Let Me Be Brave

Face the Raven Part 2

DOCTOR: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you? 
CLARA: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. 
DOCTOR: What about me? 
CLARA: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave. 

Many people are understandably afraid of physical death. It is hard to comprehend our nonexistence or the nonexistence of a loved one. Even those who believe in some sort of afterlife or in reincarnation acknowledge that death marks an end even if it also marks a beginning. We spend our lives at various times ignoring death as something that happens to other people or we obsesses over it, hoping to ward it off and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But death, will eventually come for all of us. We can try to prolong life by avoiding unnecessary risks, eating healthy, etc but at some point, whether one is reckless or extremely careful, death will mark our end in this life.

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However, there is another type of death that need not be permanent: spiritual death which I equate with despair.  I am not talking about “the blues” nor am I talking about clinical depression or other mental illnesses.* For those involved in any type of job or activism that requires constant exposure to the darker side of humanity and the world, despair can become a constant companion. Despair can take on different forms depending on the person, in my case, despair is tied with anger.  When I am overcome with despair, I want to lash out on everything and everyone. The world is cruel, filled with bloodshed and constant violence, so why not add to it somehow, whether through harsh words or physical actions? If the powers that be want to use violence, then why not beat them at their own game? Even one person dedicated to violence can wreak havoc on the larger system. Or conversely, my despair takes on the form of apathy, which I consider a more subtle form of violence: if exploitation and suffering is just going to continue, why even bother with trying to make the world a better place? Why not just give up? Let the state continue to oppress its own citizens (as long as it’s not me) or drop bombs on children in the Middle East. What can I do?

Clara knows that despair awaits the Doctor after her death. It happened after the Ponds left and it will happen again. And why not? Not giving a damn, either through violence or through apathy can feel freeing…for a moment.  And, many of us don’t want to admit it, but making others  experience even a fraction of our pain feels good, even if that feeling is fleeting.  Despair, is in many ways the easy way out. It is an abdication of our individual and collective responsibility to fight for a better world. This abdication provides a false promise: that if we stopped caring our suffering will end. It promises us a new lease on life, when in reality it gives us death. Only the dead don’t feel pain or suffering.

Clara knows that the Doctor will want to wallow in despair and regardless of how his despair manifests itself: in an extended withdrawal from the world, or in violence, it will mean pain and suffering for others. She rejects that notion: there will be no suffering committed in her name.

When we confront day after day the massive amount of suffering in the world, whether through our research, through hands-on interactions, through our lived experience, despair can blind us and have us believe that we are acting in ways to honor those who are suffering, especially if the despair manifests itself through violence. But in reality we are desecrating the memory or the lived experiences of those whom we feel called to help by contributing to the cycle of destruction and death. We dishonor those whom we claim to care about by ensuring that others experience suffering and exploitation, without contributing to a solution.

Clara asks the Doctor to be brave. What does that mean in this context? It means, being willing to embrace the suffering without lashing out or permanently withdrawing from the world. When despair hits, it is necessary to take a break. But taking a break or moving onto a different area of social justice work is not the same as permanently giving up. But suffering, especially emotional suffering is uncomfortable. Many (though not all) forms of physical pain can be eased by some form of medication and many mental illnesses can be managed (not necessarily cured) through medication, but in many cases despair can only be banished by working through it. This might mean taking a break but still remaining dedicated to one’s responsibility to work towards a more just and equitable society.

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Unlike the man/cyberman we see earlier in the episode, who attempts to run away from death, Clara faces it square on. She is both simultaneously alone and not alone when she faces it. The Doctor watches her die and is with her, even if he is at a distance. But at the same time it is something she must experience alone. No one else can experience it with her. Despair is similar. In the midst of despair we need to reach out to others and we need to articulate our pain with those who have also experienced it. But at the same time, no one’s experiences of despair is exactly like another person’s. And while others can provide much needed physical, mental, and spiritual support, it is also something that is unique to our own individual experiences. No one can take on our despair for us, and no one can work through it for us. Even if one believes in a deity who provides comfort and support, one still needs to be say, “yes I am in the midst of despair right now, but I trust and believe that it will get better.” One still needs to take small actions, not necessarily big ones that display a measure of hope. In some cases that step can be as small as getting up in the morning.

CLARA: Let me be brave. Let me be brave

The way to handle despair is as varied as its manifestations and causes. But I think it starts with the recognition that it is something we need to confront. Ignoring it or channeling it through violence won’t make it go away. It requires to be brave and face it.

 

 

*Though of course despair and depression can go together, and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. But I am not a mental health expert or doctor, so any questions about depression and despair should be addressed to someone trained to deal with such issues

 

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“I don’t think you want to become that man.”- The Temptation of Violence

DOCTOR: We can end this right now. We could save everyone right now.
AMY: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
DOCTOR: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
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In my introduction to preaching class (I am in the final year of the Masters of divinity program) the instructor asserted that no matter how many times a pastor has preached on a specific biblical text he/she should be able to craft a different sermon each time that takes into account their current context. In a similar vein, I decided to write a blog post on the above quote from the episode, A Town Called Mercy.I know have written on the episodes and the aforementioned quotes and to be honest I will be touching on a recurring theme on this blog which seems to be a variation of the biblical mandate “to love your enemies” (which has turned into an over-used cliché that masks the difficulty of such a task) and to follow Christ in trying to demonstrate a way of living that runs counter to the status quo of daily life.

In A Town Called Mercy the Doctor struggles with his own inner demons based on his decision to destroy galifrey (this is a pre-The Day of the Doctor episode) and the numerous instances where he has tried to save lives and failed. Yet in addition to his struggles with his own guilt, there is something pure, raw and relatable about his anger and his belief that killing Jex would not make Jex pay for his past actions but would also protect the town from the Gunslinger seeking to bring Jex to justice (or rather what the Gunslinger considers to be justice: Jex’s death) I at least, relate to the Doctor’s anger and his struggle with the temptation to believe the myth of redemptive violence: that death and destruction can ultimately bring about justice.

In the past few days, a handful of police officers have been killed and the police officers and politicians want to lay the blame of their deaths on the Black Lives Matter and police accountability movements. Despite the fact that the murder of police officers are down and that the numbers of officers killed by gunfire so far (24) nowhere compares to the numbers of civilians killed by officers, police departments throughout the nation have argued that there is a “war on police officers.” The injustice and absurdity of such an argument angers me. The fact that 786 people can be killed by police officers and over 100 of those killed are unarmed (and one should question the remaining deaths of those considered to be “armed,” especially if the only record of the incident is the word of the police officer) renders the assertion that there is a “war on police officers” to be disingenuous. To be clear, I am not arguing that police officers are “bad” in fact I find the dichotomy of “good” cops and “bad” cops to be false. I think most cops are regular people-with the strengths and weaknesses that we all struggle with. While there are cases of rogue cops-the larger issue is institutional.  The American legal system-including law enforcement is built on notions that foster white supremacy and compliance to authoritarianism. As citizens we are supposed to accept the idea that somehow black and brown people rare inherently more violent than their white peers. We are to acquiescence to the notion that the state can and should be able to kill with impunity-no questions asks. We are encouraged to comply with the state’s demands and actions in the name of “national security” even if it involves the deaths of hundreds of American citizens, false imprisonment, and the erosion of civil liberties.

As a person of faith-it is disheartening to see how cycles of oppression and valence continue unabated. As a person of color it angers me that some of the issues that the civil rights movement were addressing are still a problem and that the state refuses to acknowledge the existence of said issues, let alone take steps towards a sustainable solution. It feels as if there is no hope that of long lasting change. And it is this despair that causes me to wonder, in the darkest recesses of my heart, if violence might, in fact, be the answer. If the state refuses to listen to relatively peaceful protests, then maybe we should fight back. If the lives of black and brown people (though it is important to acknowledge unarmed white people are also killed by police) seem to value so little to the state and to police officers, why the hell should I care if a police officer is randomly gunned down? While I would never engage in physical violence, I find myself thinking that perhaps in order for change to occur we need to start using the state’s tactics against it. In other words, I find myself very much empathizing with the eleventh doctor’s decision to put a gun to Jex’s head. Violence seems to offer a solution.

Amy Pond however, points out the futility and cruelty of such action. Not only should the Doctor avoid reducing himself to Jex’s level but she wants to know what happens after he kills Jex. Amy responds, “AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?” If the doctor kills Jex because of his past actions of injustice, then where will the killing end? Who else should be executed-those who make bombs and the guns that lead to war and destruction? And what about the ways in which we all in some measure benefit from oppression and injustice? If we point the gun at those we believe to be the cause of oppression, then at some point we will need to point the weapon at ourselves.

Later on in the episode the doctor recognizes the futility of violence. The Doctor tells Walter, a 17 year old who wants to kill Jex that doing so would only extend the cycle of violence:

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In the gospels, there are verses in which Jesus condemns violence. One such case occurs in Matthew 26:47-56, in which Jesus is being arrested. One of his followers cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave and Jesus responds, “put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew26:52). By the time Matthew was written, the Jewish temple had been destroyed and the armed revolt on the part of some Jewish people was brutally put down. The fact is that violence is rarely if ever redemptive and it often perpetrates more injustice and oppression.  Furthermore, what did cutting off the slave’s ear accomplish? It didn’t end the systematic exploitation and injustice Jesus often railed against. And as a slave of the high priest-how much power did the slave truly have? Likewise, what does the act of killing an individual cop accomplish? Does it end police brutality? Does it eradicate institutional racism?  Or does it simply expand the suffering that violence causes?

Intellectually and spiritually I understand this. As someone who yearns for a better world, I understand that violence-even in the name of justice or in response to injustice, often only creates more pain and suffering. Yet despite knowing that I find myself wanting to act like the person in Matthew who cut off the slave’s ear, or like the Doctor who put a gun to the head of the person who committed horrible atrocities. I have to continually listen to the prompting in my spirit and the yearning in my heart that tells me there is another way, a better way to respond to injustice.