Loving Voldemort and Donald Trump

Loving Voldemort and Donald Trump

I’ve been reading recently (read: obsessed with) the Harry Potter books. Remember those? I somehow missed them in their heyday, and as grad school is a pretty intense slog-through-the-real, I needed an alternate reality to inhabit now and again. Call it escapism, call it dissociation; I call it Pottermore.

Anyway, as part of my obsession, I’ve found my way to a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Run by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, two humanist theologians out of Harvard, they treat each chapter of each book in the septet (octet? is that new one canonical?) as if it were a sacred text; that is, they read closely, look for thematic threads and questions, and cultivate spiritual practices around the text. There have been episodes on hope, white privilege, friendship and rebellion, for example. You should totally check it out; I need someone to geek out with.

At the end of their first season, unpacking the the final chapter, the theme for the episode was love. They waxed on about Harry, Ron and Hermione’s love for one another and Harry’s mother’s love being a “protective force” against evil. All well and good. But when they engaged the moment (SPOILER ALERT) that Harry and Voldemort finally come face to face, the hosts offered a take on Voldemort that I quibbled (Quirrel’d?) with.

Quoting from the text, they talked as if Voldemort is unable to love; that he is so deeply evil that he can’t love, he can only control through fear.

I was a bit startled. The sure casting of Voldemort’s inability to love struck me as, well, unloving. And so I began to wonder: it may be that now, in his current, twisted form, he is unable to love, but was that always true? What if Voldemort’s lust for power and control doesn’t originate there; what if it comes out of something much deeper: shame.

And even deeper than that, what if Voldemort’s core shame, his ur-shame, that leads to scheming and power-grabbing, following of Dark Magic and ruling by fear and violence actually comes out of a place of desiring love?

What if, at his core, Voldemort desperately longs to love and to be loved?
If you can’t abide another slog into politics, feel free to simply ponder the previous thought experiment. But here’s the connection: I can’t help but wonder about Voldemort’s true “driving nature” without jumping to Trump (and not in an ironic, meme-creating sort of way). I really do wonder: as base and vile as the things Trump does and says, as violent and fear-mongering and un-Christian as he is, as much as I don’t want him to be elected to office, I have to wonder: what’s with this guy?

The narcissistic rage Trump routinely and unapologetically displays is no secret (some have even ventured to offer a potential diagnosis); but what’s hidden under all that? I have to believe–or at least entertain the thought–that he’s longing, desperately, for the one thing he can’t seem to give or get: real love and human connection.

And wedded to that drive, I think, must lurk shame. Shame at himself, his family, the life he’s led and, perhaps, the life he wanted but could never attain as recently pointed out by real-life Dumbledore Garrison Keillor. How do I know this? I don’t know, per se, but I have a sense from my own story of what it might be like to be this guy, just a little. I know the shame and sadness that lurks in my dark corners, and how my desperate longing for love and connection comes out: addiction, anger, spite. Maybe not to Trumpian levels, but Trump wasn’t always the way he is now: he’s grown into it, cultivated it, because it’s what he knew. It’s where he felt safest. It somehow kept him alive.

So I know a little of what it might be to be Donald Trump, as I’m willing to bet, we all do, if we look deep enough. And so as I wonder I find I have an small sliver of empathy I can look at when all feels lost.
But even more: as someone who’s trying to make sense of Jesus, I feel more than just curious. I actually feel compelled to follow this line of inquiry. If I’m meant to practice resurrection, I’m asked o to open my mind, loathe as I might be, to consider The Donald a child of God, too. To be absolutely clear: this doesn’t excuse his actions or choices; those are his and his alone and he should be held accountable. As much as I am called to consider Donald Trump in love, I am also considered to call upon justice. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are tightly bound. So I will resist and decry the violence he has done and the fear he mongers. But I can’t ignore that the “way he is” doesn’t come out of a vacuum; it comes out of a certain context, just like I do, bearing both darkness and light.

Because the alternative is Donald Trump just becomes another Voldemort: a cartoon villain I can root for, or even help, to be destroyed. He’s not real, he’s not worth being curious about. He stops being a human being, whose thriving requires giving and receiving love, and becomes just a phony reality TV host with bad hair, a twisted wizard living a half-life in someone else’s body.

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I might have sat for hours

Watching black bird swoop

And drop his prize, opening

The sealed shell on the stones.

Swoop and drop. Swoop and drop.

Click.   Click.

It is one small sound

of hope. Click.


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To all the women skinning

‘To all the women skinning’

To all the women skinning

the world not as in to make a glove

for a fist stripped down turned inside out

but hanging the faces we all have hidden

on display the blood be damned

because blood is no stranger


Praise for you are no second men

bones split out of a breathing body

your own selves only

nothing other determinedly weaving

fierce words out of the water your bodies

are made of all our bodies are


Made up in the secret soothing dark

of the hearth made to leave

and come calling into the light

a poem of beginning becoming

being and you there to sing

the song taken out of you and back again

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Ashes for the Journey (v)

Because someone once desire You,
I know that we, too, may desire You.
Even if we renounce all depths:
when gold lies deep in the mountains
and no one’s there to dig for it,
one day the river brings it to the surface,
reaching in stillness into the stones,
into their fullness.

Even when we don’t desire:
God ripens.

-RM Rilke, #16, Prayers of a Young Poet

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little pop-up container

little pop-up container

mind’s closed fist
opens slowly

origami bends sharp
at odd angles

not the swan
i wanted

fine china bowl smoothed
by a thousand thousand strokes

patient palms now cracked
and leaking sky

run all over this dirt
floor lick my toes blue

wait hovering eyes
over the emptiness of waves

find the faint line
of cranes

lips lift away
in surprise

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The lenses bend so gently
it’s like wearing water. Like when
you were a kid and your brother
put his face in the fountain
to hunt pennies and came up
shrieking stars! At parties
my friends are disappointed
they can still see each other
when they steal them off
my face, hoping, I guess,
for some kind of blurred magic.
Mostly, they pass unnoticed:
the faintly smudged
window I see through.
Only when the sun streaks
and stays or sharp neon
sizzles their rims
do I remember I am hiding
in plain sight.  At night
I set them aside to rest,
their arms akimbo
like mine.

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Eating Sandwiches

Eating Sandwiches

We eat ham sandwiches
in the lobby of the hotel
where he works.
He is soiled and dark
under the arms and eyes
from bending over soup
and chafing dishes all day.
The luxurious flesh shreds
willingly, as if in penance.
Iberico. The best.
We watch the revolving door
deliver the oblivious spectacle
of the world to our feet
like we were gods.
We don’t speak
of the waiting tests, the potential
for his blood to strangle him
from the inside someday soon.
I am not hungry
but swallow it all, unwilling
to waste a scrap. The sun cuts us
into soft ribbons, scattered
by the never-ceasing door.

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O Sleepers

O Sleepers

What beauty lurks, loosed
in the face of the sleepers

holed up on Elliot and Pine,
all but invisible

draped in denim and plastic
laid out on their sides

as we all do,
as I will tonight:

one leg gently bent
nestled on top of the other

curled in on themselves
sheltering in the doorway

of their dreams

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The rain, we all agreed, was torrential, Biblical, apocalyptic. And she with no god damn shoes. Homeless–tarped in a thin coat that glistened on the inside, sopped from head to foot–doesn’t do it justice. Her swamped life stowed in a handcart, lugged around behind her, looking for any sort of safe, dry place—and we said no. We with this big, empty building; this warm heart we profess to beat with the love of God’ we who gild the Samaritan in purest gold, we said no. We wrung our hands, dithering about paper cups for coffee, the smallest grace we could conceive of in a moment ruled by fear.

Out she went, wrestling all she carried with her. Again. She sheltered an extra stolen moment in our entryway, looking back over her shoulder. Evaluating. Wondering. Perhaps pitying, perhaps praying for these people who knew not what they were doing. Or fed one another the lie of it: the Body of Christ, broken for few; the Blood of Christ, poured out for some.

Or perhaps she spared one last look to shake the dust from her naked feet as we chased her silently back into the plague of rain

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