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A Touch of Beauty

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The hardest part of coming back from the Wild Goose Spirit & Justice Festival is facing reality — getting back on social media and seeing the news and being reminded in a concrete way of the evil that’s blatantly running amuck in America.

So today I’ve been fretting. I’ve been forgetting to breathe, forgetting to do my contemplative journaling, forgetting my meditative centering prayer. I even neglected the new body/chanting prayer I learned at the Goose this year.

As if in response (and who knows, maybe they do monitor my stress levels), Facebook chose to share a lovely photo from a simpler time, a time when white privilege and basic denial allowed me to wander amongst the flowers without the knowledge that nearly 40% of my fellow Americans are OK with straight-up racism and state-sponsored child abuse.

Thanks, Facebook. I need to practice seeing beauty again, in nature and in people. Because the world is both/and. Beauty and racism, peace and cruelty. God, please open my eyes to both.

Beauty in Putney, Vermont. 2015

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Holy Spirit Hangover: Wild Goose Festival

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Returning from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival is never easy, but this year seems weirder than usual. I feel as if I’ve had an overdose of Spirit and am in the midst of a complicated recovery.

If you are new to my blog, I’ll just say that the Goose is a progressive Christian celebration of spirit, justice, music, and art, which takes place every July in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. The Wild Goose is an ancient Celtic symbol for God’s Holy Spirit, and She shows up every year. Use this blog’s search function to find stories from past festivals. This year was more political than usual, given the evil and violence that’s being done in the name of Jesus. We think he’s pretty annoyed about it and that his followers should be, too.

Anyway, reentry: Yesterday I was agitated, my mind racing, my body needing to do something — like go protest the racist venom spewing from the White House or at least dive in to the Twitter mud pit to fight with “Christian” racists. (Now there’s an oxymoron for you.)

Twenty-four hours later, all I want to do is sleep. I’ve been having crazy-profound dreams, as if the wall between spirit and mind has been breached and my subconscious is having to work overtime to translate between the two. It’s not bothersome at all, in fact it’s quite pleasant. I feel so much healing happening and wisdom being birthed through no effort of my own. There aren’t words for any of this yet, but perhaps there will be.

As one of my friends said during the festival, “God has troubled my waters.” I knew exactly what he meant. We had just been in the Beer & Hymns tent, singing the old Negro Spiritual, “Wade in the water, children, wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water,” and were now listening to a powerful African-American preacher talking about finding our unique purpose in these dangerous times.

“You were born with your purpose on purpose,” Bishop Yvette Flunder assured us, “and you can only find your purpose through the one who sent you on assignment.”

Humankind’s purpose according to the Hebrew prophet Micah. How do you think we’re doing?

Over a four-day period, my mind grappled with concepts like the “oceanic consciousness” and questions like “How do you prepare to be dead?” My body sang, danced, chanted, laughed & cried, walked a labyrinth, and sweated. And sweated. My heart grieved over what we do to each other and our planet. And my soul soared to be among a diverse crowd of people owning their crap and healing from what life has thrown at them so that they can join together to make the world better.

No wonder I’m tired.

Over the next few weeks, I imagine I’ll continue to process and dream. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here’s an article that Religion News Service did on the festival this year: In Remote Appalachia, Liberal Christians Gather to Pray and Plan 

Traveling Companions

July Fourth, Food, and Failure

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Some think that July 4th is about independence or freedom or revolution or patriotism. The current president seems to think it’s about militarism. But I know the deeper truth.

The Fourth of July, like every other holiday, is about food. Often of the unhealthy variety, and always too much of it. Holidays are not helpful for someone newly committed to a healthy eating plan. First, there’s the smell of fatty dead flesh sizzling on grills throughout the land. Luckily, this is not a temptation for me, a long-time vegetarian. No dead cow or pig passes my lips. (Except for that time I bit into cleverly disguised bacon at a wedding reception and had to decide whether to swallow or spit in front of the cute guy I was talking to. I spat. He left.)

But as soon as I hear the crumpling of a potato chip bag, my hunger hormones start hoppin’. I’ve been learning about these hormones through Noom, my new weight-loss program. Noomers are into biology and psychology and like to throw around terms like “ghrelin” (“feed me” messengers) and “CCK” (“no more, thanks” messengers). Such knowledge helps me realize that it’s not just an inner evil monster that forces me to overeat, but a complex web of internal and external interactions. Knowledge is power, and I’m empowered to make a daily eating plan and stick to it because I know I am in charge, not the evil monster.

Holidays are another story though. Oh, I had a plan. I understood the challenge. I arrived at my neighbor’s with healthy tabbouleh salad, a giant bowl of raw veggies, and veggie dogs for the grill.

I also took a six-pack of beer, because hallelujah, I found out that Noom considers beer to be a “yellow” food (moderation) as opposed to my preferred Cabernet, a “red” food (limited consumption). My plan allows more yellow calories than red. I made this happy discovery just hours before going to my neighbor’s cookout. I was so excited about it that my first beer was gone in ten minutes. Well, I could nurse the second . . . you see where this is going. Alcohol is not known for boosting self-control, and the whole deal went south.

I dutifully logged my intake on the Noom phone app when I got home: every teaspoon of full-fat mayo, handful of chips, enriched white-flour hot dog bun, plate of pasta salad. I ate way more of that pasta salad than the healthy tabbouleh salad I’d brought. Epic fail. 900 calories over my daily goal.

Funny thing is, even what feels like an epic failure was still considerably less than I would have eaten before Noom. And you know what? That was yesterday. It’s over. I’m free from it. No shame, as I wrote earlier this week. Turns out that my Independence Day — new-found freedom from regret, shame, and self-flagellation — is July 5th this year.

Onward!

Weight Loss: The Weight of Shame

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Let’s talk about weight loss, shall we? I don’t particularly want to, but I think that’s one reason I should.

At long last, I have embarked on the weight loss journey, and the associated baggage could sink a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Being overweight is a heavy burden in so many ways. Your body hurts, you’re short of breath, you have zero energy, you turn down invitations to do fun things because you don’t want to embarrass yourself or slow others down, you wear baggy clothes because you’re ashamed. Ah – there it is: shame. For me, that’s the heaviest load. And it’s why I don’t like talking about my weight.

As I’ve worked on my memoir with my insightful writing group, I’ve realized how shame has shaped my emotional and psychological makeup. I know I’m not the only one, partly because of my pastoral work, and also because my blog posts dealing with shame are perennially popular.

I’ve decided to be done with it. Done with shame.

Shame leads to secrecy, and as they say in the twelve-step world, “You are only as sick as your secrets.”

A man once told me, “if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.” At the time I was horrified. I’ve since learned that many, many people feel this way, or used to before they got themselves on a healing path. I felt that way, too, though I kept it a secret even from myself.

The thing about being overweight is that you can’t keep it a secret. You walk around wearing this big ol’ SHAME sign all the time. Sometimes when you see a photo or catch sight of yourself in a shop window, it’s like a kick in the gut. Shame can very easily turn into self-hatred. And once you’re in that head-space, it’s almost impossible to lose weight because you end up believing that 1) you are too much of a loser to control your eating, and 2) you aren’t worthy of looking and feeling well anyway.

I applaud the “I’m fat and I’m proud” websites & blogs. Ditching the shame is long overdue. Work on your self-esteem, don’t let others define you, own your inner and outer beauty, etcetera. All great messages. But being overweight is not just a psychological challenge to be overcome and it’s not just about how you’re viewed by yourself or others: it’s a direct threat to health and well-being.

Some “body positivists” and “fat activists” now promote the idea that obesity can be healthy. I don’t find that one bit helpful. Being overweight is not a desirable state of being, and it doesn’t help me to pretend that it is. I want to be healthy, I want to live a long life. Heart, joints, arthritis, diabetes, blood pressure, sleep apnea, cancer risks — we know all this stuff.

I’m sure some people won’t appreciate my view. That’s OK. We all have our own journeys. The journey I’ve chosen is the Noom Weight Loss journey. You’ve probably seen it advertised on social media — Lord knows it seems to be everywhere. I haven’t tried a lot of other programs, so I can’t speak to them, but I know Noom is working for me.

I’m eleven pounds down in about a month. I’ll likely be writing more about this; it’s certainly occupying a lot of my mental space these days. For now I just wanted to say, “Hey, I’m done with shame. I’m losing weight and I’m damn proud of myself!”

This is me. Working on myself.

“Hallelujah Anyway”

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Greetings, friends & readers! I’m still alive, I’m happy to say. Folks keep asking why I haven’t been blogging lately, and my answers are all over the map. I wish I could say I’ve been working on my memoir instead, but it’s more that I feel I *should* be working on my memoir if I’m going to write at all. How dysfunctional is that? I started a writing group last year specifically so that I would be motivated to work on the memoir, but so far I’ve only shared Chapter One and a bunch of older pieces. Little new writing.

In Search of Hope

Blogging is usually is a spiritual practice for me, one which entails at least reflection, if not prayer or meditation. Sometimes I’m just processing, but usually my writing takes me to a place of greater understanding or even hope. I trust that my erstwhile readers occasionally end up there as well. These days, though, it’s harder to find my way to hope. The practice of reflective writing can take me to some dark places. I mean, the planet . . .

I think that’s one reason my posts have been scarce lately. When you’re working with kids in cages, porn star pay-offs, climate collapse, and our democracy teetering on the edge, well — hope can be a stretch.

“Hallelujah Anyway” **

The good news is, I’m learning to live life despite the outrage, grief, and dread brought on by our national crisis gone global.

My life has been full and rich and fun. I’m working five mini-jobs right now (I know, kind of nuts) and each offers some level of meaning and purpose. I appreciate the yin/yang balance of teaching middle school kids and companioning an older man with Parkinson’s. I recently opened my sweet house in New Hampshire for the summer, attended a spiritual writing conference in New Jersey, and took a two-week road trip in New Mexico. Since stepping away from my pastoral position last fall, I’m able to be more present and attentive to all of this. Sometimes I am literally brought to tears of gratitude for my church, my friends, and my crazy-blessed life.

There’s plenty good and edifying to write about. My annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival of spirituality, art, and justice is only a week away, and of course there’s the Democratic primary circus — you know how I love waxing eloquent about politics! I fear that in the end, though, “progressives” won’t like what happens in the primary and will either vote third party or not at all, thereby returning trump’s rump to the Oval Office chair. But since I’m eschewing dread and aiming for hope, we won’t go there.

Happy Monday, Happy Fourth, and enjoy life! See you back here soon, I hope.

** Borrowed from author Anne Lamott

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

I’ve Missed You!

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I miss you. It’s been months since I’ve written here, by far the longest silent stretch since I started Writing with Spirit six-plus years ago. I can’t explain it, it just is what it is. For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back in, but I haven’t found an obvious doorway.

It’s Lent, I always write during Lent. And there have been lots of mass shootings — I always rage and offer prayers after one of those. The person in the White House continues to be an embarrassment, a danger, and an outrage. What’s new? Why waste the ink on him? Why contribute to the negativity? America made a huge mistake and it may take us down; take the planet down. We all know that.

At last count there were approximately 323 Democrats or sort-of Democrats vowing to take on the monster in 2020. In the past, I would have had plenty to say about all of them.

And yesterday the Mueller report came out – now there’s something to write about! But no. No words for any of that.

Am I a Pastor or Am I a Lap?

One reason I think I have not written is that I had news to share but I did not know how to share it. I stepped down from my pastoral role at church in the fall. It was a difficult decision that played out over the summer, during which time I lost both my cats. (I think I told you that part.) I don’t know quite why that was relevant, but it was. Perspective, I guess. Life is short, live in the moment.

I remember at one point thinking, “The most important role I have in life right now is to sit in this chair with this sweet dying cat in my lap.” That’s it. I realized I was just a lap. A loving lap.

Mostly it had to do with space. I was supposed to be the Pastor of Prayer and Healing, leading people into silence and contemplative practices, preaching about making space for God in your life. And there was no space in my life. I wasn’t practicing what I preached. And as long as there was no space, I could not sense God nudging me into different paths, or whispering to me about who I am meant to become. It’s always uncomfortable to step away from one thing before you know exactly (or even vaguely) where you are headed next, but sometimes it’s wise.

Anyway, I’m still leading retreats and groups and occasionally helping with worship and so on, but the burden is less. It was a good choice. Maybe I’ll write more about it in the future, but I just wanted to get it out there, because I felt a big part of my identity had shifted and it seemed disingenuous not to share that. Maybe now I can move on and write more regularly.

Entering the Desert for Lent

Most years, Lent is a busy season for me, while at the same time being reflective. This year I simply skipped town. I went into the desert for Lent, which is appropriate, since the season is meant to reflect the forty days Jesus spent in the desert wilderness before he began his ministry.

But I didn’t spend much time in self-examination and repentance. No ashes on my forehead for Ash Wednesday. Instead, I flew out to Albuquerque with a girlfriend and spent two weeks cruising around the New Mexican desert in a rental car. We collected cool desert rocks, visited museums, parks, and wildlife refuges, wandered through the ruins of Spanish missions and Pueblo Indian villages, drank margueritas, bought turquoise and silver, and soaked in the same hot springs that Geronimo is said to have frequented.

We gazed at distant horizons instead of computer screens. I read only books about New Mexico: no politics, spiritual growth, or fiction. Living in the moment. We drove for what seemed hours without seeing another car. At night the starfields left us speechless, which is perfectly comfortable when you’ve known someone for sixty years, as E and I have.

In short, I’m practicing “living life to the full,” as Jesus recommended.

There — now I’ve slipped back into the blogosphere. More pictures and stories from New Mexico to come.

Yucca at White Sands National Monument

E wandering in the desert

Native American petroglyph of the Easter Bunny (Petroglyphs National Monument)

Bee in Apricot Blossom

A Conversation About Racism and White Privilege

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Because there just hasn’t been enough about politics in the news recently, I’ve been reading up on potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020. I wondered why people identified Senator Kamala Harris as African American, since her heritage is Jamaican and Indian. Although I had a feeling this was a really stupid question, I nevertheless sent my query to the African American Registry.

File:Kamala Harris Delivers Remarks on 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act 11.jpg

Sure enough, a guy named Ben wrote back simply, “Follow the middle passage.” Too late, I remembered my trip to the Museum of African American History and Culture last year and all I had learned (and forgotten) about the early slave trade: the maps outlining slave ship routes from the African continent to the islands, the pictures of the sugar cane plantations, the whips and shackles and chains. In fact, by the time of the American Revolution, there were close to 200,000 African slaves in Jamaica.

Feeling sheepish and frustrated with myself, I wrote back thanking Ben and asking him to forgive “my ignorant white self.” I am always aware and grateful to people of color who take the time to educate me.

Much to my surprise, Ben wrote back and asked if he could interview me. Turns out he is the director of the Registry, and an important part of his work is educating white people. He said he hoped I could help him “understand whiteness.” I told him I certainly couldn’t speak for all white people, but I’d be happy to help if I could.

Understanding Whiteness

Ben has two main questions:

  1. How much does guilt propel whites to try to step outside their comfort zone in the professional world?
  2. What does it look like to consistently give up one’s racial privilege for a lifetime?

These questions have got me thinking, and I’m looking forward to our interview. Understanding my own history of family racism and privilege has been an important part of my personal and spiritual growth, and was also key to my professional development when I worked on cultural competency and dismantling racism at the Sierra Club. Getting beyond my guilt and shame was essential. 

What really interests me, though, is his second question. I’m not sure that white people *can* give up their privilege. It just is. It is a fact. You can’t take off your skin color. I did nothing to get it, it’s just the way other people and society as a whole view me.

I am aware of it now, and do small things like always letting a person of color walk through a door first or get in line ahead of me or speak first in a meeting. Just to purposely step out of my unwarranted position of privilege. And I work towards racial justice and reconciliation and try to make sure that the groups I work with are not led by white people. But I just don’t think that a person can “give it up.” The trick is to become increasingly conscious of it and to decline it or bring it to light whenever possible.

What do you think? I’d be really interested in your thoughts on either of these questions. These are such important conversations as our nation struggles to confront the resurgence of white supremacy in America today.

I wish you a blessed, just, inclusive, and compassionate new year!

— Image of Senator Kamala Harris from Wikimedia Commons

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