February 7, 1982, not long after 8PM, my dad told me “It’s time to go up.” I didn’t want to “go up,” that is, go to bed, but when you are in second grade and tomorrow morning is Monday, there’s not a lot of bartering power at your disposal. The television debut of Superman was on ABC, and right when my dad said, “it’s time to go up,” Lois Lane and Clark Kent were dragged into an alleyway by a mugger with a gun. In the background were stacks of newspaper, air-conditioning units mounted to windows, and fire-escape stairs sandwiched between old brick buildings decorated in graffiti. Lois Lane kicked the mugger, who fell backwards, and then pulled the trigger. Clark Kent, I mean Superman, grabbed the bullet out of the middle of the air, and feigned a fainting spell. “It’s time to go up,” my dad said, again with impatience.
To my mind, that was the first time I had ever seen an alleyway. I didn’t know that it was called an alleyway, of course. I only knew that an alleyway was a place between things, and dangerous people lived there. Historically, alleyways have been the place of trash cans, human waste, respite for barnyard animals making a trip to the city, a Petri dish for cholera, the storage area for coal, and the hidden corner for middle-of-the-day crime. To quote the modern-day philosophers, The Stray Cats, “I slink down the alleyway looking for a fight/ Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night.”
Where are these places now? These adult alleyways? The betwixt and between. Here I want to be careful. If I am not, I’ll start talking about the vagaries and uncertainties of life. The panoply of worries of middle America, the middle mind, the middle aged: meditational porn. But maybe that’s exactly where these dangerous alleyways are – the infantile, theatrical world where the shadows seem to us more real than anything else: The emotional, sentimental, inspirational messages that tell us we live in the greatest, richest, noblest country in the world where we will be pampered with deserved prosperity are beyond challenge, examination, or even self-awareness. Theologically speaking, the alleyways of history are the architectural eschatology in the economy of salvation.
Our country is divided. We’ve managed to elect Incompetence who campaigned by trolling the country with fear, lies, and hatred. And if we discount Russia for a moment, it was the white, Christian community that put him in office. What is going on in our national community is grotesque, disgusting, and totally our fault. We are living in the alleyway of our own bad decisions. And it is in this in between place that we can no longer tell the truth; we can no longer tell what is true, and we can no longer speak the truth.
Our communities look for the superhero to swoop in and save the day. But instead of seeing competence, education, and experience as a solid curriculum vitae, we grasped at the loud, vulgar, the glittered celebrity. The worst part of all is that we can’t even become disillusioned until we first admit that we’ve been living in an illusion. We’ve participated in the lie.
But there is good news.
Alleyways are just in-between places. They don’t go on forever. Someone will show us the light, Socrates, explained in his parable of the cave. “As for the man who tried to [show them the light] and lead them upward, if they could somehow lay their hands on him and kill him, they would do so.” And so they killed Socrates. Jesus said, “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? Do you not remember?” And so they killed Jesus. It is time for a good public killing again. Our eyes need to be opened to just how brutal and unloving we have become. We need a good murder to rip away the bandages from our eyes. But make no mistake about it, this metaphorical killing I’m talking about, that’s us. We are the unjust one. We are the community of violence. We are the mugger in the alleyway. Our savior, our children, the least, the lost, the ones beaten up, kicked in the gut, and mugged in the alleyway, they are the victims of this hallucination we can’t seem to break free of.
“It is time to go up,” my dad said.