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PROPHET OR MYSTIC? EITHER WAY: VOTE

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It’s a fine line many of us walk these days. I’m a big believer in not “normalizing” the man-child’s behavior; nor should we ignore it, though that is one strategy a parent might employ with a child throwing tantrums and spewing lies and invectives. We may occasionally laugh at his outlandish hubris or his ignorance about our system of government. But we must not fall into the habit of seeing him as a joke, as the Germans did with Hitler. This is dangerous and we should call it dangerous, even if friends tell us we need to lighten up or “let it go.” Let decency go? Let values go? Let justice go? Let our planet go? No.

So there’s that.

At the same time, how can I be a “light in the world,” as Jesus said? How can I “sow joy where there is sadness” and “hope where there is despair,” as Saint Francis prayed? How can I deepen the roots of my faith and truly believe, as mystic Dame Julian of Norwich believed, that “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well?”

Then there’s Philippians 4:18: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

So there’s all that.

But what about the prophets of old who called out depravity and violence in their political and religious leaders when they saw it? Not that I fancy myself a prophet, but it doesn’t take a prophet to see how depraved the man-child is. Yesterday, he complained that his political momentum was slowed down by a massacre of Jewish people and some assassination attempts. In case you missed it: “Now, we did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible. Because for seven days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum.”

It also stopped eleven beating hearts and threatened dozens of others, but who’s counting?

Also yesterday, at a press conference designed to terrorize his voters about an “invasion” of brown-skinned people — “a lot of young men, strong men” — trump declared that he had told the military they should view any potential throwing of rocks as an attack by rifles. “Consider it a rifle, I told them.” Which means, of course, shoot the brown-skinned people.

Fortunately, there is a high likelihood he’s lying and did not actually order our soldiers to shoot desperate families seeking asylum. He’s just trying to make this sound like a crisis so his 32% will vote and he can justify using the military in a political stunt, right? Right? Because our military wouldn’t do that, right? Right?

Much as I’d like to write a funny post about the challenge of closing up my New Hampshire house for the winter, or an inspirational post about the scents and scenes of autumn, or a despairing post about the mess that is my memoir, I can’t do that today.

Today my prophet needs to speak out, and she’s yelling from the rooftops: If you don’t vote Democratic this week, a lot more people are going to die, whether by assault weapons, loss of healthcare, white supremacist murders, racist police or soldiers egged on by their Commander in Chief, or the storms, floods, and fires brought by climate change.

Think that sounds like an over-reaction? Think I should “let it go?” If you are a trump fan, no doubt you think I’m fear-mongering. Know what? I don’t care. This is no joke.

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Confessions of a Twitter Addict

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CONFESSIONS OF A TWITTER ADDICT

I am quitting Twitter cold-turkey, and I do not use that addiction language lightly. I’ve been fighting a social media addiction for what feels like a long time, but it only became serious about a month ago. I’m not sure exactly what the addiction is, but I can feel the dopamine shooting into my system as surely as if I’d just snorted a noseful of cocaine. I had been a recreational Twitter user for quite a while and dabbled in softer drugs like Facebook, but I recently hit bottom.

I’m not sure how it happened. In mid-August, I suddenly started getting tons of notifications in my feed from people I had never heard of. I’d somehow ended up on several threads that engaged in — well, let’s call it “political discourse.” I’ve always loved a good political debate, but of course it isn’t really debating these days. For most Twitter users, it’s just trading insults, the nastier the better.

These people on Twitter are beyond ugly — mean, vitriolic, crude, vicious. Truly. And it’s not just the trump people. Mostly, but not always.

ONLINE HELL

I quickly became part of a de facto “liberal team” against an opposing “alt-right” team, and it went downhill from there. Many of the fifty people on the threads have apparently been yelling at each other since February.

Here’s how it works: One person makes a statement of “fact” or opinion and then those who disagree run off and google to find counter-arguments. I recently had tabs open to a glossary of hard-rock mining terms, an EPA report on toxic waste in Colorado, Michelle Obama’s thesis from 1985, Helen Keller’s biography, a speech Joe Biden made in 1992, and court records of a foreclosure hearing involving the parents of the woman who has accused Judge Kavanaugh of attempted rape. You see what a good use of my time this has been?

“Libtards” or “snowflakes” generally post major news outlets or analyses by government agencies, and then the tribe of trump shouts “fake news!!” and tweets random fake news and conspiracy websites and crazed blogs as sources. Then they post an anti-Hillary meme or two, and usually end by tossing insults: Liar! Fraud! Fake! Hater! To which a liberal occasionally replies: Liar! Fraud! Fake! Hater!

One of the many “Christians” in the tribe of trump might quote Bible verses that damn you to hell while posting memes of trump standing on top of a tank with bombs bursting behind him. Recently “Daughter of the Most High God” told me to pray that “the Democratic Deep State will stop conducting mass shootings in our schools as a ploy to take away our guns. Amen.”

For a while, I tried arguing with said Christians about what Jesus might think of taking children from their parents or taking healthcare from the poor or turning away refugees or destroying God’s creation. But those people are scary, really scary, and I eventually blocked most of the religious ones.

HOOKED

I knew within a week that I was hooked and that I needed help. But I couldn’t stop. I’d get several hundred notifications a day and started to feel as if I knew these people. I’d get a feeling of accomplishment and superiority whenever I scored a “point” against the opposition and my fellow liberals would applaud me and say, “Way to go, Mel!”

Oh, there were redeeming moments and comments, and I did establish a certain joking rapport with a few trump people. I had some good laughs, like when one woman wrote, “I don’t believe in history.” But then of course she was mocked mercilessly by the liberals and it wasn’t funny anymore.

A POWER GREATER THAN TWITTER

This “confessional” blog is part of a ritual I created to give myself the strength to deactivate my account. If you have not had such an addiction, you won’t understand. I didn’t really understand either. So as part of my ritual, I journaled a stream of consciousness to find out what it is I’m addicted to — what I think I get from Twitter. I wrote words like “excitement, belonging, relevance, engagement, competence.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of those desires, but from Twitter?? God, this is embarrassing.

Anyway . . .

Last night I lit a candle, I said a pray, and then I recited a version of the first three steps of the twelve-step program: “I am powerless over Twitter and my life has become unmanageable. I know that only a power greater than myself (which I call God) can help me be free of it, and so I turn my Twitter addiction over to You and ask You to help me let it go.”

Then at 7:13 pm precisely, as the sun went down, I deactivated my account.

In thirty days, I will reactivate it to see if I can go back to reading the news and interacting with other writers, readers, literary magazines, and spiritual seekers in a healthy way. If not, I’ll deactivate for good.

Wish me luck!

 

Finding the Divine in Nature

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FINDING THE DIVINE IN NATURE

“Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal,” writes theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Perfectly said.

In less mystical language, the Message translation of the Christian Bible says, “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of {Her} divine being.” Romans 1:20

Ancient mystics have always felt that silence is God’s first language, which may be true, but nature is certainly a very close second. Together, they are the gateway to the Divine.

Assisi Pathway

God has always spoken to me through the natural world. I wasn’t brought up in a religious home — my sanctuaries were the woods and meadows of New Hampshire and a muddy little spot on the edge of a silty pond in southern Florida. Turtles, grasshoppers, and garter snakes served as my preachers, “intimations of the divine,” in Rabbi Heschel’s words.

Preach it, sister!

I know that many people experience a “higher power” most strongly in nature. Of course, not everyone will choose an environmental profession as I did in response to nature’s divine communication. But if you spend quiet time in a natural setting and “take a long and thoughtful look,” you cannot help feeling a sense of connection, belonging, oneness . . . awe. There are no words to capture this connection, hence silence.

Tomorrow is World Day of Prayer for Creation, which was started in 1989 by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is now celebrated worldwide by people of all faiths. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “praying person,” why not get outside, preferably alone, and say something like, “Hello?” 

Or consider the words of 12th-century German philosopher mystic Meister Eckhart as you look up at the sky: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

Amen.

Colorful Blessings: Wild Goose Festival 2018 #3

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COLORFUL BLESSINGS

It would be impossible to characterize the spiritual beliefs of the thousands of people who gather at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina every year. Since the wild goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit of Christ, I would guess that most attenders are at least curious about the way of Jesus.

Some have been seriously wounded by churches and are wary of the label “Christian.” (After the 2016 presidential election, it’s kind of hard not to be!) Many LGBTQ Jesus-people have found their “tribe” at the Goose but wouldn’t be caught dead in a church, especially in the south. And you’ll find a lot of self-proclaimed “recovering evangelicals” at the festival.

Tattooed, multi-pierced millennials raise their hands in prayer alongside white-haired baby boomers with their grandkids. Newly ordained African-American Methodist women sing alongside retired white male Baptist preachers in the Beer & Hymns tent each night.

Beer & Hymns

It’s a welcoming group, open and inclusive and unafraid of people from various religious and cultural backgrounds. There were Buddhists and Hindus leading workshops, and a young Syrian-American Muslim rapper named Mona Haydar who led us in singing “Wrap my Hijab,” which has been called one of the top twenty-five feminist anthems of all time. Watch her here

The Holy

I went to a session called Blessing 101, which I found deeply moving. I have always liked the biblical concept of a “priesthood of all believers,” which holds that each of us carries “the holy” within us, and we’re called to bless one another with that Divine love.

During this session, we moved from person to person beneath a large tent, marking each other with colorful powder and offering blessings and prayers. We passed around vials of gulal, a powder used like Christian anointing oil by some Hindus and Buddhists. In Nepal and India, there’s a spring-time festival called Holi where exuberant crowds throw handfuls of the powder all over each other to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

I was surprised how after a moment of looking into a stranger’s eyes, I felt I could sense what they needed to hear. It felt intimate and beautiful and made me realize how inattentive I am towards others in my day-to-day life. 

I blessed people with courage and perseverance and peace and forgiveness, and several people blessed me with something like wisdom or “sageness,” which made me feel old, but seemed right for my journey.

For the rest of the day when people commented on my colorful self, I enthused, “Yes, I’ve been blessed!”

Blessed!

Up next: Battling Buddha

Wild Goose 2018 #2: Resurrecting the Church of Jesus

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Every year, I intend to write multiple posts about my experiences at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, a spiritual gathering of thousands of souls thirsty for peace, justice, beauty, and creativity. And every year I get sucked in to some other reality and end up sharing only the tiniest taste of the festival.

Sunday Parade: “Down to the River to Pray”

This year my first post-Goose offering was simply about the struggle of returning to the “real world” only to find a certain someone still occupying the White House. 

Fortunately, I soon entered another alternative universe, one which, like Hot Springs, has poor internet connectivity. So except for my daily nose dive into the headlines, I have generally maintained my serenity here in New Hampshire with my nephew and his gaggle of teenagers. I am on vacation from the ugliness.

I can now take time to reflect on the 2018 Goose and begin sorting through pages and pages of notes and dozens of memories and photos of the festival.

Resurrecting the Church . . .

A few good friends and I arrived early for a pre-festival event hosted by a group called Convergence, a new program for progressive Christian leaders hoping to transform their churches and become part of “the larger multi-faith movement for peace, justice, ecological responsibility, and inclusion for all.” (If this sounds good to you, check out their website and apply for the next cohort by August 27. Apply now and get 50% off!)

Convergence leader Brian McLaren (who is also the founding pastor of my church) began by stating outright that “the old model of church is dying and salvaging the dying won’t work.” Though there was little disagreement, most of the people there were heavily invested in that old model, having attended seminary and devoted their lives to pastoring in denominational structures. All agreed that acknowledging what’s been lost is necessary before new growth is possible, but this acceptance gave the day a bittersweet mood.

One of the Convergence leaders personifies this journey of loss and new growth. Anna Galloday was a Methodist pastor in Tennessee who was relieved of her duties for marrying a gay couple earlier this year. Anna felt certain that following Jesus meant accompanying all her parishioners through every life transition, but the result was that the life she had planned crumbled around her. From the rubble she is building a new life as an outspoken leader in the social justice field and a supporter of other clergy who stand for a loving, inclusive Christian faith.

“Leadership without love is just noise,” says Brian McLaren.

The new face of Christian leadership PHOTO COURTESY RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK

Creating Discomfort

Change in any institution is hard, but churches are especially tough because many pastors see their job as keeping their congregations happy, and as Brian points out, “Happy people don’t change.” He says that a pastor’s job should be to instill a desire for change, to create discomfort with the status quo; in fact to make people unhappy.

If you read the Bible, you’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus did. He constantly challenged institutions and individuals to move towards compassion and justice. He probably wasn’t a very comfortable guy to be around, especially for those invested in their egos and/or the status quo.

Just imagine what Jesus would say to the preachers on the extreme right who are supporting the current administration! And just imagine if they listened to him! Tragically, these lost souls are caught in the triple-deep pit of ego, money, and power. Barring divine intervention, I’m not expecting them to become Christ-like anytime soon. 

Change is Inevitable

I can’t begin to cover all that we discussed during the pre-festival gathering — Brian shared his ten commandments of church change, we talked about how various personality types respond to change, we covered “Moral Foundations Theory” and how liberals and conservatives view it differently.

Brian McLaren: Mastering Change

The bottom line is that change is inevitable because “today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems,” so leaders had better get used to it.

I left the Convergence session feeling overwhelmed but grateful that our little independent church isn’t tied to any institutions or existing power structures. Unlike most churches, Cedar Ridge is entirely free to follow God’s Spirit where we feel she’s leading, which for us means a contemplative frame of mind and a movement towards social justice — racial, economic, and environmental.

I see why I have trouble capturing the Wild Goose Festival — this post is quite long enough and I haven’t even gotten to the official start of the festival! Stay tuned for random thoughts on discernment, Buddha, and the creation of new rituals . . . In the meantime, check out “Wild Goose” in the search function of this blog and read about past festivals.

Wild Goose 2018 #1: Holding on to Serenity

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After five days at the Wild Goose Festival in the mountains of North Carolina, unplugged from the internet and living in a community of four thousand smiling, creative, hopeful, “damn-givers,” as John Pavlovitz calls us, it is hard to return to . . . to . . . what shall I call this train wreck of a world?

I will not call it anything. I will not spend my precious time searching for words despairing enough to describe the darkness and brokenness. I will not let it burrow back into my soul.

I will simply allow it to parade by in all its sick ugliness and violence and pettiness, and I will hold on to the hope and courage and truth and generosity of spirit that defines Wild Goose.

This is the ultimate act of resistance. Resistance of the heart. It’s not easy.

The moment my phone reconnected me with so-called “reality” — the one where the President of the United States offers aid and comfort to the KGB-president who is working round-the-clock to undermine our nation — I lost my serenity. I drove eight hours back to Maryland, greeted my cat, unpacked my cooler, and immediately became engaged in a Facebook debate about the meaning of “treason.”

Then I perused Twitter until 1 a.m., first in disbelief, then in outrage, and finally in numb horror.

I chose this. I simply handed over my serenity and exchanged it for madness. There’s an awful lot about which I have no choice. But what I allow to rule in my mind and heart, I can choose.

So here are a few images from the Goose this year. More words and images of hope to come . . .

Blogger & pastor John Pavlovitz speaks to the “damn-givers” (If you don’t read his blog, I highly recommend it!)

A communion table where everyone is welcome

Listening to singer/songwriter Amy Grant

How to Prepare for the “Second Civil War”

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Today is the day that right-wing conspiracy theorists have declared liberals will start “a second civil war.” Of course the imaginary troops are all those “animals” crawling over our border and being recruited by Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters to fight against self-proclaimed “patriots.”

(Never mind that those right-wing extremist “patriots” are the ones armed to the teeth — don’t confuse them with the facts.)

Of course liberals are having a heyday with this ridiculousness, and it is amusing, in a warped way. Sometimes you just have to laugh to protect your heart and spirit, right?

The Liberals are Coming, The Liberals are Coming!!

But I think this made-up crap about an impending war and the need to arm oneself against people who disagree with you politically is no laughing matter.

I feel powerless against the lies and misinformation and the constant race-baiting and fear-mongering, not to mention the increasing number of crazies with guns. And if I venture into the world of Alex Jones, FOX “News,” and other conspiracy peddlers, I feel that I’ve fallen into some vortex of dark fantasy. Like this “second civil war” thing — talk about inciting violence!

Retreating to a Peaceful Place

I’m trying to limit my exposure to our national crisis while I’m in my peaceful place in New Hampshire. (Most people up here have taken down their trump signs by now, thank God, so I can pretend we are still governed by a stable administration.)

To avoid the news and my grief over losing my aged kitty yesterday, I’ve been blessedly absorbed in several books. First was a Canadian mystery, then a wizards & dragons tale, and this morning I’ve been engrossed in a spiritual book.

Father Richard Rohr is one of my favorite authors, and I consider him a spiritual mentor. The book I’m reading, “Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go,” was written decades ago, but its timeless wisdom speaks to the age of trumpism. I found the following quote especially appropriate to mark the start of the imaginary “Second Civil War,” and helpful in accepting my own powerlessness:

“Many things in life cannot be changed; we can only grieve them. So long as we are no longer under the compulsion of wanting to change them, we have the freedom to change them. Then the change comes from much greater depth — not from our anger, but from a place of integrity; not from a place where fear dwells, but from deep trust; not from a place were self-righteousness rules, but from wisdom.”

If, as I believe, America’s ailment is a spiritual sickness (the pure essence of which is embodied in the current president), then we must be especially careful not to “become the monsters we fight,” as Nietzsche put it. 

May we all be armed only with the weapons of integrity, trust, wisdom, and compassion. Amen.

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