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Why Pay Attention to the January 6 Hearings?

Some folks are fascinated by the unfolding narrative of the January 6th hearings, but many are simply tuning out, feeling it is just more “politics as usual.” This week on the Good Faith podcast, David French and I discuss why we should be paying attention to these hearings. We explore some of the underlying stories around the key players involved and how those stories not only impact how we think of these people, but perhaps even how we think of ourselves.

In this episode, we answer the following questions:

  • Should we watch the January 6th hearings with as much fervor as the NBA Finals?
  • Are the hearings just “just politics as usual,” or could they actually change the culture?
  • How do stories – like the NBA finals and “Lord of the Rings” – shape us?
  • How should we perceive people – with whom we disagree – when they perform acts of courage?
  • How should Christians perceive “power” and “winning?”
  • What does the Capitol Hill insurrection say about institutions?
  • How do you really pronounce “internecine”?
  • How should you approach the topic of January 6th with humility?

In the excerpt below, David and I discuss the Capitol Hill riots in the context of the NBA Finals and “Lord of the Rings:”

CURTIS: Part of the emotional attachment I have to watching a story like Klay Thompson: here’s a guy who suffered devastating injuries, [Editor’s note: Thompson had two major leg surgeries that prohibited two consecutive full seasons of play.] He longed to get back out on the court for himself, but also to be back with his brothers-in-arms.  After almost three years of struggle, of perseverance, and to see him out there performing at the highest level, we’re cheering him on.  There’s something virtuous there. Deep down, that’s why we’re drawn to sports and sports narratives. Now, of course, there’s some oversimplification going on, these sports heroes are complex characters.  (It would be a mistake to reduce them solely to perfect paragons of virtue.) But it doesn’t take away from the fact that they do embody some virtue. 

I want to invite us to apply that same lens to January 6th, because it’s something of a morality play playing out before us.  Regardless of whether or not it changes a political outcome – either long term or short term – it has the power to change us. It has the power for us to actually recognize, and perhaps even cultivate certain important virtues for ourselves… especially for how we engage in institutions and engage in politics. David, what do you think about that lens? 

DAVID: I think that’s important. And, just to echo your statement about the power of story, stories have been incredibly powerful throughout my life in defining who I am. I’ll just give you one somewhat corny example. Most listeners would know that I love “The Lord of the Rings,” both the books and the Peter Jackson adaptation (not of “The Hobbit”).  I have a replica of Aragorn’s sword in “Return of the King” Anduril, reforged — of course — of Narsil. 

But in that story, there’s this really interesting moment, this contrast between two brothers, Boromir and Faramir. Boromir ultimately grasps for the ring and power… and it leads to his demise. 

And Faramir, who has the ring of power essentially in his grasp, declines. 

There’s this really incredible moment in the movies that makes Faramir’s internal dialogue audible. He says to himself, “Time for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to demonstrate his quality.” It wasn’t in the big moment of the cavalry charge against the orcs, but it was in this really small moment, this pivotal small moment, where he had the ability to just freely take what was available to him. I think about that often in these moments in my life that are quiet and hidden, and nobody knows about. I think about that phrase, “time to demonstrate your quality.” 

And that’s a part of a story, and it makes a difference in people’s lives. There are so many layers here to this January 6th story, Curtis. Some of it’s about the folks who were in January 6th, but it’s also about us. How do we view people who made what we believe to be a lot of bad and enabling decisions for a long time… who, when the chips were down (and their lives were in danger), made a right decision?

Here’s why I ask. I’ve seen something that troubles me: when people who’ve made a right decision (when their lives were under threat, when there was an enormous pressure to make the wrong decision) who risked themselves to make a right decision, but the lens through which people view them is still dominated by all of the wrong decisions they made before.  “Sure, Mike Pence might have saved the American Republic on January 6th,” they might say, “but he was an enabler for four years before then, so I’m not gonna have any particular regard for this man still, even though I might be kind of grateful for what he did.” 

I will confess I had a lot of very profoundly negative feelings for Mike Prince for a long time. I don’t now. I’m not going say they’re gone, I’m not going to say I don’t disagree with the way he acted for four years, but there’s something in my attitude towards him that just fundamentally changed… especially as I learned more about the personal risks he took… about the way in which he refused to get in a secret service car to leave, because he would not be seen leaving the Capitol. When I learned about the campaign to get him to relent, and then when I learned about what he could have done, according to the theory of the Eastman memos, I have to admit my heart has softened towards him considerably. 

So I would just wonder where are you on this? And where do you think we should be on this? 

CURTIS: That’s a great, great question. I’m like you, I have suffered the last four years of Pence’s Vice Presidency in deep frustration. Here is this man who claims to have been deeply motivated by, by Christ, by biblical values, and yet on so many turns just seems like he’s caving in to pressure, caving into the desire to remain in power, to remain close to power. I was so deeply frustrated. I’m with you, though.  My heart has also softened from hearing the story about what happened. And I think this gets to why paying attention to public narratives is so critical: the “nature of story” is that it shows change. It shows actual people and character, in all directions, for good and for ill. 

[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]

HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French

PRODUCER: Kris Carter

The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.

Image Caption: Brett Davis on Flickr, “Capitol Breach 2”

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