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Learning From Our Racist History

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LEARNING FROM OUR RACIST HISTORY

If we make it through our trumpian crisis without a civil war or a nuclear blowout, perhaps we will learn from this mess.

On a good day, I have a half-written blog in my head about how we’re going to recognize and repent of what we’ve become; we’re going to see where greed and selfishness have brought us; we’re going to reign in corporate power and learn to care for and lift up our poor; we’re going to treasure this beautiful planet and begin to accept and even embrace our differences, etc., etc., etc.

Today is not a good day, though, so I can’t write about that. I am too sad. The man-child’s behavior since the racist rally and murder in Charlottesville has shocked and shaken me, which is, in itself, shocking. How can I still be shocked?

I suppose it’s just the degree of ugliness that flattens me. I honestly did not know that a human being could get like that. If he was a main character in a novel, you would put down the book halfway through because it wouldn’t be believable.

“Very Fine” Neo-Nazis

I won’t dwell on his remarks yesterday calling neo-nazis “very fine people” and comparing our nation’s founder George Washington to confederate generals who committed treason and waged war on the United States. You probably saw that highly alarming press conference.

 

The worst of that spectacle was the backstory, which I also won’t dwell on because it’s all over the news. Basically, after not clearly denouncing the neo-nazis and white supremacists on Sunday, his advisors all but forced him to do so on Monday. But then he just couldn’t stand not getting his way so he reneged on the renunciation and dug deeper into his racist trench on Tuesday while his aides tried to melt through the floor.

His ego is so twisted and poisonous that even with his polling numbers and political career at stake (not to mention our country’s stability), he had to spew that, that . . .  whatever it was he spewed yesterday. Which does not bode well for the moment when the Vice President is telling him not to push the nuclear button. “Don’t tell me what to do!!” the man-child will wail.

Remembering — Not Honoring — the Confederacy

Anyway, my purpose for this blog today is not to dump more negativity into the world, although I will confess that I succumb to that temptation far too often. Writing is therapy for me, and I’m afraid I must vent and rage and grieve for my country from time to time. 

Today though, I want to make a constructive suggestion. When I was in Budapest some years ago, I visited a statuary park where they had moved all of the old statues of Marx, Lenin, and other Communist leaders — sort of an outdoor museum. It is a haunting place.

Photo attribution Yelkrokoyade

I think we should do something similar with all these confederate statues that are coming down one way or another. While it’s tempting to destroy them, we should not erase our history but rather learn from it. There’s a reason they did not tear down Auschwitz.

Here’s a link to a short and powerful video about a slavery museum in Louisiana that sounds like a great place to process some of our collective pain and shame. I’ll bet they would take a few statues.

I Want To Write About Charlottesville

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I want to write about Charlottesville. About watching my Twitter feed in horror as scene after scene scrolled by — swastikas, confederate flags, t-shirts emblazoned with Hitler slogans, torches of hate surrounding a church full of peaceful praying people, a black boy being beaten with poles, and finally the car — the car crashing into living, breathing, beautiful human beings.

I want to say Heather Heyer’s name.

But I can’t seem to gather the words.

I want to write about how I wonder if even just a few trump voters are thinking, “Oops.”

If they might see the teensiest connection between the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history and the election of a man who encouraged his supporters to commit violence and pledged to pay their legal bills, expressed regret that he couldn’t punch a protester in the face, yearned for the good old days when people were carried out on stretchers, and just the other day advised the police to rough up people in their custody.

But there simply aren’t words.

I want to write about the nameless fear and deep sickness and vast emptiness that must be devouring those raging white men who chant “We will not be replaced.” What is that? Whatever happens with healthcare, can we at least get these people some therapy?

I want to write about how I smirked at the images of the little boys with their tiki-torches and the fact that the Tiki-Torch company actually had to disavow nazism — I mean, it’s all so ridiculous — but then I remembered how much evil a bunch of “boys” with a simple loop of rope can do.

There aren’t words.

I want to write about the feeling of solidarity at the rally yesterday, thousands and thousands of us marching purposefully, signs aloft, our chants booming off the hulking federal buildings that line the roads in the nation’s capitol and then rising to a thunderous crescendo of “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME” as we passed the trump hotel.

And my further feelings of love and gratitude when I got home and found dozens of Twitter photos of demonstrations and vigils in Philly, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta, Durham, Vancouver . . . and virtually all of my Facebook friends expressing grief, determination, love, and commitment to fighting for justice in whatever ways they can.

My friends didn’t post pictures of their cats and appetizers this weekend.

But all of these feelings are too much. There aren’t the words.

So although I want to write about Charlottesville but am unable, I will instead leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, which I must believe or I would perish.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Coming to Terms with the Hate

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COMING TO TERMS WITH THE HATE

The pickup tailgates me for a minute, then swerves into the left lane and pulls alongside my car. A big hairy arm emerges, fat middle finger extended like a pale sausage. I am not alarmed, not even surprised. In the time of trump, anything can and does happen.

It’s hard to know which bumper sticker set him off. Beauty will save the world? Love the Creator, care for creation? God is not a Republican? Most likely, Obama 2012. That black man has more dignity and grace in his pinky finger than both of those white guys in the pickup put together. They know this and they hate it. So much resentment and hatred.

Am I making assumptions about the guy with the fat middle finger and his buddy? Stereotyping? You bet.

Abuse as Patriotism

Online I’ve been called a witch, a moron, a fat hag, and of course a snowflake. The latter is my favorite “insult,” a very common one on Twitter, meaning weak and prone to melting into tears. Personally, I love being likened to a sparkling crystal that dances and plays in the air before settling in place among other snowflakes which, in community and over time, can shut down a city and stop the federal government in its tracks.

My least favorite insult is “f%$king libtard,” not because it hurts my feelings, but because it flaunts “political incorrectness” by playing off a long-abandoned, derogatory term for people with mental impairments. The guy with the sausage finger and his ilk are egged on by their favorite president, who said:

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

So although I’ve been driving around w/ liberal bumper stickers on my car for decades and haven’t experienced anything like this before, I’m not surprised at the random rage. Things are different now. President Tweet has purposefully brought out the very worst in this country. I don’t have to tell you that.

I’ve got a list of books and articles theorizing about who these trump people are, and why they seem incapable of recognizing how sick he is or how he is manipulating them. It’s textbook demagoguery. But I don’t need to read about it, I know in my gut what’s going on.

Spiritual Sickness

It seems clear to me that America is suffering from a deep spiritual sickness. When you live in a society that worships ego and competition and glorifies wealth, weaponry, and war, you’re bound to run into serious problems eventually. Especially when so many “religious” people buy into this lust for power and wealth. I know one Christian guy who says that while we should have compassion, we have to be pragmatic about it. Where in the Bible did Jesus say that?? I don’t even want to hear his views on North Korea. Bombs away, no doubt.

For a time, after the shock and surprise of all the hate wore off and I realized it was here to stay — being stoked daily by abusive, threatening tweets from the President of the United States — I was just sad. Deeply sad.

Now, even the sadness is beginning to wear off. I wouldn’t say I have accepted this as “the new norm” —we must never, ever accept this behavior or view it as anything but the pathological brokenness that it is. But I’m learning to live with the hatred without letting it consume me.

Survival

I pray that our country’s institutions and the world can withstand what looks more and more like an actual take-over of our democracy by an authoritarian demagogue. I will march, write, call, organize, and raise holy hell. But I am also choosing to go on with my life, enjoying my garden, looking for the good in people, and reading and writing healing words.

So some big hairy white guy gave me the finger. That’s his problem; it doesn’t need to affect me. Easy for me to say, white snowflake that I am. I hate to think what might have happened had there been more melanin in my skin or had I been wearing a burka.

Praying.

Saturation

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SATURATION

Nine hours of interstate and my car sloshes into the two muddy ruts that pass for a driveway. I step out into the rain expecting the usual scent of pine, but am instead blessed by a breeze saturated with lilac and lily of the valley.

I am early this year — I’ve never seen the lilacs bloom; never seen the lily fronds petaled with fallen apple and quince blossoms.

Birdbath with apple blossoms

It must have been raining for days. The bushes and trees hang heavily, and the ground is soggy beneath my bare feet as I traipse back and forth, back and forth through the wet grass, blue jeans rolled to my knees, carrying my cats, my books, my cooler, my clothes.

Unpacked, I return to the car and head to the spring in the glistening dusk. I drive slowly, windows open, and breathe.

And breathe.

Every small hollow is full of water and bursting with song. I’ve never heard the spring peepers here, either, and I swerve drunkenly to miss the scores of sex-crazed frogs leaping wildly across the road.

Across from the spring, bits of mist drift down the dark mountain and promise a heavy morning fog. Below, the Ashuelot River dances giddily along its banks dressed in decorative white foam, as if rushing to a rendezvous downstream.

I fill my bottles with fresh water and nature fills my soul with springtime scents and songs.

I am here.

 

 

Mr. Trump’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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I have to say, I like it when President Tweet has a very bad day. I love my country, I care deeply about justice, and I treasure this beleaguered planet; so when the man-child is pouting, I’m feeling upbeat. I know that probably doesn’t make any sense, because when he’s grumpy, he’s likely to lash out and do something stupid like fire one of our last remaining respectable public servants or drop a bomb or something.

Still, I’m as petty as the next pastor.

You know, it’s a damn good thing I’m serving on the pastoral team at my church right now because I’m forced to maintain some kind of online decorum, such as it is. Otherwise, I might stoop to the level of the new White House Director of Communications. Well, OK, I couldn’t be that despicable if I tried.

Actually, this fine fellow, Don Vito Corleone, likely provided President Tweet with his only smiles yesterday when he called up and spewed physical threats and utterly crass sexual obscenities about several of his colleagues at the White House. Oh, you missed that? It’s a must read for any American (adults only).

This guy — actual name Anthony Scaramucci, and not technically a mafia Don that we know of — is our president’s new best friend. He makes the president’s pu#$&y grabbing look like a game of Tiddlywinks.

Anyway, the man-child’s giggles after Scaramucci’s bit of fun didn’t last long.

Sorry Boy Scouts

Imagine his chagrin when the Boy Scouts of America found it necessary to apologize for the presidential (not) speech given at their annual jamboree. And he’d thought it was such a good speech — he even got the kids to boo our last president! While President Tweet’s mental illness clearly prevents him from experiencing shame, at least the Boy Scout’s official apology shamed everyone else involved, so that’s good.

But Boy Scouts, soy sprouts, right? What difference do they make to a big, important boy who grew up to be President of the United States? Not much. However, the next Big Boys to fire a salvo yesterday carry more than toy guns, and their weapons are loaded with real bullets.

Big Boys with Real Guns

The Joint Chiefs of Staff — the freaking military Joint Chiefs  — publicly blew off their Commander in Chief’s tweeted order to discriminate against transgender troops. They basically said, we aren’t going to do anything until he gets his act together. Period. Oh, and they also included a pretty direct hit on their Commander: “In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.”

Ouch.

Senate Charade

But the biggest ouch came very late in the day, actually in the wee hours of this morning when the courageous GOP was trying to cram through a “healthcare” bill that they crafted over lunch and released at 10 p.m., just hours before the vote. You know, the one that Senator Lindsey Graham called a “fraud” and “a disgrace” and then voted for anyway? That one.

Mind you, I used to work in politics. I’ve seen it all when it comes to dirty politics. I saw a senator trade his vote to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a tennis game bet. No lie.

Worth a tennis bet, right?

Nevertheless, I have never seen anything as shameful as what I witnessed last night, watching Republican senators refuse to allow the Democrats to make comments or even ask questions on the bill they had just received, a life and death measure affecting every American. No hearings, no markups of legislation, no public input, no expert witnesses, no rule of law.

Late Night Miracle

I stayed up watching the vote on CNN, cheering on the Democrats who kept trying to interrupt the GOP monologue, and praying very hard that in some Republican office, some Senator was going to be smitten by an attack of conscience, common sense, and/or patriotism and decide to vote against the sham.

Two brave GOP women senators –Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — had put up with haranguing from their male colleagues all week, yet continued in their principled stand against the bill. But with the Vice President pacing the Senate floor waiting to break a tie vote, the women would not be enough.

That wasn’t the only thing Pence was there to break. In a back room, he twisted Senator John McCain’s bad arm (OK, OK, hyperbole) for twenty minutes before the vote, but the old POW had seen far worse in Vietnam.

McCain can recall when the Senate used to be “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” and with nothing to lose as he heads into brain cancer treatment, McCain just said no.

No.

And with that, millions of Americans (myself included) breathed easier, knowing that they will have healthcare a while longer. And the man-child’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day got markedly worse.

A bad day for President Tweet is a good day for most of us

Trump’s Discrimination Against Transgender Americans

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I wanted to write about tea — it’s the word prompt of the day, and a subject about which I am very passionate. Then the latest presidential tweet was vomited forth, and I must instead write about a different type of T.

The T in LGBTQ.

I have 4 transgender friends that I know of: one I’ve known since he was a child, one I worked with for more than a decade, one’s a neighbor, and one’s a new friend from Wild Goose Festival.

My heart is just breaking for them today. The president of the United States is harnessing the ignorant hatred that many Americans hold for them and using it for political gain. There are no words to describe my feelings. I am just so, so sorry. I feel sick for you, my friends.

Today the man in the White House tweeted – TWEETED – his decision that trans people can no longer serve in the military. I don’t know what that means for the 15,000-plus who are already in the military. I guess they’re fired.

So the coward who avoided the draft because his feet hurt (but not enough to slow down his tennis game) is now firing service men and women because of who they are. And why? Here’s why:

In case you can’t read that, it’s a reporter who was told by a White House official that this is a good wedge issue for the 2018 election. Democrats will be forced to defend LGBTQ people in states where a lot of blue collar workers hate them.

There you have it, folks. That’s your president.

And just for the irony of it, I will tell you that on this very day in 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order that banned discrimination in the military.

It’s probably best that I not spew my raw outrage and despair. There’s enough ugliness out there, and as a Christ-follower, I hope not to contribute to it. I’d like to write about tea, but I can’t.

I’ll just share this old poem from Martin Niemöller, which grows more relevant each day:

Muslims, Hispanics, Pre-existing conditions, Transgender . . .

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Further Heresy: Sage & Crystals

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FURTHER HERESY: SAGE & CRYSTALS

I’ve been burning a sage stick lately. I just wanted to get that out there and let the “Happy Housewife” Christian lady know. After all, confession is good for the soul.

I purchased the sage stick at a rock and mineral swap in a tiny town in New Hampshire, where I also bought a lovely piece of quartz with opalescent slivers inside it. Yes, quartz is a crystal, which some Christians believe is just about as heretical as a sage stick.

They think that crystals are “new age,” or “false idols” or “occult.” Never mind that Saint Theresa of Avila’s beloved sixteenth-century spiritual classic “Interior Castle” is based on the contemplation of a crystal:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions . . . there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.”

Contemplating nature is a time-honored way to reflect upon and connect with the holy. Jesus was forever talking about sparrows and types of soil and grains of wheat. He found lessons about God in everything around him. I feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that I would want to use natural elements in my prayer time.

I light my sage stick and walk around my house, asking God to fill my home with Her spirit of peace and love and joy. I ask that She fill every space with the fragrance of Christ. (I don’t do this if my cat is downstairs, because it gives her a violent sneezing fit.)

I don’t believe crystals and sage sticks are magical or contain or control spirits; I think they are relaxing and beautiful. God made the rocks and the plants, and She gave us an appreciation for rich aromas and beautiful objects. We are intimately and organically connected to the plants and to the elements, and that’s why they help us embody our spirituality and connect with the Creator.

Here’s another confession: I am still a tad annoyed at the internet assaults launched by the Happy-Housewife Christian lady. So although she has already condemned me to hell for loving gay people, I am hoping to further annoy her with my hippy prayer practices. So there.

At least I am not cozying up to power and engaging in idol worship of a political leader like some other pastor-types.

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