(My) Fog of War: Oral Surgery, The Hampton Ministers' Conference and Our Proposed Military Strike Against Syria by Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
(My) Fog of War:
The Hampton Ministers’ Conference
Our Proposed Military Strike Against Syria
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
All things considered, last week was the kind of week that made me grateful for surgery.
I say this because having two dental extractions on opposite sides of my mouth, recovering from anesthesia, surviving on soups and varied gruels, balancing pain meds and their subsequent dream-induced state kept me away from cable news…at least for a little while.
Last Tuesday afternoon---before Wednesday morning’s surgery---I cleaned my house and prepared meals for my family pre-emptively---so they would have provisions during my convalescence.
During the flurry of housework, I listened for hours as Secretary of State John Kerry made the case for a military strike against Syria. And it all made me BEGIN TO LOOK FORWARD TO ANESTHESIA---despite the fact that I was terrified about undergoing anesthesia the next morning. Sometimes, though, American politics makes one long for the opportunity to disappear, check out, lose consciousness.
Before my cleaning spree Tuesday morning, I’d also received a box of DVDs from the Hampton Ministers' Conference that I’d ordered nearly a month earlier but had been delayed due to a computer glitch. I haven’t been able to attend the annual conference at Hampton University for several years, but value their DVD archive making lectures available to the public. So I splurged last month and purchased a few choice lectures from several ministers I admire.
Consequently, I took my pre-surgery DVD shipment as a sign from God that I would need them to get through the surgery…and more importantly the run-up to U.S. military intervention in Syria. But I had no time to review them: sheets had to be changed, dinner had to be finished, baby had to be picked up and Mama was to arrive in less than ninety minutes.
My mother joined me for a few days of post-surgery care and help with our toddler. However SHE wouldn’t tolerate ANY news she perceived as “beating up on the President”. So I knew my post-surgery access to cable news would be limited.
Wednesday morning came, the surgery went off without a hitch and I returned home with gauzy recognition of my surroundings. I cannot confirm or deny my post-surgery mental state, but was told by Mama and my husband that the anesthesia made me so emotional that I climbed into bed, continuously babbled gibberish which devolved into weeping bitterly to come wailing for Mama to come. So---based on that display---I had no chance of ever controlling the remote during her visit.
Consequently, the remainder of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, my contact with the outside world consisted of reruns of "Gunsmoke", "Project Runway" and varied programming on the OWN network. Clearly, all of THIS programming mixed with painkillers kept me sedated---if not a slightly confused---and uncharacteristically calm.
Secretly through, through the haze of pharmaceutical and cable TV numbing agents, I wondered all week about the war. When outside of Mama’s earshot, I would sneak-whisper to my husband through post-surgery clenched jaws:
ANOTHER military strike?
ANOTHER phoned-in war?
ANOTHER US intervention in the Middle East?
ANOTHER war based on “classified information”
that cannot be shared with the American public
who are none-the-less expected to support this decisions whole-heartedly?
Ok, that last one was a little long and I had to lay down after all that.
But I STILL wondered:
Can we---as a nation---REALLY be this dim in our thinking?
Can we not figure out how to DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN ENACT STATE-SPONSORED SLAUGHTER TO GET THE POINT ACROSS THE POINT THAT WE DON’T SUPPORT OTHER NATION’S STATE-SPONSORED SLAUGHTER?
So by week’s end, my emotions swept back and forth from pondering Syria to deciding which soupy, tomato-ey concoction I’d have for the next meal.
By the time Saturday morning rolled around, Mama had departed, I’d stopped using the pain meds as frequently and I could finally wield the remote. So, of course I went too far, did too much right off the bat and I binged on two hours of Melissa Harris Perry’s Saturday show.
Despite Perry’s thoughtful coverage of the issue, my questions remained unanswered:
How will we pay for this?
Is Guantanamo still open? If so, whyyyyyy?
Why can our elected officials come together to discuss the road to war, but can’t convene to handle our domestic issues?
Why does this feel like Iraq 3.0---despite the fact that they keep telling us it’s not?
Why does this feel like a global pissing contest between the MALE leaders of the planet claiming to “be doing this for the women and children of Syria”?
And WHY does voting matter if elected officials will do what they want to do ANYHOW?
Consequently, after the MHP show and two more hours of Bombapalooza with Alex Witt, I was completely toxic with military strike talk. By 1pm, was edgy, anxious and unsuccessfully chasing my toddler trying to change her tomato soup-covered shirt.
Fortunately, before despair engulfed me completely, I remembered that box I received earlier in the week. It was time to break into that box of Hampton DVDs and see what “thus sayeth the Lord”. SURELY God has something to say about military strikes---though I didn’t know exactly which DVD would do the trick.
The DVD I selected featured Dr. Gina Stewart’s presentation on June 7, 2011 at the Hampton Ministers’ Conference themed “Building A Prophetic Community”. Here, Dr. Stewart examines Exodus 14 and how one navigates freedom and the threat of war and re-capture for post-liberation people.
Her exploration is provocative and sustaining on many levels, but what arrested my attention as it applied to Syria was the following statement:
“Every now and then, God will orchestrate some conflicts between you and your enemies---not so that you can be embarrassed---but so that GOD’S GLORY can be displayed.”
She also continued in another passage stating that:
“The problem with the Israelites is that they didn’t view the crisis as a theological problem, but as a crisis of political leadership.”
And for the first time in this week, it was as if a fever broke. I finally felt tethered to something deeper and more probing than the typical media framework offered on matters of state. This talk---delivered in 2011---was a world away from this current global struggle, but it gave me hope that: "God is still present even when the enemy is behind you, the Red Sea is in front of you…and you don’t know how to swim” according to Stewart.
As an anti-gun violence activist,
GOD KNOWS I am tired of war.
GOD KNOWS I am tired of shooting rampages.
GOD KNOWS I am tired of global terror and armed violence at home and abroad…
…and sickened by what MEN in particular and the states (or factions) they “lead” do around the world in the name of governance and resistance.
So, I too believe that this Syrian crisis is a theological problem and it begs some difficult questions---particularly for folks of all faith traditions seeking liberation from institutional oppression and armed conflict:
Is WAR the only path to peace?
Can MEN (meaning the male species in particular) broker peace on this planet?
What consequences are there for governments who go against its’ people’s wishes?
How do people of conscience continue to stand (up) for peace in when war and its weapons are always the answer?
The term “fog of war” typically refers to “confusion caused by the chaos of war or battle” or “uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations”.
As I transition from the fog of surgery to the fog of war emanating from this Syria crisis, I am preparing myself to move into the difficult, confusing work of answering some of my own questions as God moves with us…even into yet another armed conflict in the Middle East.
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) Outreach Coordinator for Central Illinois. She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago and the convening playwright of The GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life. For more information:
Why Yeye (Celebrating The Lives of Africana Women & Girls) Mattered!
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
As a lover of dance and movement with historically temperamental knees and ankles
Constantly juggling the work with an active toddler
And wife to a busy campus administrator
I had no REAL time to participate in “Yeye”
But wanted to support a sister-colleague as she had supported me in my own anti- gun violence efforts.
Ironically, what was meant to support her actually supported me.
From the moment I began attending rehearsal, I was reminded of the daily bondage we carry in too many contexts.
Participating in Yeye allowed me to reconnect with other selves
A younger self
A more African self
A more feminine self
A self beyond the tight rope of White supremacy and patriarchy masquerading as good governance
A post-childbirth self
A mothering self
An intergenerational self
A physical self
A rhythmic self
Surrounded by women
Senior and junior to me who were all teaching me
Via their commitment
Via their artistry
Via their sacrifice
To support each other’s contributions to the project
In this context, process was as powerful as the outcome
Sitting on the floor off to the side
Watching Dr. Amira and her daughters dance
Or watching my own daughter drawn to instruments and music-making
Or listening to the words of women impacted by gun violence
Or rising to offer my own support musically, vocally, via shekere or a short dance solo at the end
Transported me to earlier experiences of work, collaboration and celebration with women
Going to the mosque with old Yemeni women to pray, drink tea, do henna and chew qa’at in Sana’a
Eating couscous with Moroccan women who welcomed me into their homes when I was a student in France
Sitting outside with women in Kankan (Upper Guinea/West Africa) preparing rice and leaf sauce for an evening meal
Working with elder women in my mother’s church on Chicago’s South Side laboring for days to prepare lamb, herbs, washing linen and fine china and cleaning the church in preparation for Holy Week and the Seder meal.
Yeye reminded me of women coming together and passing on traditions to the next generation
In this case the dance, spoken word and music offered was a valuable cycle of sharing, receiving feedback, learning how to become part of a whole ensemble, returning home to process/ reflect /prepare for the next rehearsal…and repeat the cycle all over again
Babies, tweens, teens, young adults, current and future mothers/teachers, middle mothers, mature mothers
giving voice to our concerns about gun violence
offering movement and song to our resistance
And it required insistence on staying connected to older memories, older rhythms…older than the Great Migration…older than Jim Crow...older than slavery, older than America…
In a society dependent on forgetting…and OUR forgetting in particular
On consumer-driven “progress”
On African American narratives rooted in self-hatred, consumerism, empty politics, and chronic geographic instability
On preferring a citizenry pre-occupied with pop culture while ignoring the drum beat of war, surveillance and armed annihilation block by block
The Yeye experience was about
listening to works, rhythms, breaks,
listening to cues from fellows
letting you know it was your time, your turn to share your gift
And---more than anything ---made us reflect OUT LOUD on why it is that we suffer the unspeakable on a constant basis
So, in a week shrouded by Egypt in free fall, righting the wrongs of stop and frisk, giving “The Butler” his due, Presidential rodeo clowns, continued shootings and kidnappings around the nation
There could have been no more powerful act that to
share in this journey from Africa to America with my sisters and daughters and mothers
We need movement.
We need sweat.
We need music and laughter.
We need our babies to run, laugh, dance, disrupt and join in as they find their own ways within the Yeye experience
Within the safety of women keeping an eye on them
Sharing a snack with them
Being tolerant of them crying, hollering, picking up instruments themselves
And we need husbands willing to keep those children at home when necessary so that their mothers can create art that matters
We need spaces to sit with our own heartbeats and drumbeats
without fear of being invaded, demoralized, raped, ripped from one another…
…Or forced to destroy one another while other look on…
And we thank Mother Dr. Amira Davis
For keeping the flame lit.
SO MUCH has been taken from us,
so much has been stripped from us
in the hopes of being modern,
successful, acceptable, assimilated American people.
The Yeye experience was a PROFOUND reminder that Africana women
are more than consumers
are than diversity hires
are more than hated vixens in reality-tvia
more than bodies to assault, defame, malign
more than incarcerated subjects of the state
more than disheartening statistics
more than targets and pawns
more than an American problem.
Yeye reminds that WE matter.
Our stories matter.
Our lives matter.
Our experiences matter.
And if no one else believes that we matter,
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Founder of Samaritan Road Productions is the author of the SRP blog "Writing On The Go"