Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.


Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Chicago, Illinois

There is something telling, I think, in the fact that my imaginations of marriage mostly preclude verbal language. In daydreams and also the night ones, the sort of intimate relationship I envision myself enjoying one day is itself a sanctuary from rhetoric, where there are no self-serving plays on another’s emotions, no departures from logic to serve dubious ends, nor any need for the dull recounting of a day’s tedium or recitation of irrelevant facts just to make the talky. The images involve a lot of looking and showing versus explaining, being with versus rushing out. In general, very slow and quiet, which in the matter at hand connote a sustained, disciplined patience and forgiveness.

These are visions — sustained visions — of the heaven I want in the midst of life. That they rely on a negative description without extensive positive content is not lost to me: they’re reactive. In this sense they’re expressive of my longing for a mutuality. This mutuality, in the first place, does not demand an explicit accounting of every thought and movement. In the second place, it does not exploit the intimacy in order to extract limited truths or oaths which satisfy a (needless to say irrational) suspicion that faithfulness can only operate through the media of contracts and total, involuntary disclosure. My longing to avoid untrusting relationships has definite root, and I need only divulge that the root touches more than one substratum of my experience in the world.

Of the positive aspect of my vision it might be enough to say I am talking about covenant. To contrast it with contract I quote H. Richard Niebuhr (the other Niebuhr), who in his article on “Covenant and American Democracy” defines covenant as “the binding together in one body politic of persons who assumed through unlimited promise responsibility to and for each other and for the common laws, under God.” In other words, a promise that parties make without definite term or end, through means of a thoroughgoing and — this is important — voluntary honesty. Whereas contracts suppose breach, the basis of covenant is trust. For those willing to both accept and provide trust, the covenantal relationship by its nature entails a “going forward” into whatever follows.

I don’t have the privilege of living in a covenantal society. The society into which I was born is one of contracts. In fact, it’s a society where regardless of whether these contracts are implied or explicit, optional or compulsory, they’re often broken. They’re easily broken. In my experience these things are commonplace: a voided warranty, a violated privacy policy. Further, the society I inhabit gives credence to forms of argumentation through which contractual breaches flourish, so as to almost render the original documents meaningless the moment they’re drawn up. In an environment that places no premium on accountability and fair dealing, one finds few venues where one may seek to represent oneself honestly and expect to be received in kind.

I am conscious of the connection between my society and my vision of a right relationship. For so many years of my still young life, I fought a cynicism that coaxed me toward willing the destruction of everything that exists on account of a culture that misrepresents, misconstrues, and mistrusts its members, as a rule, in its laws, courts, markets, media, education, and so on. By my own heart and the grace of God, I was not given to the violence that erupted in Littleton, Colorado, mindful as I was and remain that violence by all means affirms the offense and by no means precludes subsequent destruction. Whatever peace a person intends to achieve by violence becomes impossible through the enactment of violence. It’s a contradiction, through and through. Peace must be sought by peaceful means.

It occurs to me that I have been reckless in my own representations on this web site. Verbal violence remains by definition violence. A midnight visitation by the Spirit of means and ends prompted me to remove from this site an especially virulent treatment of a matter that likewise causes me great unrest. If I am going to work toward a greater good my criticism must conform to that end. Dr. King, I hear you loud and clear.

In closing I’ll note that I’m also aware how vulnerable I make myself in divulging my desires. In the event that you haven’t been paying attention: that is the point.