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Warning: Advent Virus!

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This warning comes via an anonymous email. While it sounds too dire to believe, I think we should all be on the lookout for it:

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“Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:

  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.

  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

  • A loss of interest in judging other people.

  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

  • A loss of interest in conflict.

  • A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)

  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.

  • Frequent attacks of smiling.

  • An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

  • An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.”

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The Election: Getting Beyond Hate and Grief to Hope

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As I continue to try to understand what is happening to my country and to process my grief over what feels like the loss of all civility and human kindness in America, I am subject to the occasional “relapse” in my emotional and spiritual growth.

At times I feel like a terrified three-year-old hiding behind the sofa while a crazy drunken uncle rages around the kitchen breaking stuff, and at other times I react like a pissy teenager who does things like, say, staying up half the night shooting snarky Tweets at the new president-elect. (This is theoretical, of course.)

Being brought up in an alcoholic household means I will occasionally leap into battle to save someone or something — in this case, the whole world. Since I’m not 100% sure that I can save the world from nuclear holocaust or climate change, I have to resort to plan B, which consists of telling my therapist how unhealthy social media is for me and then going home and diving back into the Twitter-mire while eating a gigantic bowl of pasta.

I forget that God’s got this, that God always brings good from bad, that there is no darkness in God, that love wins. I forget. Essentially, I think that I am God.

So it is a comfort to be around cooler heads, to come across an article or a blog that steps back from the situation and offers a larger perspective. Since I don’t personally have much perspective yet, I’m going to just share someone else’s post on my page, which I rarely do.

Charles Einstein is a vaguely familiar name to me. He’s written a couple of books I’ve heard of, including the Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics. While I’m not sure I agree with everything he says in here, I agree with a lot of it, especially the last half about how we should move forward.

Charles encourages us to copy and share his essay under the Creative Commons Copyright, so feel free.

Enjoy.

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

Posted on Nov 10, 2016

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

This essay has been translated into German as well as Spanish and French.

 

Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See here, here, here, here) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.

We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.

We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?

It is time now to bring this question and the empathy it arouses into our political discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the election outcome and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself, “What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the caricature of misogynist and bigot to find the real person.

Even if the person you face IS a misogynist or bigot, ask, “Is this who they are, really?” Ask what confluence of circumstances, social, economic, and biographical, may have brought them there. You may still not know how to engage them, but at least you will not be on the warpath automatically. We hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not know. So let’s stop making our opponents invisible behind a caricature of evil.

We’ve got to stop acting out hate. I see no less of it in the liberal media than I do in the right-wing. It is just better disguised, hiding beneath pseudo-psychological epithets and dehumanizing ideological labels. Exercising it, we create more of it. What is beneath the hate? My acupuncturist Sarah Fields wrote to me, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”

I think the pain beneath is fundamentally the same pain that animates misogyny and racism – hate in a different form. Please stop thinking you are better than these people! We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. Something hurts in there. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more. The acute trauma endured by the incarcerated, the abused, the raped, the trafficked, the starved, the murdered, and the dispossessed does not exempt the perpetrators. They feel it in mirror image, adding damage to their souls atop the damage that compels them to violence. Thus it is that suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. military. Thus it is that addiction is rampant among the police. Thus it is that depression is epidemic in the upper middle class. We are all in this together.

Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.

We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations, and prayers. Can we take them now into the political world and create an eye of compassion inside the political hate vortex? It is time to do it, time to up our game. It is time to stop feeding hate. Next time you post on line, check your words to see if they smuggle in some form of hate: dehumanization, snark, belittling, derision.., some invitation to us versus them. Notice how it feels kind of good to do that, like getting a fix. And notice what hurts underneath, and how it doesn’t feel good, not really. Maybe it is time to stop.

This does not mean to withdraw from political conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute political analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Usually, those evangelizing compassion do not write about politics, and sometimes they veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do we will receive an invitation to give in to the dark side and hate “the deplorables.” We must not shy away from those confrontations. Instead, we can engage them empowered by the inner mantra that my friend Pancho Ramos-Stierle uses in confrontations with his jailers: “Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.” If we can stare hate in the face and never waver from that knowledge, we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.

Image: Creative Commons – picture by Abhi Ryan

An Urgent Primer: Malignant Narcissism

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I learned a new term today, and it’s one that every American and every foreign leader should become familiar with immediately. As soon as I heard the descriptor from a mental health professional who will remain nameless, I knew it was spot-on: malignant narcissist.

I Googled.

The first offering was an excerpt from Wikipedia, and it literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

“Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).”

You might not know exactly what all those terms mean, but you know exactly who they are talking about, don’t you?

The term was first used by the social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, when he described malignant narcissism as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil.” (Cue another rise of the neck hair.) Fromm called the condition “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.”

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These people aren’t your run of the mill narcissists, who damage people for their own promotion but then might feel bad about it later. No, a malignant narcissist enjoys harming others and shows little empathy or regret for say, mocking disabled people or grabbing women’s crotches.

Another way you can tell a malignant narcissist from a regular ol’ psychopath, according to psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, is that psychopaths can’t really identify with anyone, whereas malignant narcissists “have the capacity to admire powerful people, and can depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images,” like say, Vladimir Putin.

Otto also wrote that, “Some of them may present rationalized antisocial behavior – for example, as leaders of sadistic gangs or terrorist groups . . . with the capacity for loyalty to their own comrades.” Can you say Bannon? Guiliani?

Author and psychoanalyst Dan Shaw is quoted in an article in Psychology Today (a must-read, seriously) as offering these telltale signs of malignant narcissism:

  • Someone who is “infinitely entitled and grateful to no one.”
  • When telling the story of his life, he “leaves out any trace of his own significant misdeeds and failures.”
  • Someone who “never hesitates to lie for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.”
  • Someone who “blames others for his own errors and failures.”
  • Someone who “is erratic, thin-skinned, belligerent, and constantly engaged in attacking and belittling perceived enemies.”
  • And in the case of malignant narcissistic leaders of cults and political movements, Shaw says, “he persuades followers to see their lives before joining his group as wretched, and he claims exclusive possession of the power to transform followers’ lives in miraculous ways.”

Bingo.

Please, people, let’s not pretend. Let’s not normalize pathology. Let’s not let the media get away with normalizing this, either. We are in very deep trouble. While denial might make us feel better, it is not an option right now.

Must-read: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-couch/201608/what-happens-when-malignant-narcissist-starts-unravel

Talking Turkey, Trump, and Testosterone

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Talking Turkey, Trump and Testosterone

My guess is that meat sales will be on the rise for a few years. I hear that a January 20th Executive Order will require every federal employee to purchase a weekly minimum of Trump Steaks. If a state wants to receive federal assistance during anticipated monthly climate-induced floods or droughts or fires, their employees will be required to participate in the minimum steak program as well.

Trump’s new health-care plan will depend on shorter lifespans, due primarily to an increase in cardiac-related deaths from heavy meat consumption and more deaths from food poisoning due to the repeal of food safety rules.

The hoped-for rise in premature deaths will be aided by another Executive Order requiring that elementary school children carry guns to school.

The New Normal is Not OK

Not everything will be accomplished by laws and regulations. Manipulation of cultural norms through the mass media has already begun — Trump met with leading media representatives in his golden palace this week to tell them what to cover and how to cover it. “A f–king firing squad,” is how one attendee characterized it. And of course there is @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter account and its sixteen million followers. Check those characters out — you’ll see the new norm.

These are days when Latino children are bullied, Muslim women are shoved off sidewalks, and African-Americans might want to stay inside for their own safety. Overweight? Disabled? Gay? Jewish? Female? Keep a low profile and pray that any trouble is only verbal.

Aggression is now admirable. Testosterone is king. Civility and gentleness are dead.

There will be no vegetarians appointed to Trump’s new Cabinet. Under the new administration, a humane diet (or even a vaguely healthy one) will become an object of scorn, along with other “politically correct” pursuits like polite conversation, fact-based news, and words with more than three syllables (examples of the upper limit include disaster, amazing, terrific, and Mexican).

No, these are not gentle days in America: November, 2016.

Happy Thanksgiving

November has never been a gentle time for turkeys. More than forty-six million of the creatures are killed every single Thanksgiving, after spending short, miserable lives crammed together in massive warehouses, usually with no ventilation and no windows.

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Gobble

I generally re-post my popular Thanksgiving blog about vegetarianism each year, but I thought that this year, we needed a call to action:

Are you looking for ways to protest the new president-elect and the ugliness he has ushered in? How about engaging in radical gentleness? Our society may be in for a lot of chaos and violence in the coming years, so why not rebel by adopting a kinder lifestyle? Go vegetarian!

And in case you want to read the story of my vegetarian journey and learn about the benefits of such a lifestyle, here is a link to my traditional Thanksgiving post: Seriously? This is Your Thanksgiving Post?? 

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Reverential Reading

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It is a sacred charge, being the last to read an aging book.

Each caramel-colored, brittle page detaches from the paperback binding with a whisper as I turn it, and I gently scotch tape the inner pages together before reading further.

I find myself pondering this simple little novel from the dollar-shelf with a meditative mindfulness that would more befit an ancient religious scroll.

Every book should be read with such reverence.

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An Epidemic of Shame in the U.S.

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An Epidemic of Shame in the U.S.

There are aren’t enough words to describe our collective cycling emotions since the Tuesday of Darkness.

After church on Sunday, we gathered for prayer and began by sharing how we were feeling. Strong words cascaded around our circle: betrayed, heartbroken, outraged, terrified, grieving, overwhelmed, hurt. Many were afraid on behalf of at-risk people that they care for: teachers of Hispanic kids, nurses of low-income people, caregivers of handicapped people, parents of little girls and children of color.

These are good people, people who follow the biblical mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.” They are reacting the way I would imagine Jesus would react to the ascendency of a man who preaches hate, violence, and racism. They are deeply grieved.

I’ve had all of those feelings and then some, but the one that surprises me most is shame. I am ashamed of my fellow Americans, ashamed of my fellow Christians who voted for the president-elect, ashamed of my country. I find myself whispering over and over: “I thought we were better than that, I thought we were better than that.”

I don’t usually take on corporate or institutional shame. I have enough of my own personal shame to keep me busy for a lifetime. This isn’t guilt, which I’ve heard many folks express. I wasn’t complacent. I donated. I volunteered. No, this is pure shame. It’s hard to avoid the fact that my country has put the whole world in deep jeopardy. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I need to pray and meditate and journal. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

My most popular blog post of all time remains a post from four years ago entitled What Color is Shame? It fascinates me that so many people search that question on Google. Just weird. I get a few hits on the story each day from all around the world, mostly England.

But since last Tuesday? I am getting 10-15 hits every single day, all from the United States of America.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

sympathy card

Love Conquers All

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I’ve spent the morning drafting a blog about Christian voters (doesn’t that phrase send shivers down your spine right about now?) and I think it might be good enough to submit for publication. Hence, I can’t post that offering here. But I really want to connect with “my tribe” in the blogosphere because November 2016 is not a good time to be alone in your head. So I will simply share this quote from Frederick Buechner today.

I cannot say I am here yet, by any means. I am still in the reality of Romans 8:26, where ” . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

So I groan.

But Buechner has words, and here they are:

“The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

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