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Your Tiny Part in Saving the World

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“But how am I going to save the world??” I wailed.

My friends and I had just watched Michael Moore’s movie, Where To Invade Next, a thought-provoking and unsettling film about  . . . well, what is it not about? Consumerism and greed, stress, sex, militarism, racism, education policy, nutrition, prison reform, women’s health, basic human dignity.

All the ways my beloved country doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

One thing about the horror that is Donald Trump — it has awakened my long-dormant patriotism which was badly damaged by decades of slogging through the political sewage on Capitol Hill. I’ve been reminded that this country and its ideals are worth fighting for, not in the sense of drones and tanks, but in the sense of loving your neighbors, speaking out against systemic oppression, protecting our air, land and water, and seeking dignity for our seniors and hope for our kids.

This country cannot afford to be derailed by an orange demagogic purveyor of fear and hate.

Broken Systems

But what’s my part? Where does one start? So much needs to be done, and it all seems urgent. When I left my lobbying job at the Sierra Club, I vowed I would never go back to political work unless there was a serious effort to overturn Citizens United, in which case I would dedicate the rest of my life to that. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, that might now be a possibility.

But I fear that even extensive corporate and electoral reform would be piecemeal. Don’t misunderstand me, Citizens United is a huge problem from which many other problems stem. As is capitalism, which is based on self-interest and greed, pure and simple.

No, the real problem isn’t policies or court decisions or economic systems. The real problem is a heart problem. It’s the fear and insecurity that lead to anger and hate and then violence. It’s the need we seem to have to divide ourselves — to create categories of “others” to fight or compete with or disdain or oppress. It’s the greed.

It’s the me, me, me. Protect me, enrich me, admire me, entertain me.

I believe this is a spiritual crisis we’ve got going on here, and if it’s not addressed as such, we’re toast.

Broken Hearts

Our hearts are broken. They aren’t working right. They’ve been cracked or punched or shattered or rotted away or maybe numbed out. We’ve seen too much. Too much war, too much rage, too many school shootings, too many religious leaders preaching hate, too many black people being shot or beaten by officers with broken hearts.

I had to close my eyes multiple times during Moore’s film, because nowadays it is too painful to have a soft heart. Many of us have been left all but paralyzed by the ascendancy of Donald Trump’s aggressive arrogance and vitriol.

We have been left wailing, “But how am I going to save the world??”

My friends are good to me. They say, “You do what you’re doing . . . you do your tiny part . . . you preach your sermon on gentleness . . . you write . . . you pray and listen . . . and yes, making casseroles for sick or sad people counts.”

But, but! That just doesn’t seem enough in the face of the world’s ills.

Casseroles

I wonder: could it be my ego that wants to do something “bigger” and “more important?” What if I have a touch of the egomaniacal disease that has taken over the heart of Donald Trump?

What if Jesus actually meant it when he said that our Big Job is to love God as best we possibly can, love our neighbors and love ourselves? What if that really is the answer?

What if we each attended to our own emotional and physical and psychological needs, supported and encouraged our neighbors from a place of strength and love rather than a place of neediness, and humbled ourselves enough to acknowledge that perhaps there is a power in the universe greater than ourselves — one that might just have a heart even softer than our own? What if that’s the way to save the world?

I know that when I’m loving God as hard as I can, I am open to holy promptings, and I’m unafraid to step up to whatever I’m called to do, be it large or small. I have clarity, I feel confident, and circumstances fall into place at the proper time.

And in the meantime, I suppose casseroles are enough.

Casseroles Count

Casseroles Count

Advice From a Tree

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Today I am (supposed to be) rushing around, closing up the house for winter, hauling in the picnic table, cleaning out the frig, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, packing bedding and silverware in plastic to deter the field mice who generally move in for the winter when my cats and I depart.

I picked up my winter supply of New Hampshire honey and goats milk moisturizing lotion on the way back from Willa’s grave yesterday, but I forgot to visit the Post Office so I have to go back into town.

Today is also the deadline for sending in my sermon on gentleness (done, at last!) and I so, so want to be finished with all of this in time to watch the debate with my neighbor tonight!

All to say that I don’t have time to write, but I found this wonderful message from the Sierra Club that I thought you might enjoy.

advice-from-a-tree

Dig your roots way down underground into the richest soil of life, hold on, and enjoy the view today!

Waiting for Willa

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Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

254

251

273

Dear Mike Pence:

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DEAR MIKE PENCE:

I don’t know you, sir, but through an extraordinary set of circumstances, you are in a position to help save our country. You seem like a smart guy, in a political sort of way. Your calculation to sign on as Trump’s running mate may well serve your political aspirations if there isn’t total mayhem after November 8.

And you could still end up as the Republican candidate for president if one of Trump’s apoplectic fits raises his blood pressure a tad too high. He’s gone beyond orange to scarlet.

Either way, you have a clear assignment. It’s an assignment from God! You like that kind, right? Calling yourself a Christian, you may already be familiar with this one:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This would include everyone, like black people and Muslims and even Democrats.

And gay people. I know you’ve had some trouble with that one in the past, but God’s job is changing hearts, so you just never know.

Contemplation:

This assignment is going to take some self-reflection.

My recommendation is that you spend time in silent prayer for starters. I know you have a busy schedule these days, but please, your self-reflection could prevent a lot of violence in America and could quite conceivably prevent World War III as well.

Sit quietly. Don’t tell God what you think should happen, just be quiet and sit still. Be willing to consider the fact that you might not know everything. Read a little of your Bible if you want, something like these verses from a letter by Jesus’s friend Peter:

“Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.

Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth.”

(1 Peter 3-11 from The Message Bible)

“Snub evil and cultivate good. Run after peace for all you’re worth.” Got that?

Take Action:

This next step takes courage: you must move to action — remember, this love and peace thing is an assignment from God!

You must be a grown-up, Mr. Pence, regardless of what Donald Trump may be doing or saying, or how he may react. You two generally ignore each other anyway, so he might not even notice what you’re saying.

You must say publicly, over and over, that our democracy is essentially sound and that the elections are not rigged. Sure, say the media is biased (heck, any thinking person knows there is no such thing as “news” anymore).

I’ve heard you kinda sorta mumble that “we” will accept the results of the election, but we need more than that from you. You can’t just sneak away after the election and let those raging, pumped up people run wild. That would not be loving your neighbor or your country. The Bible says “run after peace for all you’re worth,” not “run away from the inferno you’ve ignited and hide out till the flames die down.”

You need to say this out loud, in public, into microphones: “There is no global conspiracy to defeat us. There is no reason to get your guns out.”

In fact, call a press conference. Say that you have breaking news: announce that you have unearthed some emails that show that there is no global conspiracy! Tweet it! With CAPITOL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!  @NoConspiracy @disarm!

Win, Win, Win!!

And if you won’t do it for Jesus, do it to pave the way for your 2020 run. Because the majority of Americans still vote for mentally stable adults. Plus, we would like our country to still be here in four years. Thank you for your time, Mr. Pence.

Mike Pence, looking like a grown-up

Mike Pence, looking like a grown-up

The Healing Power of Trump. No, Really.

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THE HEALING POWER OF TRUMP. NO, REALLY.

What if all this Trumpism turns out to be good for America? No, don’t laugh. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I am a Jesus-follower, so the Divine that I trust — Great Spirit, Higher Power, Universal Oneness, God — however you might think of it — always brings good out of bad. God “works all things for good,” as the Bible says. It is Her nature. God is good.

While I’m still anxious, my fear and outrage at Trump’s candidacy has become somewhat subdued in recent days. Partly it’s the latest polling, but it’s also the fact that I cannot sustain that level of negativity. It is my nature to look for the good, and I might as well start now.

Exposing the Wound

Despite the ugliness and divisiveness that Trump has unleashed or uncovered, there has to be a good side. I mean other than the GOP imploding and having to start over, hopefully with some adult supervision this time, and other than the hate-preaching right-wing evangelicals splitting apart with their women and young people heading towards Jesus while their older white power structure sinks into the mire — something other than all that. Something bigger.

God’s timing not being our timing, it might take a long while to surface.

But once a wound is opened, the infection and pus comes out and while it is ugly and messy for a time and it hurts like hell, that is the beginning of healing. Get it out in the air. And it is out, that’s for sure.

Since God’s intention for this world is to bring us all together, to reconcile, to make one, I am always looking for movement in this direction. It may not seem like it now, but I think the gaping wound that is America might qualify as such.

C.S. Lewis said: “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains; it is {Her} megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Light and Air

We are being roused. Those of us not blinded by Trumpism may be seeing and pondering things we have never had to notice before:

  • The implicit bias and explicit racism woven into our society;
  • the plight of refugee families and American Muslims under attack;
  • the complex burden of past sexual assaults carried around by millions of women;
  • the cost to society of a sub-par education system (it is no coincidence that Trump’s core supporters are poorly educated);
  • how precious and fragile our democracy is;
  • how close hatred is to the surface, and how easily it can turn downright sinister.

We see it now. It’s all out in the daylight, exposed to the open air, for people with “eyes to see and ears to hear,” as the Bible says. 

There’s so much potential for healing, so much possibility for coming together for Good.

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

“The best moments we any of us have as human beings are those moments when for a little while it is possible to escape the squirrel cage of being me into the landscape of being us.”

— Frederick Buechner

Day eighteen, minus one, of my daily blogging offerings

Journal Snippets: Seeking Serenity

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Journal Snippets: Seeking Serenity

I’ll keep it simple today and share a few snippets from my journal. You guys seem to enjoy that, voyeurs that you are, and I truly must wrap up my gentleness sermon.

The bizarre yin and the yang of my October consists of reading and writing about Saint Francis, the heart of gentleness and humility, and then blogging about DJ Trump. Sadly, my journal contains more of Donald than Saint Francis.

Oct 12

Today is a new day, a day in which I will not engage in Twitter wars, obsessively check political news and polling sites, Facebook, and my blog stats. It is 9:30 a.m. I have checked the Wash Post headlines and the polls — surprise! Same as they were when I checked them at midnight.

Here is something interesting: all this anxiety about the election. What appears to be happening is the dissolution of the GOP as we know it. The crazies have won . . . This could mean the Democrats taking the House and Senate for the first time since — when, Bill Clinton’s first term? Why am I not thrilled and overjoyed?

I guess because I no longer feed off of that part of myself, the competitiveness, spite, and power. At least less than I used to; it’s still in there. I worry for my nation. Having all the hate and fear and rage front & center is horrifying to see. And nothing can get done to fix our campaign system or slow climate change or stop the racial insanity and move towards any kind of reconciliation until we return to loving and caring for our fellow Americans.

Once the flag made me proud. Later, it made me mad. Now it makes me sad.

When I was in elementary school, the flag made me proud. During Vietnam, it made me mad. Now it makes me sad.

It all just makes me deeply sad. Perhaps, like Trump people, I am idealizing a past that never was. Social media makes it so much worse, though. Far from being a platform for discussion and airing of views, it is a place where like-minded people gather to mock people and policies that they disagree with and where you can occasionally make a foray into “enemy territory” and attack directly.

And I just don’t see how we fix it. If we don’t see more people centered in Love, we’re toast.

I guess I must start with me. My own centeredness and my own capacity and propensity for love. I must pray for myself to be a blessing and a part of the solution, and resist the urge to engage in negativity — something which fear makes it very hard to do. If I am open, loving, and vulnerable instead of on the attack like the rest of them, I risk hurt. But I am called to be a peacemaker. I want to channel the spirit of Jesus, not argue about his words or intent. I want to bring the fruits of the spirit into this world: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Let it begin with me.

love thy neighbor

October 13

Talking to some friends today about all this craziness and our roles in it. One of them said she was powerless to change herself, and I said if you can’t change yourself, you can’t change anything. And she said, yeah, that’s my point. How depressing.

I think she’s right, in a way. But for me, it is more that I cannot change myself *by myself.* I need to let go of my will and ask God to grant me the courage to surrender and let Spirit change me. I certainly can’t change my pettiness, my fear, my passive-aggressiveness without divine help!

Today I found out that there is a second verse to my beloved Serenity Prayer. Here is the whole thing:

“Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Grant me Patience with the changes that take time,

Appreciation of all that I have,

Tolerance of those with different struggles,

and the Strength to get up and try again,

One Day at a Time.”

Amen, for sure.

Yesterday, I went for a drive in the fall colors, so I missed my daily blogging goal. Oh well. Day Seventeen, minus one.  

A Trump-Free Day. Kind Of. Not.

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Finally a day where I’ve done what I was supposed to do! Except for the daily blog, that is. But here’s my offering, just under the wire. Day fifteen.

For purposes of mental health, I’ve committed to creating some psychic distance between myself and Mr. Trump, so I won’t be blogging about him. I spent the day in prayer & meditation, reading the Bible, and working on my sermon.

OK, OK, I checked for new political polling a couple of times, and yeah, I read a few articles about the implosion of the Republican party. And yes, I did check Twitter to see what his fans were saying about his latest escapades. (Wow, do they live in la-la land.) At any rate, I did not spend the majority of the day musing about Trump. Only some. A little.

This evening I’ve been making phone calls on behalf of the Democratic Senate candidate up here in New Hampshire, and that feels good. It’s a super-close race and it’s nice to actually be doing something productive.

So as I say, I won’t blog about Trump. I will just share a psalm that particularly struck me this morning, which has nothing to do with Trump. Absolutely not a thing.

It’s Psalm 52: 1-7

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?

    Why do you boast all day long,

    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

You who practice deceit,

    your tongue plots destruction;

    it is like a sharpened razor.

You love evil rather than good,

    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

You love every harmful word,

    you deceitful tongue!

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:

    [S]he will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;

    [S]he will uproot you from the land of the living.

The righteous will see and fear;

    they will laugh at you, saying,

“Here now is the man

    who did not make God his stronghold

but trusted in his great wealth

    and grew strong by destroying others!”

f3213-votingboothpublicdomain

Please note the little box in the lower right-hand corner of the blog: click to register to vote.

Day fifteen: daily blogging pursuit

Sexual Assault, Anger, and Gentleness

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I may have to re-think this every-day blogging practice. I opened my journal this morning and realized that I haven’t written in six days, which is unheard of during my retreats in New Hampshire. I have a call with my therapist this afternoon, and I don’t know what to talk about, since I have no record of my musings.

In fact, I do know what I’ll talk about, and it’s probably the same thing most women are processing this week with counselors, therapists, and friends. I am bowled over by the reaction to Trump’s sexual predation tape on social media — my Facebook and Twitter feeds are crammed with women remembering and re-living predation stories from the past. Many, like me, are surprised by their anger and even rage.

I blogged on that recently and included a list of my experiences from childhood to twenty-five. Last night as I was falling asleep, I remembered another that I had completely wiped out of my mind. The closest I have ever come to being raped. My boyfriend’s best friend, and my boyfriend wouldn’t believe me. He said I must have “misunderstood” because K would never do that. No wonder I wiped out that memory!

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today. I am exhausted by it all.

Instead, I want to share a quote about gentleness that I came across while preparing a sermon on the topic. I think the sentiments are much needed right about now. I apologize that some of my posts about The Donald have not been very gentle. I am human, I am a woman, and I am angry. Also sad.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

On Gentleness

If you don’t know Henri Nouwen, you should. He was a remarkably gentle and loving man, a priest, professor, theologian, and writer. He wrote this about gentleness, which the Bible says is one of the signs of being a Jesus follower:

“Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness.

We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count.

But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.

Gentle is the one who does “not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something.

A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force.

Let’s dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.”

Amen.

Day fourteen of my daily blogging practice

 

A Gentle Rain Trumps a Hurricane: Mental Health Day

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A GENTLE RAIN TRUMPS A HURRICANE: MENTAL HEALTH DAY

♥ ♥ ♥

Sabbath:

It’s warm inside the Vermont Quaker meetinghouse. A gentle rain patters on the roof and coaxes  golden trees circling the house to release their leaves to winter rest.

We sit.

I got here a few minutes late and the room was already in silence. When I settled into my favorite corner, I let out a huge sigh and then felt self-conscious about the audible stress I had just carried into the room. I imagine that my sigh was tinted slightly orange.

The coming forty-five minutes in silent prayer and meditation doesn’t seem long enough to free my mind and spirit from the outrage and uncomfortable memories that Donald Trump’s sexually predatory comments have stirred up in me.

We sit.

I have not been at peace all week. I’ve been trying to write a sermon on gentleness, but keep getting caught up in the violent whirlwind of this election, despite a two-day fast from news and social media. My psyche feels battered by hurricane-force winds, and there’s a danger of drowning. What do I know of gentleness?

An old woman on the bench in front of me is slowly rotating her ankle around and around, causing her leather boot to creak, creak, creak. At first it’s annoying and distracts me from my meditation, but after a time I begin to imagine I’m journeying on horseback, saddle creaking rhythmically beneath me. It’s soothing.

I sit.

The rain falls softly outside, slowly seeping into the drought-parched earth, deeper, deeper, patiently seeking ways through hard and rocky soil, at last reaching thirsty roots with nourishment and life.

If You are Struggling Emotionally . . .

This is a hard time for Americans, no question. I highly recommend finding time for silence and solitude, walks, and news & social media fasts. Women in particular have been triggered by Trump’s sexually aggressive words and actions.

My 2016 news year’s blog, How to Forgive described a spiritual practice to help you deal with tough emotions. It’s called Welcoming Prayer, and I offer it again today in recognition of World Mental Health Day . I wish you gentle peace:

♥ ♥ ♥

Letting Go

Go someplace where you can be alone in silence. Gaze out a window or at a candle or a piece of artwork. Relax. Allow yourself to focus on the “bad” feeling. Name it. Anger? Hurt? Rage? Desperation? Sadness? Notice where in your body you experience the feeling. Your chest? Your head? Your stomach? Your throat? Put your hand there and sit with the feeling. Then say: “Welcome, {feeling}. I know you are here to teach me. I welcome you.”

Solitude and silence: Step One to Serenity

Solitude and Silence: Step One to Serenity

Some background: This method is based on the work of Father Thomas Keating and his belief — backed up by many psychologists — that humans have core “emotional programming for happiness” that gets us through life. From a very young age, we learn to seek and cling to safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Memorize these. I can guarantee you that at some level, no matter what gets you stirred up or upset, one or more of these “needs” is at the bottom of it. When one of them is threatened, we often react from deep childhood survival programming and lose perspective. We act like angry children instead of adults.

So, after you have named and welcomed your feeling and identified where it’s centered in your body, you may sit with the feeling as long as feels right. Because you are going to let it go, so you want to be completely ready. If you give it some thought, you will likely be able to tell exactly which of childhood emotional needs has been threatened by the situation/person that was the catalyst for your pain and resentment or anger. Sometimes all of them are involved — these are the toughest to release.

When you are ready, say “I accept the lessons I’m learning from this {feeling} and I release my need for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control.” Then you may release your feeling. Or you may keep it around a while to pray about, think about, write about, and learn from. Think of it as a visitor, no longer a permanent resident.

The God Question

I’m a God-person, so when I release my emotional needs and pain, I do it by turning them over to God. God’s got my back; I don’t need to protect my safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Using this method over time, I get stirred up less and less often, being assured that I belong, I’m safe, and I’m loved beyond imagining. My clinging, fearful child has quieted down. I forgive “trespasses” soooo much more easily than I used to. 

At Peace with the Past

Learning to Be at Peace

If you’re not a God-person, I suppose you could release those needs to the universe or the cosmos or some “higher power that is greater than yourself,” as the twelve-step recovery folks say. Perhaps you could imagine putting your unwanted emotions on a train and then watching it disappear down the track. Or imagine dropping them in a river and watching them float out of sight. However you envision releasing your negativity, the point is to send it packing.

Day thirteen of my daily blogging practice.

Trumpty Dumpty’s Great Debate

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TRUMPTY DUMPTY’S GREAT DEBATE

Trumpty Dumpty wanted a wall,

Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the GOP’s forces and all the GOP’s men,

Couldn’t put Trumpty together again!

° ° °

Hillary’s Pillory wants Trumpty, y’all

Hillary’s Pillory is ready for his fall;

Through her heart courses a genuine yen,

To debate Trumpty over and over again.

humpty

October 9, 2016

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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