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On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day

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A reprise from Mother’s Day, 2016:

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day:

I miss my mom. I hated Mother’s Day for a couple of years after she passed in 2008 — all the advertising and cards and balloons felt like salt in a wound. “Some of us don’t have mothers!” I felt like screaming.

Eight years later, I’m mostly rational again. My grief is gentler now, so I don’t mind being reminded of how blessed I was to have Lorna B. Griffin as my mom. I appreciate the special recognition for the role of mother, and I admire the dedication of my friends and family who are mothers and step-mothers and grandmothers. 

Think Before You Speak

I don’t like it, though, when people wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” without thinking. I want to make up index cards of statistics for these well-intentioned folks, reminding them that nearly one in five women end their childbearing years never having had children. One in five.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am child-free by choice. Others, not so much — for many, their childless state feels  like a tragedy.

Personally, I’m not too bent out of shape by these misdirected greetings. I know people mean well, and life is too short to make up grievances where none are intended. It’s just a slight annoyance. Still, I know that for some, hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” directed at them is like a knife in the heart. Especially rote, impersonal regards from a stranger.

Try This Instead

I recommend that if you do not know someone’s maternal state, say something like, “Enjoy your day!” If they are a mom, they will hear, “Happy Mother’s Day.” If not, they will just enjoy their day.

Here’s another idea. While everyone is different, I love it when someone intentionally wishes *me* a Happy Mother’s Day, followed by a comment like, “You are a mother to so many people,” or “You are a mother to our church family,” or even (what an honor!) “You are a second mother to me.”

This recognizes and honors me as an individual. There’s no assumption that since I’m female, I must have given birth. There’s no awkward silence or imagined shame that I am somehow deprived because I did not give birth or adopt. There’s no sense of being “less than.” I just feel appreciated.

My Girls

My Kids, Eliza Bean and Mayasika

So: to all my loved ones who are mothers or step-mothers, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the females I love who are not mothers, I honor the woman in you. Thank you for being who you are, for nurturing the people who God brings into your orbit, and for spreading love in the world in ways that are uniquely yours.  Enjoy your day, everyone!

Happy Day, Mom!

Happy Day, Mom!

Fear of Frying

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FEAR OF FRYING

Sometimes I can’t help but think about all of us frying. The world is a terrifying place these days.

I check the news only twice a day now, and try not to do so right before bed. I wean myself more and more from social media, because that’s where I hear the sizzling most loudly: a conflagration of dreadful news, trauma-inducing pictures, and total strangers calling me “moron” and “libtard” and “fat hag.”

I know I’m not the only one who fears frying. People all around the world watch the childish nyah-nyah games between two unstable presidents and wait for the air raid sirens. (Do we even have air raid sirens anymore? I’m reminded of the “walk-run” home we used to practice when I was in elementary school in Miami waiting for the Cuban missile strike — the walk-run made about as much sense as the get-under-your-desk-and-cover-your-head posture.)

On a positive note, we might not have a thermonuclear exchange this year. Instead, the elimination of federal efforts to curb climate change and cut local programs for climate adaptation might allow us to fry more slowly over time, our food shriveling in the drought. Unless we go more quickly in a climate change-induced wildfire. Here in the D.C. area, it’s more likely to be floods or severe hurricanes and tornadoes.

On an even more positive note, it’s possible that humans might fry but leave the planet and other species more or less intact. In America, the gradual ascension of hubris, greed, and contempt for the poor that I’ve watched over my lifetime is now complete. The deal with the devil was clinched November 8, 2016. So if I believed in hell, I’d be waiting expectantly for the frying of certain deserving souls.

Driven By Fear

But that, dear readers, would make me just like them, wouldn’t it? Vengefully judging “the other” and living from a place of fear. Because let’s face it, mental and emotional imbalance aside, it is fear that is driving what’s happening in this country.

The man-child representing the U.S. is a bottomless abyss of fear, driven to run after more and more and more money — what an awful reason to live! What unspeakable insecurity. Same with his power lust. The lying and manipulation and bullying — it’s all a control thing, a terror of losing control. He trusts no one.

And that’s how he won the election. His pathological fear tapped into the real and imagined fears of millions of Americans.

America is frying in fear, from the Tweeter in Chief right on down.

The white people who are afraid of the “other” people who “don’t belong here.” The African-American boys who are afraid of the cops, and the cops who are afraid of the African-American boys. The straight people who are afraid that gay marriage will somehow threaten their straight marriage or turn their children into “perverts.” The people who fear refugee families are going to blow up their neighborhoods or Mexicans are going to take their jobs and rape their daughters. Coal miners with black lung disease and no jobs, local business owners still struggling after the Bush economic meltdown, seniors who can’t afford their prescriptions. On and on.

#Resist

I use the hashtag #resist a lot. It means I pledge to resist the mean-spirited, greed-driven policies of the new administration. But for me, it means more than that: it means I pledge to resist the fear that drives those policies and the supporters of those policies.

There’s a lot to fear. It’s not a safe time in America. So let’s talk about it, let’s take action, let’s get involved, let’s nurture compassion and stand with the most vulnerable. 

Let’s be part of the solution. But let’s not be part of the fear, OK?

I pledge not to let the fear move from my head to my heart. Because fear turns to hate, and hate fries souls.

A Child’s Story of Saint Patrick

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A CHILD’S STORY OF SAINT PATRICK

As knocked flat as I was yesterday by the force of fifteen first and second graders, and as much as I am dreading going back to my substitute job today, I couldn’t help writing them a little story about Saint Patrick because they are all *so* excited about St. Patty’s Day!

Thought I’d share it. You might learn something new about him  — like that his name wasn’t Patrick and he wasn’t Irish!

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Maewyn. He was born in England and was doing pretty well in school until one day when he was fifteen and he was captured by pirates!! This is a true story! The pirates took him to Ireland where they sold him as a slave. There his job was to be a shepherd, taking care of a man’s flock of sheep.

For six years, he was kept prisoner, living out in the hills with the sheep. He was lonely and afraid and so he talked to his God a lot because it made him feel safer. He got to thinking he knew God pretty well, and then one night he had a dream and he felt like God was telling him to escape and go home.

Maewyn ran away from the man keeping him prisoner, and he talked some sailors into letting him ride on their ship. But they got lost after three days and ended up leaving the ship behind in France and walking. Maewyn walked for a whole month – 200 miles! – until he found his way home.

Maewyn felt like God had helped him so much when he was a prisoner in Ireland that he wanted to help God do good work for the rest of his life. So he studied to become a priest, which is like a minister or a Rabbi or Imam. A leader and helper. Priests are Catholics, and they sometimes choose new names when they become official priests, so Maewyn got a new name. Can you guess what it was? It was Patrick! He became Saint Patrick!

He went back to Ireland to teach and to serve the Irish people, because that’s what he felt God wanted him to do. So most people think that Saint Patrick was Irish, but he really only lived there and worked there. The people there chose him to be their patron saint after he died, which means they think he still protects them. March 17, today, is the anniversary of the day he died.

Saint Patrick used to use the green shamrock to teach about God and about nature, which was an important part of Irish religion, taking care of the earth. That’s why we always have shamrocks and wear green on Saint Patty’s Day!

In America, Irish immigrants – what’s an immigrant? Someone who moves here from another country – were teased and were victims of all kinds of unfairness. Just the way we see immigrants getting treated badly sometimes today. So Irish-Americans started having parades and parties to celebrate their Saint Patrick and being Irish together.

Recording American History

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RECORDING AMERICAN HISTORY

Historians will remember (assuming the DeVos Department of Education does not create an alternative reality) that America’s public policy was once at least loosely based on objective facts. Members of Congress were allowed to ask questions and read legislation before they voted — maybe even improve the legislation. It would have been unthinkable to scribble down a bill affecting the health of tens of millions of people and slip it through a committee at 4:30 in the morning.

Private citizens and nonprofit groups had input and even testified before Congress. There were public comment periods, and Senators didn’t run away from constituents at town hall meetings. There was a differentiation between facts and opinions. There was a public record and there were cost estimates.

All this information was committed to a written “record,” a noun derived from Old French circa 1300, meaning memory, statement, or report.

Factual written records can help us learn from our mistakes and hold people accountable, but they can be troublesome for some who would rather that certain things be forgotten, such as the hearing record where incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied and said that he had not talked to the Russians before the election. 

The Devolution of Recorded Truth

In the 1800s, as technology advanced, the noun “record” also came to mean “a disk on which sounds or images have been recorded,” such as real and true photos of two inauguration crowds of vastly different proportions.

Or recordings of an imaginary wiretap.

In 1883, we find the word being used in reference to “a best or highest achievement,” for instance the number of people at your rallies or the size of your electoral college margin or your TV ratings or how big your hands are or how high your wall will be or the number of women you have grabbed by the crotch or the breast.

Records used to be measured and based on reality, but now they are established by random tweet.

The verb form of “record” is older, from 12th century Old French, and it means “to repeat, reiterate, recite, rehearse, get by heart,” as in White House spokespeople reiterating that, for-heaven’s-sake-what-is-wrong-with-you-people, the president didn’t mean what he said literally, which has now morphed into “The President believes what he said.” Period.

They know that one by heart.

Restoration of the Record

Interestingly, the original Latin source of the verb “record” might provide America a way out of its current moral and ethical crisis. The verb “record” comes directly from the Latin word “recordari” which means to “remember, call to mind, think over, be mindful of.” The roots of this word come from re (restore) and cor (genitive cordis: the heart).

Restore the heart.

Can we remember and be mindful of our roots as a generous, open-hearted immigrant nation — stained though we’ve been by genocide and slavery — and restore the heart of America?

I pray that the record will show that we did.

Today’s word prompt: record

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

The Deathly Stench of trump’s Refugee Ban

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Scent is seriously evocative, isn’t it? It intertwines with all the other senses and with memory and emotion. As if the brain chemicals released by odors have a scent of their own that fills your brain and touches every neurotransmitter.

Take this picture of Omran from Syria, for example.

Omran

Omran

The visual image brings on a strong sense of smell when you think about it. The primary odor for me is the acrid smell of burning sulfur, like spent sparklers on the Fourth of July. Then there’s that dreadful smell of burning hair that we all know from some mishap or another — perhaps also related to fireworks, or to the unexpected whoosh of a gas stove when you are making pizza from Italy or potatoes from Ireland or sauerkraut from Germany or hummus from the Middle East or coffee from Yemen or black eyed peas from Africa.

I am blessed never to have smelled burning human flesh. As a vegetarian, just the smell of meat cooking can make me gag. I imagine Omran smelled burning flesh the day the bomb went off. He, too, may gag his whole life when he smells meat cooking, but he probably won’t know why. He clearly has top-rung PTSD.

He’s smelling blood, obviously. And smoke. He has just been pulled out of the rubble of his home, so he’s covered with not just ashes, but fine concrete dust, adding that cold earthy smell to his experience.

I don’t know what Omran was doing before the bomb hit. Probably not playing with Play Dough or Legos or crayons like an American child.

Maybe he was hugging his dog and had a musty doggie smell on his shirt. I hope he did not witness his dog getting blown to bits.

Maybe he was helping his mother cook, and now the warm smell of baking flat bread will forever make him gag, too.

That dreadful orange color surrounding Omran smells to me like hot plastic, a Howard Johnson’s booth sticky with maple syrup and hot fudge sauce, baking in harsh sunshine streaming through a streaky window. I don’t know whether Omran will ever taste maple syrup or hot fudge sauce. I know his ten year-old brother Ali won’t. He died of his injuries a few days after this picture was taken.

The smell of coffee gets us up and out of bed in the morning. The smell of microwave popcorn gets us up and out of our cubicle at work. The smell of dinner gets us up, off the couch and into the kitchen.

Will the smells of Omran get us up off our butts and into our Senator’s offices and into the streets and into the airports? Will we remember who we are as Americans before we’ve lost our souls?

At the White House this weekend #MuslimBanProtest

At the White House this weekend #MuslimBanProtest

The trump™ supporters who respond to my Tweets on the #MuslimBan call me Snowflake and moron and loser. They say the ban is only for three months and we need to protect ourselves and besides it’s not meant as a Muslim ban, not really.

But I say that the children of Syria are choking on the smell of hate and violence and death. They do not have three months.

 

 

 

 

He May Have the Nuclear Codes, But He Can’t Have My Brain

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HE MAY HAVE THE NUCLEAR CODES, BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN 

Last night I finally did something I’ve been needing to do for weeks: I turned off my computer. I looked the angry orange tweeter who lives in the big white house right in his puffy eyes and I said, “No. You may not come in to my head anymore.”

As the child of an alcoholic, I learned to be hypervigilant. The only way to feel safe when there is a wild man in the house is to always know where he is, what he’s doing, and what kind of mood he’s in. You become ultra-aware: Are his eyes read? Does his breath smell like Clorets mints? Even from upstairs, you can hear the freezer door open and the ice clink in the glass.

It’s about survival. You need to know when it’s safe to ask for lunch money or a school permission slip, and when to lock your bedroom door, crank up the Grateful Dead, and hunker down.

Survival

So of course when an impulsive wild man moved into the Oval Office last week, I automatically took it upon myself to keep an eye on him. And this time it’s quite literally about survival. Right? Planetary survival. If I’m not keeping an eye on him, who will stop him from dropping a nuclear weapon on North Korea? Or Germany, if Angela Merkel says something uncomplimentary.

It feels almost suicidal to detach and ignore him for any length of time. I wonder how Mike Pence feels? He must know how batty his boss is by now. Can he sleep?

At least a half dozen Facebook friends have posted pleas for help with detachment this week. How do I tune him out? How will I stay sane? How do I cope with the grief and fear? How will I not burn out, trying to protect Muslims and Native Americans and gay people and African American kids and the whole frickin’ planet??

I always offer helpful advice about going for walks, and laughing with friends, and meditating. And turning off the computer. But I don’t take the advice myself.

Until last night.

Just Say No

I had gone out with dear friends the night before and although we talked about the nation’s perils and our resulting emotional states, we also laughed and listened to open mic offerings and drank wine.

I confessed to staying up later and later each night, 2 a.m., then 3, then 4, monitoring @RealDonaldTrump and retweeting and posting on Facebook and looking for pictures that capture the moment.

mt-rushmore

lady-liberty-weeping

resist-banner

I can’t focus during the day, I get nothing done. Can’t write. My friends expressed concern, hugged me, sympathized.

Somehow getting away from Crazyland for an evening broke the spell. It was good to hear myself say out loud, “I stayed up until 4 a.m. tweeting to Donald Trump.” Talk about crazy! It gave me the strength to push that “off” button on my computer last night.

I pulled up the drawbridge to my psyche, slapped a big ol’ “Keep Out” sign on it, and read my novel. And today I am saying no again. No Twitter, no Facebook, no trump™.

Pray Without Ceasing

Maybe trump™ will start a nuclear war while I’m reading my novel. I saw before I exited Twitter last night that he had signed something called the Military Preparedness Order. This after signing the Muslim ban.

muslim-ban

But there is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is take care of myself so that I have the energy to take action when I can make a difference. To march, to write, to call Senators. To care for those who are hurting and afraid.

And to pray without ceasing for the Syrian children who may die because of what our nation has done.

Omran

Omran

God 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.

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