... but before I get to that, I did scan the original Johan Fredrik Maurer, whose oil-on-wood painting hangs over our family computer. (See last week's insomniac notes for an explanation of sorts.)
What do I have in common with him? For starters, he too was an immigrant, and his father Johannes was an immigrant as well. Johannes Maurer (b. 1779 in Ulm) moved from Germany to Denmark; his son Johan Fredrik (b. 1817 in Copenhagen) moved from Denmark to Norway. In my case, the father-son duo had to cheat a bit for both of us to count as immigrants; my father emigrated from Oslo, Norway, to the USA, then returned to Oslo where I was born, and I then also emigrated to the USA!)
OK, what else do we have in common? Judging by the painting, we certainly don't have similar wardrobes. My résumé is also quite different, but like the first Johan Fredrik's, it has variety. I've worked in a factory, a restaurant, a hotel, three bookstores, a variety of religious settings (including economic development, denominational administration, and a pastorate) on the way to my present status as a self-employed writer. He went through the ranks to become a master carpenter, then joined the Christiania (now Oslo) fire department, rising to the rank of captain. (He must have been in that service at the time of the big downtown fire of 1853.) In the 1860's he returned to his role as a builder but on a larger scale, as an architect and developer. Along the way he also became a local politician.
The first Johan Fredrik lived in an era of large families. He married his first wife, Annette Marie Nordberg, in 1843, at age 25. She was 26. They had eight children. She died at age 38; two years later he married her sister, Lilly Johanne Nordberg, who was 32 at the time. She died in 1907 at age 83. Together they had another four children, one of whom was my great grandfather Axel, who became a playwright, novelist, and topical songwriter.
This past weekend's antiwar demonstration in Washington, DC, had a huge turnout. Commentary in the press, both print and online, has included some familiar tunes. On the one hand, "Why so little coverage in the mainstream press?" On the other hand, "why are you giving comfort to the enemy?"
I can't comment much on the mainstream press, since here in Portland it seemed to me that the coverage wasn't bad; plus I'd like to hope that the main audience for the demonstration was the nation's decisionmakers, assessing whether or not we had all put our country's fate meekly into their hands. (Also I want to believe that the antiwar movement isn't made up of terminal narcissists who need the press to assure them that they exist.)
The guilt-by-association charges from the right have come back as well. Many of the charges revolve around the unsavory (to some) affiliations of the ANSWER coalition. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz summarizes the conventional wisdom about ANSWER in this column. Within the antiwar movement, there have been recriminations about the last-minute agreement of the other demo-sponsoring coalition, United for Peace and Justice. The latter apparently agreed to a pragmatic partnership with ANSWER to spare the confusion of two competing antiwar demonstrations. Some of the concerns about this partnership revolved around the anti-Israel bias of ANSWER. (Sample here.)
I am not going to be able to unravel the ancient threads of this controversy over coalitions and the venomous glee with which conservative commentators trace these coalitions' fringes. But when someone like Andrew Sullivan (quoted by Kurtz) says, "Anyone who attends rallies organized by International ANSWER deserves no quarter and no hearing," I feel bound to speak out on behalf of people who are not full-time activists or professional one-uppers.
If I go to a rally where a socialist, even a neo-Stalinist speaks, or (more likely) a Noam Chomsky is spreading predictable rhetorical foam, it does NOT mean that I have associated myself with everything they stand for. I am not adequately represented by ANY public figure, ANY commentator, ANY intellectual. But I recognize that when enough people with enough of a sense of crisis seize a moment to make their anger visible, and to encourage each other, those public figures will be involved. They may be helpful catalysts by precipitating the public action; they may also be exploiters, trying to hijack popular sentiment for their own agendas. I appreciate the logistical help, and I reject any assertion on their part, or on glib observers' part, that these people speak for me. I speak for myself, but sometimes the only way I can speak is by being part of a mass action.
Of course I bear responsibility for gauging whether the critical mass of the other participants share a clear overlap with my beliefs, or nothing of value (to me) is communicated by my participation. But I am not responsible for checking whether everyone in the crowd with me is identical to me: Christian, pacifist, sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations but skeptical of their leadership, theologically conservative, politically progressive, vanilla heterosexual. Nor can I prevent fringe groups from piggybacking on the larger event. If the piggybackers threaten to take over, then I should leave. Otherwise, it is the mass message that counts.
The recent antiwar demonstrations I've personally attended have not in fact been dominated by outrageous radical-chic rhetoric, although the usual parade of constituencies have had their share of the microphones. When speakers do turn to tired left-wing clichés, the crowds chat among themselves or vote with their feet. As an evangelist, my biggest frustration not who is there, it is that so few evangelical Christians are visible among the demonstrators, witnessing enthusiastically for the Prince of Peace. I want to say to so many of the demonstrators, "Well, you're right, but do you know why?" Why don't more evangelists work this rich mission field?
Back at a large demonstration in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 2002, Reedwood Friends Church's peace banner waved among the many others in the huge crowd. As we turned one corner, I overheard one of the onlookers say, "Oh, good, the Quakers are here." Later, our banner-carrying group came on a scene where an evangelical Christian heckler was lambasting the demonstrators from his post on the sidewalk. I was very glad at that moment that we were showing a different side of the Gospel: good news, not bad news.
That sidewalk heckler was a Christian, as I am, but no commentator would have the right to associate me with everything he stood for, including an apparently uncritical and idolatrous patriotism. Equally, no commentators have the right to equate my antiwar sentiments with whatever flamboyant Maoist or pseudo-peacenik might have recently gotten under their skin.