Like Bauman’s Collateral Damage, I’m going to take “a series of tributaries” that express some places where his book exposed me
I’ll be honest; I did not want to read this book. Just looking at the title and subtitle, I knew I would be overwhelmed by the problems of society. There seems to be no answer to social inequality, much less the reality and inevitability of globalization. What can be done, especially when I have a week to read and prepare a significant thought about it? All I know is helplessness and sadness.
When I’m in that position, I retreat rather than engage. Particularly when I can be a recluse in the comfort of my middle to upper class environment, nearly forgetting that inequities exist. While certainly it is easier for me to become an ostrich, putting my head in the sand, with big issues, that’s not the case when it’s a close friend.
I discovered something about myself this last month when it comes to the combination of helplessness and sadness. Three weeks ago, a friend indicated that she wanted to commit suicide. With folks rallying around her in her admission, she had the resources to make good choices. However, ultimately, it was a choice she would make, no one else could do so. For me, it was a classic situation of extreme helplessness and sadness.
In conversation with my spiritual director about my longing for healing, she asked me to physically sit with my helplessness and sadness. It started in my stomach, unable to move upwards or downwards, stuck and heavy. I wanted to ignore it, simply forget that I was in pain. There was nothing I could do for my pain nor my friend in that moment, so why dwell on it, right? But something occurred with sitting in that horribly awkward place. I spoke out, without an intent to do so, “I’m sorry.” Intellectually I knew there was nothing I could do for my friend, but I realized in that moment, that all I had to offer was “But I’m with you.”
Perhaps it’s not so different with Bauman’s offering – could I not at least sit with these frustrations a little bit longer, offering myself as being present to the pain of the suffering, with a simple, “I’m in it with you, somehow.”
I reflect on the “stranger who is present, yet unfamiliar” (described in Modernity and Ambivalence.). Resonating now rather than resisting Bauman’s words, I recognize a “song” that he sings. Someone once told me that every person – particularly authors, songwriters, poets – have one main theme in life that he/she keeps revisiting but in different expressions. Admittedly needing much more study of Zygmunt Bauman, I would say a significant part of his song is the desire to welcome the stranger, those who are on the margins, particularly the immigrant and poor.
His term/title Collateral Damage references those who are impacted by the globalization, the consumerism, and lack of social integration of a modern “liquid” society. The “stranger” of society, those who are poor, marginalized, even invisible, becomes intriguing at first, even used as justification for certain actions, but then becomes an object of fear. Certainly impacted by his experiences of the Holocaust, even his ouster from the Communist party in Poland, Bauman knows first hand what it means to be part of the group that is “cleansed” as undesirable.
In my colleague’s ESL class yesterday, filled mostly with Latino moms, they were split into two groups. One group described the character of a woman who was wearing a hijab from a picture. The other group had to do the same type of observation of a photo with a woman of long hair, fair skin, and about 30. Then the two groups switched. While I don’t know exactly what they described, I do know their reaction surprised them. After a minute or so, they recognized that it was the same woman. How different their descriptions were simply because the woman in the hijab was a “stranger” to them. She wanted them to recognize how we view someone different than us. Similarly, Bauman asks the question, “How are we treating one another in our perception of the stranger?”
Bauman’s words speak to what we, the church, might offer to a “liquid modernity,” Bauman’s term to replace post-modernity. Rather than uncertainty, ambivalence, and loss of meaningful exchanges, could not the church offer a waystation, or as Bauman describes without intending it to be so – a caravanseral (a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from a day’s journey – along the trade route)? At this caravanseral, the goal would be to find a destination, not only a home in the life with Jesus Christ, but an expression of that life through community that offers the kinds of connections addressing needs of the marginalized, invisible, and supposedly insignificant “collateral.”
Reading about Vivienne on a French TV station in the 1980s, I’m reminded of our reality shows ubiquitous on every subject. It all started with her confession of what her sex life is like with her husband (Chapter 6: “Privacy, Secrecy, Intimacy, Human Bond – and Other Collateral Casualties of Liquid Modernity”) Look where we are today: exposure yet no depth. As a confessional society, we lost the intimacy that can hold couples, groups, families together. Where is the line between the private and the public? Could the church step in as one who demonstrates the value of transparency within community and meaningful exchanges?We must find another way to operate in this world, acknowledging the painful state of inequality, creating places of connection with kindness, and offer a new identity based on the solidarity of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age (Cambridge, UK.: Polity, 2011), 8.
 Enrico Sambenini “Liquid Life,” Cargo Collective (blog), February 11, 2015, accessed February 12, 2015, http://cargocollective.com/enricosambenini/LIQUID-LIFE.