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America’s Guardian Genie

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AMERICA’S GUARDIAN GENIE

It’s a lovely spring day here in D.C., and I’m feeling hopeful about our current national upheaval for the first time in a while. As more and more judges overturn or stall the countless egregious policies spewing out of the White House — including trump’s golden boy Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch — I wonder if maybe, just perhaps, our democracy can survive until the current occupant of the Oval Office has departed.

Yes, people are getting sick and dying and being jailed as a result of this administration. But because of the blatant attacks on everyone who isn’t wealthy, white, and/or male, people who have never been involved in politics or activism are stepping up and speaking out.

Look at the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and now all over the nation. Look at the #MeToo movement. Look at the head of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Wait, what?

Yup – in case you missed it, yesterday the head of the Coast Guard said he will completely ignore the White House and continue allowing transgender people to serve until an official policy bans transgender troops.

And Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft did not mince words. “Seems to me this is an invented problem and a waste of time and dollars and military resources by targeting these dedicated service members who’ve proved their fitness and their ability to serve,” he told a House subcommittee.

Yipes. That is stunning when you think about it. Given the rash, vindictive behavior of the president, Zukunft may well be fired for this.

Knowing Love

I wonder if the admiral would have been this courageous if he didn’t have a trans service member in his personal office. It happens so often, even in conservative Christian circles: when you discover that someone you know, love, or respect is LGBTQ, God will surprise you by changing your heart and mind. (Unless you decide that being “right” or “righteous” is more important than loving one another.)

For my friends who still don’t understand, I pray for you a loved one who is brave enough to bear your scorn by telling you they aren’t straight. May hearts be softened and lives changed as people risk their jobs & even their lives by coming out of the closet, and as straight allies speak up for the first time.

For Such a Time as This

In the Book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures, a woman hesitating about risking her life for her people is asked, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” It seems that an increasing number of Americans, including Admiral Zukunft, are risking all to step into their place in history.

I firmly believe that God brings good from bad. As much of a menace as trump is, his shocking disregard for other people and for our democracy may be waking up a complacent America. When we see people marching in our streets carrying Nazi flags, it’s kind of hard not to notice.

Perhaps the growing “resistance” has finally caused enough friction to release America’s guardian genie from her bottle. She is floating over our country calling, “Wake up, wake up, speak up! You are made for such a time as this!”

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt is genie, which means a “tutelary spirit” and comes from the Latin for tutor — a wise guide and protector.

 

 

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In Search of Silence

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IN SEARCH OF SILENCE

Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.

Pilgrimage

Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.

Reflections

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt: Noise

Guns & Schools

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GUNS & SCHOOLS

This week has been sadly sweet for me. The sweet part has been spending every day teaching kindergartners. Their innocence and vulnerability turns my heart to mush. The sad part is, I can’t get Sandy Hook out of my head. The nausea clutches at my stomach at unexpected times, like when one child slips his hand in mine or another one asks me to tie her shoe.

Pictures of the children killed at Sandy Hook and their parents have been all over the news since the latest school massacre.

I am anxious at times, angry more often, but mostly sad. It is beyond imagining that our “leaders” have literally been bought by the NRA to the extent that children are being slaughtered in their classrooms and nobody does anything. Nada.

Today, two first-grade girls ran up to me excitedly and said, “Is it true that trump wants teachers to have guns?” One said, “I saw it on TV,” and the other said, “I heard my Mommy and Daddy talking about it.”

I presume that their regular teacher deflected the question, because the girls made a beeline for me when I came into their classroom to supervise lunch. They have questions, and they want answers.

I told them that yes, it is an idea of his, but it is a silly idea and everyone knows it so we don’t have to worry about it.

They asked why he would want to do such a silly thing, and I said because he doesn’t really understand what it means to be safe.

”Well, WE’RE not going to do that,” harumphed one of the girls (a pretty safe bet, since we are a Quaker school).

Like the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Florida, these children know a dumb idea when they hear it. And they know a charlatan. In their own way, they are echoing MSD student Emma Gonzalez’s cry: “We call B.S.!!”

This Time it Feels Different

Many of my friends are saying, “This time it feels different.” And it does. For one thing, the outrage has lasted more than a week. We aren’t just moving on to the next media frenzy. The students won’t let us. The NRA boycott is gathering steam and major airlines and insurance companies have stopped giving discounts to NRA members. Dicks Sporting Goods and Walmart are both tightening their gun purchasing rules.

Even trump has made encouraging noises this week about maybe doing something useful, although his ignorance of the issue is appalling. And he seems dead set on arming teachers (pun intended). Fortunately, many governors are pushing back on behalf of teachers and law enforcement.

Yes, something feels different this time.

Could it be that the pernicious evil that powers the NRA has finally met its match in the bold persistence of America’s high school and middle school and now apparently elementary school kids?

We Call B.S.

The NRA seems desperate and is losing its already tenuous grip on reality. Their spokespeople sound like raving lunatics, hinting at armed rebellion and accusing the media of loving mass shootings because “crying white mothers are ratings gold to you.”

The NRA public relations department is working overtime to remind us that school shootings are “extremely rare events” and that more kids die in pool drownings and bicycle accidents than mass shootings. And comfortingly, although there are 55 million school children in the U.S. only an average of 10 per year are killed by gunfire at school. That’s pretty good odds, right?

God in heaven, who thinks like that??

#WeCallBS

Political Conservative’s NRA Shame

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An interesting word prompt arrived in my inbox today, one that wouldn’t normally interest me except that I taught an eighth-grade science class this week. The word is “assay.” It’s not used a lot in day-to-day speech, but it should be.

It’s defined as “an investigative procedure [in science] for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence, amount, or functional activity of a target entity.” The word comes from fourteenth century Anglo-French “assai,” meaning “trial, test of quality, test of character.”

For instance, if you wanted to test the character or functional activity of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — America’s biggest D.C. shindig for conservative Republicans each year — you would investigate who pays for it and who takes the stage.

The National Rifle Association is generally a big contributor to the event, including sponsoring the festive Ronald Reagan dinner. This year, the money behind the dinner is being kept secret.

Also not made public was the big speech by the NRA’s chief executive Wayne LaPierre. As survivors of the latest school massacre made their way to the nation’s capitol to plead for controls on the lethal weapons that murdered their friends and so many others, CPAC made public their schedule of speakers. LaPierre’s appearance was nowhere to be seen. But lo and behold, he’s on the stage as I write.

He’s the GOP’s secret weapon, literally.

Wayne LaPierre speaking to his bought-and-paid-for minions

Republicans may be ashamed or afraid to let the public know that the NRA is paying for and speaking at their conference, but they cannot hide the NRA contributions coming straight into their campaign coffers. That’s how we know that when the man who sometimes sits in the Oval Office in between golf games takes the stage at CPAC tomorrow, he’ll be standing on bales of NRA cash that helped get him into office: thirty million bucks, to be exact.

It’s a pretty simple assay experiment to test the character and “functional activity” of the GOP these days. Even high school students can do it.

 

Teaching. Or Not.

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“You still like the teaching job?” friends often ask.

I’m stymied by the question because I don’t recall ever telling anyone that I liked teaching. I don’t actually know if I like it or not. Do I even teach?

The other day a little blonde girl flounced past me on her way to hang up her jacket, which I had asked her to do. “You’re not a *real* teacher,” she said in a challenging but slightly uncertain tone, like you might say, “There’s no Santa Claus, right?” hoping against hope you didn’t just jeopardize your Christmas Eve visit. She wasn’t sure, but she had a hunch that I did not have the authority of her real teacher.

I sighed. She had a point. I mean, is a substitute a “real teacher ?” I usually feel more like a glorified babysitter with a seating chart.

Every once in a while I get to act like a real teacher — to stand up and say stuff to the class that is more than just “Quiet down” or “Sit down” or “Clean up.” But I’m usually spending so much time trying to control the 2 or 3 wildest kids that I have no time to do more than give cursory instructions to the rest of the class. It doesn’t seem to be getting better as I approach my one-year anniversary of being a substitute teacher.

The little blonde girl’s teacher said to me, “You are a real teacher and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.” I appreciated the support, but that same teacher has told me in so many words, “Our standards for subs are really just to make sure nobody gets seriously hurt.” So much for teaching.

I don’t know if I’m a good substitute; I do know I could get better. I also know that another sub at my school fled the building in tears in the middle of the school day and was never seen again. At least I haven’t done that. Yet.

Thing is, I don’t feel like a “real pastor” or a “real writer” either. I have multidimensional Imposter’s Syndrome or whatever it’s called. So who knows? Maybe I am a real teacher. I wonder if I’ll ever get good enough at classroom management so that I can teach a lesson.

Here’s the truth, though, and why my friends probably assume I like teaching. I love the children. I really love them. Even the misbehaving ones, the ones who test me and flounce by me — even the little boy who peed on a stuffed animal the other day.

When I zig-zag down the hall, dodging streams of rambunctious knee-high kindergartners and carelessly nonchalant middle schoolers, I feel . . . joy. There’s no other word for it.

So you tell me: do I like teaching?

A Conversation for 2018

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It’s 2018, and America — we need to talk. I know, I know, there has been far too much talking, tweeting, ranting, and raging this past year. Words are flying everywhere, criss-crossing our awareness like the maniacal flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. That isn’t what I’m envisioning.

I mean we need to have a conversation, to communicate. Remember? The part where your lips stop moving and then the other person speaks and you listen to them? Where you aren’t just trying to prove your point, but you are actually vaguely curious about what the other person might have to say?

Yeah. I barely remember it either. That’s why we’re in such a mess.

Conversation seems like a quaint idea, something from a bygone era when we had more time, an era before air conditioning when we sat on our front porches after supper to catch an evening breeze and shoot the breeze with our neighbors. A time when we were a little more interdependent, before we all began carrying around a world of information and opinion in our pockets and no longer needed to actually connect with others.

Still longer ago, in the mid-fourteenth century, the word conversation meant “living together, having dealings with others,” and even more broadly, “a manner of conducting oneself in the world.” I like that. The Latin root meaning “to live with, keep company with” literally means “turn about with,” and an even older language root means “to turn, to bend.”

With this understanding, conversation seems like a dance — the dance of living together, turning and bending to accommodate others, sometimes comfortably, sometimes less comfortably, but still, living life together.

These days conversation isn’t a dance, it’s a battle. You can’t really even call it conversation. It’s just a torrent of words, evil monkeys descending from dark skies, stomping on us, tearing us limb from limb and leaving us lying flattened, like Dorothy’s unfortunate scarecrow.

Evil Words

Our so-called “national conversation” is used to divide and conquer, not to find common ground. There’s no gentle bending or turning involved. It’s wrenching and even fatal for people living in poverty, without healthcare, or in cities where police brutality is the norm. My God, our very planet is at stake but if you mention climate change you’re accused of politicizing tragedies like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. 

Make no mistake — there is evil afoot in America. The man-child currently in the White House is the most egregious example, of course. He absolutely glories in causing pain and division, using words as weapons and firing off twitter tirades like some twisted middle-schooler whose parents are secretly worried he might get his hands on a gun.

He is a sick, sick human, and most of us know that by now.

That does not mean that the rest of us have to live in his madness for another year. We have a responsibility to remember a time when America was a lot greater. To the extent that we safely can, we (and I’m talking to myself here) must learn to ignore the invective spewing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let’s leave him ranting in the kitchen while we adults head to the front porch to have a conversation about values and meaning and truth. 

I wish you many edifying conversations in 2018!

Happy New Year!

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt: conversation.

Cherishing Christmas

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This Christmas Day I cherish my friends. I am so grateful to the many who have invited me into their Christmas festivities after I lost my Mom and brother.

I cherish my family: my nephew, his wife, and his four children. There can be no greater joy than to be smothered in hugs of greeting and cries of “Auntie Mel, Auntie Mel!!”

I cherish my sister and my niece and her family, and I cherish my cousins from Connecticut to Canada, from Florida to South Africa — those I rarely see but to whom I am connected by that magical thread of history, memory, and love. Together we hold the memories of those who have gone before.

I cherish my old friends, high school and earlier, who have known me at my worst and love me still. Being with them is like soaking in a bubble bath of love and acceptance.

I cherish the gentle, generous hearts of my church family and the twenty-plus-year journey we have shared in search of the ineffable.

I cherish our beautiful planet and the millions of activists who give their time and heart to protecting her.

I cherish creatures and plants great and small, each of which reflects the glorious divine imagination.

I cherish this country I live in, broken as it is. I cherish the ideals and hopes on which it was founded, and I cherish the dreams of justice and compassion that “keep hope alive” in dark times.

I cherish the little community I’ve been blessed to live in for thirty years, a small cooperative founded by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and based on the ideals of cooperation and volunteerism.

I cherish my life, my one-time-in-all-history chance to add love to the universe. I pray that I would get better at that.

I cherish YOU, blog friends, and I pray that you will experience gratitude more and more each day in the coming year.

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating today!!

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Cedar Ridge Community Church

Thanks to WordPress for the prompt — yep, cherish.

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