have always believed to be the worst leader this country could have/has ever had, but I now also finally accept my part of the responsibility for his having been elected.
No, of course I didn't vote for him. Do you know me at all?!
On election night 2016, I was in absolute shock that Trump won the election. I couldn't believe there were so many people who believed he would do anything for anyone but himself - and I couldn't believe there were so many people who could look past (now I know they agree with) his racism and ignorance and science denial and misogyny, and....I just couldn't believe it. How could we as a country sink so low? I thought.
The reality is we were always this low. For one thing, there are systemic issues of racism and misogyny and more - all right there, since our founding, which contributed to the rise and election of this narcissistic, pathological liar with dementia. That is the reality we live with every day, the knowledge that even though we don't support him, he reflects a large part of our society, and it's devastating to see it so clearly. There are people in this country who literally believe that some people don't deserve to live as much as others, and they are now willing to be open about this and cause suffering for others.
I think ultimately this is one of the main reasons why the song didn't get as much notice here as perhaps Magne had hoped. Either you hate the song because it bashes 'dear leader', or you agree with the song but it perhaps reminds you of your part in this nightmare we're living through - especially now, when people are dying because as a nation we did nothing to fix the problems that led to his election. As a 'protest song' I think it arrived perhaps two years too late to gain any kind of 'popularity' or audience. By last August, and certainly by this February, none of us who agree with Magne wanted to be reminded of our responsibility and failure. The cost of that failure is incalculable as we grieve 100,000 lives lost as of today to COVID-19.
This blog - or some form of it - has been in my mind for weeks now. I've had a hard time getting myself to sit down and write this, and looking over the draft so far, I am not happy with it. But I needed it out and on 'paper', and I will likely revise it soon.
One of the things that finally motivated me to write this entry was the #ThisIsAmerica hashtag trending today. Two incidents of racial injustice took place in the last day that sadly exemplify the country we live in today. The first is a white woman who called the police to report a black man who 'scared her' when he asked her politely to leash her dog in an area of Central Park with copious posted signs about the leash law, and the second is the brutal killing of a black man by a police officer in Minnesota. Yet again I have to stop myself - my privileged, white self - from saying 'What have we become?' and remind myself that we have always been this. And white women played a huge part in getting Trump elected, and therefore the culture that is permissive of racism and hate we see more and more today. I'm heartbroken at the constant reminders of my part in this, despite being someone who never supported Trump, as a white cisgendered woman with privilege, I share some responsibility for the culture that allowed his election.
To quote another of Magne's songs:
"now everyone can name the monster
but not see their own hand in its making"
I guess ultimately what I am saying is that we do have a responsibility, all of us, in this world we're in. We are responsible to one another no less than we are to ourselves. And our hands are in the making of monsters - whether that be Church leaders, Trump, individual racists, or yes, ourselves. One of my brothers is a Trump supporter, and he is one of the most devoted, loyal, generous, kind, authentic and wonderful people I know. But when I hear about what he believes - or says he believes - these days, I sometimes wonder if he has become a monster, and if there is a way back for him. There are so many monsters out there, who justify evil, who have no empathy for their fellow man, who demand to be held to different standards than others, and on and on. I'm devastated on a daily basis when I run into the monsters out there, in part because I share some of the responsibility for making - or at least not actively standing up against - them.
The responsibility is uncomfortable, but necessary. So I don't resent it, I want to learn from it and do better. If you feel the same way, may I suggest this helpful and wonderful Twitter thread about stopping any wrongdoing and making amends. It's powerful and important work for all of us to undertake when we recognize that we have done wrong to another.