Update: I went to a local demonstration in support of immigrants and refugees, and it was a lot of fun. I met some new people and found a couple other organizations that are working to resist the Age of Trump in various ways. There were a lot of other clergy there, which was nice to see, and a good mix of POC, immigrants, men and women that reflected our town.
Whenever I have to fill in my “hometown”, I just fill in whatever town I happen to be living in at the moment. The concept of a hometown is one I’ll never have, for better or worse. The idea that I come from a single place, or that my family comes from a single place, is simply foreign to me.
When I was six, we moved from Palm Harbor FL to Rocky Hill CT. The next year, from Rock Hill to Canton CT. The next year from Canton CT to somewhere – I forget, but we moved again halfway through that year to Oldsmar FL (I remember because I changed schools halfway through 3rd grade). Then we moved from Oldsmar FL to Safety Harbor FL. I lived there for a while, up to the summer after 10th grade when I moved out with my mom to squat in my grandparent’s old condo in Dunedin FL. Then I moved back in with my dad in Safety Harbor again while my mom moved to Akron. The next year, I moved out to live with my mom in Akron OH. I went to College in Wooster OH, and came home for summers and breaks first to a duplex and then to a rental house in Akron OH. During that time I spent a summer living in Chicago IL working as an intern at a church. When I graduated college I moved into a friend’s apartment in Wooster until I was broke, and then moved back in with my mom in Akron. Then we moved in with my girlfriend wife Pam, to a new apartment in Akron that we split three ways. Then Pam and I moved out to our own apartment, elsewhere in Akron. Then we moved from Akron to San Anselmo CA so that I could go to graduate school. Two years later we moved to an apartment in San Rafael, and six months later to yet another apartment in San Rafael. Then we moved to Orrville OH so I could start my first position as a pastor, and a year later we moved to nearby Dalton OH. From Dalton we moved in with our friends in Columbia MO for nine months, and from Columbia MO to live with my wife’s mother for a few weeks in Glenside PA until we find our own place in Jenkintown PA while I worked at my second pastoral position. Then we moved to Royersford PA for my third position, where we live now.
That’s about 24 moves so far in my life. Some short-term and some longer-term, but still. I’m 37, so on average I’ve been moving from one place to another every 1.5 years my entire life. Lot’s of reasons for that, and in some cases, for no discernible reason. This is just how things have gone so far. The places I can say have felt kind of like a hometown, at least for a while, include Safety Harbor FL, Akron OH, and now Royersford PA. Places I’ve put down a few fibrous, tenuous roots before moving on again.
There’s also no hometown for any part of my family, really. If we just count immediate family, they can be found in various parts of Florida, Memphis, Arkansas, coastal Maine, Cleveland, and so on. There isn’t a place we all came from.
This plays into how I function in the world. Social media is absolutely crucial to my sanity. If I didn’t have ways to connect over large distances, I would be desperately alone a lot of the time. I mean, I love my wife and daughter, but they would literally be all I have in my life almost all of the time. It recently occurred to me that I wouldn’t actually know it if my dad died unless I made it a point to keep in contact with some of my family in Florida (who are not communicative with me, the black sheep), and I am only able to do this through social media.
And social media, so crucial to my connection and sanity for so long (all the way back to AOL and dial-up, because I’ve always had to connect over a distance), is now a crazy shit-storm in the Age of Trump. It was very bad during the Age of Dubya, but for much of that time the internet wasn’t the main way people connected yet. During the Age of Obama, it was a crazy place but often focused on snark and satire. It was possible for me to keep up those connections, and strengthen them; to become a nascent blogger and that kind of thing. We started Two Friars and a Fool, I got into Twitter, wrote and edited some books, etc. Social media helped me be productive and even more connected.
But now it feels exactly like being locked in a cage and rolled through town while a crowd of people throws rocks and feces at each other while I pass. The horrors and offenses are no longer daily, they are hourly; with six different simultaneous Facebook Live posts focusing on each one. The connections are still there, and the creativity, but it is in the midst of a slurry that is at the moment so dense as to be incomprehensible most of the time.
The Trump administration clearly has the strategy to just spray us with offensive nonsense and unconstitutional authoritarianism, depending on the spinelessness of the GOP which controls Congress and, soon, the Judiciary. I see no reason not to assume that will be a winning strategy – we’ll see. What’s happening now is unprecedented and no one knows what’s going to happen.
In light of the Age of Trump, what should I be doing? For the past few weeks I’ve been glued to social media watching in horror as we careen off the cliff and into the void. I can’t even see the bottom yet, but it might be very deep indeed. Mostly this has been paralyzing, and I’d rather not be paralyzed.
One of the paradoxes of our information age is that we can be aware of things going on all over the globe, but we don’t actually have significant power to affect those things. If I do everything in my power on a given world issue, I will have negligible impact. Maybe if I get a thousand, or ten thousand, other people to join in, we might move the needle. 3-4 Million people marched a few days ago, and we’ll see what comes of it. I marched with 10 million people worldwide against the Iraq War 15 years ago, and we’re still fighting there.
Which brings me back to the hometown issue. What if the problem is that all of this energy is too dispersed? I’m getting caught up in literally fifty different issues in the world, and at best, whatever force I can bring to bear is dissipated into 1/50th of its potential. If I had a hometown, and it was 20 years ago, that’s where I’d be active, right? If I had a hometown, that’s where I might be able to push and actually cause something, anything, to move. Even just a little.
This thinking is leading me to realize maybe I should focus more of my energy locally. I haven’t been to any big protests or demonstrations in years, but I was a speaker at a local peace vigil in response to fears around Trump’s election victory, and we’re planning more such vigils. I’m going to a local demonstration tomorrow at lunch time and will be joined by some local clergy there. Our Clergy Association is talking about what we can do in this new, awful context, when most of us have a sizable chunk of Trump supporters in our congregations. There are a number of us that are also talking about committing to settle a refugee family locally.
I don’t know how long I’ll live where I am now. Based on the past, I’m a year overdue for another disruption and move. I’m also a year and a half before my temporary position potentially ends. I wonder what I could be part of, locally, in that year and a half.