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Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

WordPress Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

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Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

For the majority of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump, this moment is more than just an “upsetting setback” or an “alarming trend” or even a “crushing defeat.”

I have a friend who is a Trump voter and he is on Facebook trying to calm people down by writing things like:

“Our hearts should be wrapped up in loving God and loving others. (You know, the greatest commandment and the 2nd one just like it?) All this fear should be transferred to trust in God. We should not be looking to government to do the things we should be doing ourselves.”

Let me begin by saying this is not a helpful way to respond. First, it reminds the public that millions of people called Christians have voted for someone whose number-one character trait is attacking and mocking and belittling others. This does not reflect well on Christianity and it tells people that churches are not safe places to be. This is tragic.

Secondly, a white guy telling people not to be afraid of Trump is . . . well, I don’t actually have a word for that. Let me explain:

Just a Few of Our Fears

  • Millions of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims and LGBTQ people fear for their immediate physical safety. The bullying has already begun. Because it’s allowed now, even encouraged. “Political correctness” i.e., respecting and empathizing with those different from you, is mocked as un-American.
  • When millions of Jewish people see the language that Trump’s campaign lifted directly from anti-semitic websites, they hear boots marching and murderous voices chanting.
  • Those of us who have decided to stay in the U.S. and fight for “a more perfect union” with “liberty and justice for all” now fear retribution. Will we be targeted for intimidation and punishment? How will the public even know what’s going on after Trump bans unfriendly news outlets from the White House and congressional hearings? I am painfully aware that part of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is vengefulness. It wouldn’t take much of a search to identify anti-Trump bloggers and make sure that they have trouble getting driver’s licenses or passports or health care or . . .
  • Oh yeah, there’s that small matter of health care. Twenty-two million people will soon lose affordable health care, myself included. I have a pre-existing condition. I was with a woman yesterday who has a disabled son and she is inconsolable because he’ll lose his treatment and affordable medications. For the first time in his thirty years, he had the care he needed because of Obamacare.
  • I’ve heard many fathers and mothers express fear that their daughters will now be entering a time when it’s OK to grope and grab and trash-talk women, something most women have experienced and were hoping was becoming a thing of the past.
  • For me, fear of nuclear holocaust is at the top of the list because of Trump’s impulsivity, recklessness, and petty vengefulness.
  • Climate change? I wouldn’t call that fear, more resignation and deep sadness for the human race.

Anyway, my point is that white male Christians should please not tell people “Fear not because God loves you and your fellow Americans will pick up the slack when government programs are gone.” Because the most at-risk people aren’t feeling too warm and fuzzy towards their “fellow Americans” right now, especially evangelical Christians, and most of our fears aren’t anything fellow Americans can help with anyway. I cannot stop Trump from pushing the nuclear button, and you cannot provide healthcare to that woman’s disabled son. Tuna casseroles won’t do it.

Emerging from Denial

I seem to be emerging from the shock and denial stage of grief and entering into anger. That’s good, I guess.

I spent yesterday at a silent retreat center and it truly helped. There were twice as many people there as usual, nearly thirty of us seeking comfort and solace from a Higher Power. The leader suggested that we “befriend our tears” and consider them “an offering.” She asked us to allow our hearts to be soft and broken because nothing new and good can grow from hard, frozen ground. I took her advice.

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

I’m still deciding how else to respond. Silence and prayer is good — we should all take care of ourselves and take whatever time we need to grieve. But then we need to decide. How will we respond? My mind cycles between options:

Now What?

I could be marching in the anti-Trump protests, but I don’t think that’s especially helpful. While it is good to send a message to Trump that he does not have a mandate (not even a majority of the votes) and we are here and we are watching, it is not helpful to break stuff and set things on fire. But testosterone will be testosterone and anarchists will be anarchists, and they have glommed on to peaceful marches and rallies.

Or I could leave. I already have friends headed to Canada and Scotland and looking into Costa Rica. But no, I believe in this country’s founding principles, and I believe in a good God, and I absolutely believe that love will win in the end. I am not made of the stuff that runs away. I’m an American and I still love my country, even though I’m crushingly ashamed of it right now.

Or I could withdraw and go into an insular shell as I did the first time Reagan won. I spent nine months in depression, often not getting out of my dressing gown until I knew my roommates would be coming home from work. I supported the economy by buying a lot of marijuana. Yeah, that wasn’t my best response, and I’ll not be withdrawing again.

Or I could withdraw less dramatically and simply stay away from the news for four years and watch entertainment shows and history documentaries about Hitler and Mussolini. But life is too short and I’m too old to spend my last decades — if I’m granted that long — seeing everything I have worked for in my environmental justice career and personal life come unraveled. The arc of history bends towards justice, and I’m going to keep hanging on to the end of that arc with my friends.

Or I could dive in 110% and go back to work for a social justice organization and work fourteen-hour days and hope that I can save the world. Been there, done that. It’s a worthy pursuit, but not for me anymore. Trump has committed to undo decades of bipartisan progress on environmental issues and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, so rules & regulations & agencies are only as good as the leader. It’s hearts that have to be changed, not just laws.

Or I can give money to social change and civil rights and organizations. Lord knows they are going to need it. I hope you will do that. Right now. They need encouragement as they gear up to defend our constitution and our laws. But I don’t think money is enough.

Standing Together

People who care about justice and equality and peace and the planet need to stand together, literally. We need to look each other in the eyes and say, “I am with you. You are not alone.”

We need to pick our battles and engage. Tonight I’m headed to a rally in a nearby small town to show solidarity with Muslims and immigrants. Two hundred folks have already signed up. Next week I’m going to a larger rally in Annapolis to stand with my Native American brothers and sisters against the Dakota Pipeline.

I’ll be sporting a safety pin on my sweaters from now on, the new symbol of a “safe person” that loving Americans are now wearing in support of at-risk people. I hope that you will, too. And don’t just wear it, but speak up when you see a problem. Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

#safetypin = safe person

#safetypin = safe person

If you are one of the majority of Americans who are afraid right now, what are you going to do?

Thanks to WordPress Daily Post for the prompt: Or

Emotive Weekend Entertainment: Historic Election Nights We Have Known

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If you are a political junkie as I am, the link below will be all you need to keep you occupied for a good chunk of time. You might want to go through it more than once. I already have.

I remember every one of these nights as if they were just last year, and each memory contains either ebullient joy or devastation.

In 1980, I was on my way home from night school to watch the election returns with my roomies. We were expecting a long night. It was 8:15 when I stopped at the liquor store for champagne. The TV was on, and John Chancellor was announcing that Ronald Reagan had won in a landslide. Just like that. Half the country hadn’t even voted yet. I sat down on a chair and wept.

Of course, Bush vs. Gore in 2000 was the worst. It stretched our nation almost to its breaking point. It still makes me nauseated when I remember the moment the Supreme Court said, “Stop counting the ballots.” The level of shock I felt was on a par with September 11. My country, shaken to its core. This can’t happen here! Don’t count the votes? Don’t count the votes?

But keep scrolling through the article and you will come to 2008. You can watch us elect our first African-American president all over again. And again. And again. With tears streaming down your face as you watch thousands and thousands of people of every race and ethnicity rejoicing together in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and beyond. Oh, for that kind of energy in progressive America again!

Another wave of nostalgia may hit you when you see real TV newscasters. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Intelligent people who try to report actual news in an unbiased manner without letting their personalities take the stage. Talk about history!

It Might Be OK

Watching these videos one after the other, you may also get just the slightest sense that “it’s going to be OK,” as we stand at the precipice of what is, I believe, the most important election in our history. We are getting awfully close to our last chance to keep climate change from wiping out a million or so species — but maybe the human one will survive a while longer, and maybe America will.

Hillary has a decent chance of defeating the Orange Menace. And even if Trump gets elected, hopefully we’ll get a Democratic Senate to protect the Supreme Court and limit the domestic damage, and maybe someone in his family can keep him from starting a nuclear war. The rest of the world will just have to wait four years while he tanks bigly, and then America will be back.

We are resilient, we are strong. We’re just, well, kind of schizophrenic: red or blue, black or white, pro-choice or pro-life. I don’t know how we heal this rift of the heart.

I will be in prayer this weekend. I suggest you join me, no matter what your view of prayer might be. Can’t hurt, right? Meantime, check out this awesome article from the Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/11/04/what-time-will-this-election-finally-be-over/?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1

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!

Loving Beyond Humans to All Living Creatures

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As I mentioned in my last post, I have joined the We Stand With Love campaign to try to counteract the hatred and bigotry running rampant in our country lately. Below is my contribution to the campaign, entitled Loving Beyond Humanity to All Living Creatures. Here, too, is the link if you want to see a cute doggie picture and read other essays on going “Beyond Love.”

by Melanie Lynn Griffin

The more we practice “loving beyond ourselves,” the more we are challenged.

Heart-stretching can be a painful exercise as we confront our self-centeredness and prayerfully question the ways our societies, religious communities, and families make us insensitive to “the other.”

The reward is a gradual awakening to our true selves, and the discovery that our capacity for love and compassion is boundless: Joy! Connection! Belonging!

But wait — how far might this go? Might we move beyond ourselves to our families, and beyond our families to our neighbors, and beyond our neighbors to “the other,” and beyond “the other” to the enemy, so we include all human beings in our circle of love?

But then, might it go farther still – to include our fellow creatures?

To get there, we will have to have the courage to face some inconvenience.

How inconvenient to feel compassion for the cow that died for your steak dinner, or to learn that the pig that became your bacon was smarter than your golden retriever, or that contrary to what your father told you, the trout flapping on the end of your line most likely does feel pain.

How inconvenient that ExxonMobil’s potential Arctic oil field (which will power your SUV) also happens to be a nursery for polar bears and caribou, or that the site of the proposed Walmart (where you will buy your cow-skin shoes) is also home to an endangered gopher tortoise.

Your compassion practice may lead you to change some of your daily habits.

At the very least it will raise some tough questions: What is the cost of your lifestyle to the nonhuman creatures who share our planet?

Does a nonhuman creature have intrinsic value as God’s handiwork, or is it only valuable in service to humans? Today, practice stretching your circle of concern to include our fellow creatures on this beautiful planet that teems with precious life.

Questions for Today:

When have you witnessed obvious cruelty to an animal? How did you respond?

What would our society look like if we became more sensitive to the suffering of animals?

What happens to us if we become less sensitive to the suffering of our fellow creatures?

 

Melanie Lynn Griffin was an environmental lobbyist for many years. Now she is a freelance writer and pastor.

Beware of Killer Kale!

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I thought I’d start your week off with a chuckle. Here is an ad put out by a corporate-funded anti-environmental group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. They mostly spend their time and money denying climate change and explaining to the public how dioxin might actually be good for you. That’s not at all funny.

But this ad, sad as it is, made me laugh out loud. Check it out — they must have decided that the threat posed by organic kale to the chemical industry’s bottom line was so dire that they had to launch an all-out attack on the crinkly green menace. Here’s what they came up with:

kale photo

 

It’s a clever send-up of a recent public health campaign that details what happens to your body within one hour of drinking a Coke. (Hint: nothing good.) Except that it’s not clever. It’s mostly just insulting people who like kale.

I invite you to check out their website, particularly if you are concerned about the spread of kale. There you can donate to a fund named “Advancing Capitalism,” presumably because capitalism is having such a hard time of it these days. Learn about CEI’s “full-service approach to advancing public policy,” including “scholarly articles that make the case for an issue,” probably written by the same college interns who crafted this ridiculous assault on organic kale. (I just have to keep saying that, it cracks me up.) Anyway, check out the many policy areas in which they would like to limit government regulation, including energy & the environment, health & safety, and banking & finance. Because America.

Happy Monday.

The latest threat to society

The latest threat to society

 

 

 

 

Digging Up and Looking Up

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I haven’t told you about the rosebush. Well, it’s more like a rose sprig at the moment, but it’s shooting up like a gangly adolescent, having grown almost a foot in the five weeks since I prayerfully dug up the three tiny leaves and as much root as I could get.

I had planned to dig up a number of Mom’s plants before I sold her house — three heritage roses, a quince, an azalea given to her by my late friend in honor of my father, a bleeding heart given to her by my best friend in honor of Mom’s sister, a hydrangea from her best friend, mounds of snowdrops and daffodils.

But the house sold fast, I had a broken arm, and it was too emotionally painful to go over there. Life happened, and when I next drove by, the garden had been done away with and nothing remained but a few trees and a smooth expanse of grass.

There!

I was invited to a party at the house in June, my first time back in a year. It was haunting and strange to walk through my childhood home, completely renovated and all but unrecognizable. Late in the afternoon, I wandered over to where the roses had been for sixty-plus years and ran my fingers through the young grass, hoping against hope.

At first I found nothing, but then . . . there! Three miniature rose leaves, so small they might have belonged to a fairy-gardener.

I asked the new owners if I could come by with a shovel and dig it up and they agreed. I hurried over the next morning, fearful that another lawn mowing would be the end of it. I talked to the tender sprout as I dug around it. Please live. I talked to my mom’s spirit and asked her help. Why not, right? She loved those roses.

I have never seen a plant respond the way this one has. Deciding it was too risky to plant it mid-summer, I put it in a pot and have been watering and spritzing it daily. I’ve even hauled the heavy container with me on a few road trips. Tomorrow we head back to New Hampshire.

Here’s the rose on its first trip to New Hampshire in June, just a week after I dug it up.

Life Force

Life Force

This week’s blogging photo challenge is Look Up. So I thought I’d share my rose’s resurrection story and a photo looking up into the glorious blooms of my mother’s magnolia tree, which, thank heavens, the new owners have seen fit to keep.

Glory

Glory

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