Perseverance of the Editors
It’s not easy stepping into the helm of this KtB-vessel that carries Killing the Buddha’s nineteen-year-old tradition. This ship has been steered by many esteemed voices in the world of writing about religion, from founders Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau to Nathan Schneider, Mary Valle, Meera Subramanian, Kaya Oakes, Quince Mountain, and Ashley Makar—and Brook Wilensky-Lanford most recently. Co-editor-in-chief Briallen Hopper and I join in now, wading into the water, jumping aboard, enjoying what’s been described by Bri as—I’m going to switch metaphors now—the “perseverance of the editors,” which is kind of like the perseverance of the saints for Calvinist Christians: once an editor at KtB, always an editor. I couldn’t be happier that these particular unrepentant editor-saints are still watching on, hoping for the best and wondering where Bri and I will steer this ship.
With any new set of editors comes the possibility of new editorial directions, and as a longtime reader of and writer for KtB, I want to offer some thoughts on KtB and what we like to publish. (Bri is currently focusing on the recent launch of her gorgeously written and well-reviewed book Hard to Love, but will chime in soon with her own editorial note. We might even take a stab at a joint note, aiming for editorial harmony, but in the meantime, a diversity of voices will suffice.)
I’ve always been startled by the variety of writing that appears between the digital “covers” of this magazine: features, criticism, commentary, fiction, and personal essays—but never anything so ordinary as all that for KtB. I never quite noticed where my essays landed, whether in dispatch (features), confession (first-person narrative and personal essays), or damNation (politics, of course), but looking back on it now, I see the quirkiness, creativity, and humor in those section headers.
Given where we’re at with the state of the nation, the world, and the planet, pieces in KtB have of late tended towards what very well could be called hellfire and damnation, both preaching its current existence and trying like hell to pave a way toward a better future. As I look through the past few years of essays, the picture I’m getting is that if we’re all headed to hell in a very fast-moving handbasket, at least we’re in it together (on a planet where, as our essays about the solar eclipse revealed, light is occasionally obscured by the moon’s ever-so-delicate placement between ourselves and the sun, and where our own foibles might make things darker yet). We’ve had more than a bit to say about #MeToo, about politics, about sex, and oh yes, about politics again, and my goodness, how much more could be said.
Just this past month, as you all recall from several very rapid news cycles ago, a group of Catholic high school students gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to protest abortion, when one of them got up close and smirking, or smiling, in the face of a Native Elder who was peacefully beating a drum as part of a separate Indigenous Peoples March. The male student smirked as the elder chanted, and the Internet, unsurprisingly, lit up with rage about these privileged white kids wearing red MAGA hats. The story became more complicated, as stories about religion tend to do; videos with a wider angle soon appeared online, and then we saw the Black Hebrew Israelites across the street, shouting in the direction of the white high school kids. The Native elder Nathan Phillips intervened with his drumming, attempting, as he told the press, to dispel the sense of violence hovering in the air.
Religion is messy (you don’t need me to tell you that), and in this one incident and the many layers of interpretation that followed, we saw a perfect storm of American religious messiness turned into a perfect picture of how quickly fear and vilification grip our nation. How can we listen more closely if there’s (as one of KtB’s taglines says) so much noise in democracy? KtB hasn’t run a piece on this particular moment, but if it’s the right fit, we’d be happy to see one.
February is Black History Month, and while Killing the Buddha has certainly featured voices of color and writing from many perspectives and backgrounds, we’ve never had writing about this particular theme-month; nor have we addressed Women’s History Month, which follows in March. I’d love to read about these months from a KtB perspective: what does it mean to celebrate? What could be said about religious overtones in these month-long, annual observances? Who gets to celebrate, and how? How can we—black, brown, or white, female, or male, genderqueer, and everyone in between—celebrate these months in a way that brings in and raises up?
KtB sometimes feels awkwardly Buddhist-Christian, from our Buddhist-inspired name to our Christian-themed section headers, but we want to think outside all of those boxes. For one, we’re neither a Buddhist magazine nor into killing. We welcome writing about Islam, about Latinx religions, about religious “nones” and Catholic nuns and the Catholic church and its current travails, about post-Christian spiritual-but-not-religious lives, about oppression, counter-oppression, and transformational justice work that seeks to center the margins, and so much more.
KtB’s non-profit organization goes by the moniker “Margins of Faith” (read about that here) and the margins are what we know, whether inside or outside that invisible line, scribbled back-and-forth all over it in heavy black ink, or decorated with a colorful collection of emoji-like hearts or frowning faces.
We try to bear witness to our many devout or daring taglines, from “the noise of democracy” to “cellophane-wrapped saviors” and “God with a grain of salt,” to “believer, beware” and “m’m m’m God.” Our taglines show there’s no one way to approach religion: we question old assumptions, think a little harder, and try to feel a little more deeply.
We could use a few new taglines. Will you write them with us? Send us your pitches, Buddha-killers (as writers for our site are colloquially known), and we look forward to hearing from you.
Emily Ruth Mace is co-editor-in-chief at KtB. She's a freelance editor, writer and religious studies alt-academic with an interest in religious liberalism and life at the borders of traditional religion and spirituality. She holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. In addition to KtB, her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Mama, Religion Dispatches, the Chronicle Vitae, and others. A one-time bicoastal resident of California and New England, she currently lives outside Chicago, and can be found online at emilyrmace.com and Tweeting occasionally at @lemilym.