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The Focus of Desire

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THE FOCUS OF DESIRE

One of the good things about being a cocaine addict is that it gives you focus. You’re never unclear about what you want or how to get it. You get your paycheck, you go to your dealer’s house, and you get what you desire. If you need more cocaine than you can pay for, you sell some to your friends at an inflated price and then they become better friends because you have what they want. And need. **

Later, you give up cocaine when the fact that it kills young and otherwise healthy people is made painfully clear to you. Then you have to rely on alcohol to give you what you want. It’s cheaper, but the clarity is missing. What you desire isn’t as obvious. You settle for laughing uproariously with other friends who drink too much, and you occasionally get drunk enough to have a heartfelt conversation that feels like intimacy only it’s not. You make mistakes.

Sex is always good for a quick shot of dopamine, but in my case it usually made the emptiness worse because although it satisfied for a time, it could not give me what I was really seeking. I didn’t know precisely what that was, but I was becoming dimly aware that I was a bottomless pit of desire, craving love and acceptance and belonging and meaning.

It wasn’t until I started sniffing around spirituality that I identified the deep desire that lay beneath all of my clambering needs: peace. I distinctly remember writing that in my journal, lo these thirty years ago. “What I really want is peace.”

Finding Peace

Peace is not a familiar feeling when you’ve grown up in an alcoholic household, or any other kind of dysfunctional home — which probably describes most of us! Many “adult children” of imperfect parents don’t really know who they are or what they want because they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them. We are people-pleasers, afraid of rejection. We often don’t like ourselves; we have this chronic feeling of not being good enough. Out of fear, we work tirelessly to manage everything and everyone so that nothing feels “out of control.”

Peace is hard to come by under these circumstances, which is why so many of us numb out with sex, drugs, carbs, alcohol, social media, TV, etc., etc., etc. Oh, there’s the occasional pearly pink sunset or lazy Sunday afternoon with your lover. But I’m not talking about a peaceful feeling, I’m talking about a deep-down peaceful spirit. Being OK with the world, OK with yourself, and OK with everybody else.

beauty and darkness

I have found this deep and lasting peace through my growing belief and trust in a loving Higher Power, which I call God but I don’t call “He.” My God is Love. My God is not bound by time and assures me that my spirit is not bound by time either. My God is crazy-powerful, but often subtle, so I have to pay attention and be on the lookout for Her fingerprints.

And they are there. I’ve seen them often enough now to know for certain. I am intimately known; I am being cared for and upheld; I am part of a divine plan to bring goodness and reconciliation to the world.

I know this. But I forget. And that’s why I love Lent. It’s a time to intentionally re-enter the house of peace and linger here, not needing to rush off.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” — Isaiah 26:3

** I apologize to nice Christians who think they are signed up to read a nice pastor-lady’s blog. This pastor has a past. And I especially apologize to my grand nieces who sometimes read this blog and who don’t know about Great Auntie Mel’s mixed up past. I am more than happy to tell you all about it if you ask, and especially to tell you why you should not emulate my journey.

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.

 

 

 

 

Make America Simple Again

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MAKE AMERICA SIMPLE AGAIN

The man-child president’s supporters mean all manner of things when they chant “Make America great again,” some as obvious as, “Get all these Mexicans out of my 7-11 parking lot,” and some more complicated, entailing tangled ideas of dark global conspiracies and nefarious plots by NBC and CNN.

My hunch is that many of these people — my fellow Americans whom I cannot understand no matter how much I argue with them on Twitter — just want to return to a simpler time.

A time when it was easier to maintain the illusion of control in your life.

  • A time when you turned on the TV and there were only four channels and you knew the four newscasters by name and they were all trustworthy white men;
  • a time before the world was complicated by all those international agreements and organizations with acronyms that don’t tell you who they are or what they do;
  • a time before electronics began running our lives, adding even more incomprehensible acronyms like USB and URL and HTML to confuse us;
  • a time when a man could open up the hood of his car and know where everything was;
  • a time before kids took semesters abroad and went far away to college and came home for Thanksgiving staring into their phones and declaring that they weren’t going to church with you on Sunday. 

Now there’s a man you could trust

Rebellion Against Reality

I get it. I do. Life is very complicated now. I feel out of control most of the time.

I remember that simpler time, and you are right — it was easier.

I understand why you rebel against “experts” who talk about ridiculous, incomprehensible things like humans changing the weather, for Christ’s sake! And I get why you reject the idea of being “politically correct.” It means you need to pay attention to other people who aren’t like you, and listen to (and care about) their experiences. Even though you were here first and they should learn to speak English. Why can’t we just call a maid a maid and a trash man a trash man and a retarded person retarded and a colored person colored?

There are too many voices, too many opinions, too many options. Too many uppity women marching around in pink pussy hats, and you just don’t understand how they can act like that and say those terrible things.

RALLY ON CONSTITUTION

How can they say those terrible things??

Focus, Deep Breaths

So here is something simple to remind you of the days when you thought America was great, only you didn’t know it then but you sure do now.

Just focus on the Bible. Keep it simple. Take deep breaths.

Here are two verses to meditate on. Oh, no, wait. Not meditate, that sounds kinda Buddhist or something. 

Just *think* about them. Maybe pray. Perhaps they will stir in you an image of what America *could* be.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   (Galatians 5:22)

 

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

(Matthew 25:25-36)

 

** A disclaimer: I know this post is a tad snarky. I’m still working towards understanding and forgiveness and those fruits of the Spirit. Give me time. I am still angry. I mean, the Doomsday Clock.

How Trump’s Rise Can Make You a Better Person

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HOW TRUMP’S RISE CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON

Here’s something good about the rise of trump™. (I know, I’m grasping at straws.)

This is a chance for us to become better people. I don’t mean just being better citizens, although that’s great — being vigilant about what our government is up to and who is getting rich because of it, standing up for people who are being bullied or intimidated, gathering with our neighbors to protect our communities — no, I mean actually becoming better human beings.

You know how they say that the behavior that drives you crazy about someone else is likely lodged deep inside of you, too? We have visceral responses to unwanted aspects of our own personalities. Oftentimes, this is unconscious; we are not even aware that we have the same attitude or behavior that’s driving us nuts in someone else.

When you are annoyed by someone, try searching your own heart, especially if you sense you might be overreacting. Might as well look at your own crap, because there’s nothing you can do to change them. Why not work on changing yourself? If you are successful, you will find compassion for that annoying person and peace for yourself.

This is not a new idea and it’s not my idea. The Bible says to take the splinter out of your own eye before you start prying the plank out of someone else’s eye.

Old lumber and two by fours stacked in a wood pile. Shallow depth of field.

Pathological Neediness

Back to trump™. There’s a lot not to like in him, and I won’t go through the list. You know it. Ugliness and brokenness.

One of my heroes, Father Thomas Keating, says that we all carry childhood emotional needs into adulthood, and they become distorted if they weren’t met in childhood: safety & security, power & control, and esteem and affection. Trump™ has all of them to a pathological degree.

What horrifies me most about him is the esteem and affection bit: his endless need for recognition, his boundless self-glorification, his screaming craving for adoration. He thought money would buy him love, but now he’s not sure if he is loved for his money or for himself. He is abusive to anyone who criticizes him, and he is transparently manipulated by anyone who compliments him.

Hence Putin. Soooo dangerous.

My Splinter

The thing is, I can relate to his emptiness. I have been praying for many years for God to change that very trait in me. I *hate* how much I want people to like me and recognize me. It makes me do and say things that don’t come from my true self; it makes me a hostage to other people’s opinions.

And it’s nuts. I’m a grown woman with gifts and skills and with shortcomings and annoying traits. At times I rock out and at times I screw up. I have a ton of friends who love me regardless. And God loves me so much I ought to have no time to ponder anything but my response to Her spirit.

For some reason, God leaves this thorn in my side. It’s better than it used to be, but I am still painfully aware of it. It’s OK, though. It humbles me. I try not to obsess about my shortcomings, because in the end that’s just being self-absorbed, but I want to recognize them and offer them up to God for fixin’.

So here’s the good thing about the rise of trump™ that I promised: this is an opportunity for you to call out the negative in yourself. Which of his many unpleasant traits really annoy you? And — is it possible that you host them inside yourself?

This inaugural week, in recognition and protest of the new president, let’s work on making ourselves better people. 

And I just want to say God bless Barack and Michelle.

Thank you for your dedication and love for our country and its people.

Be well.

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Talking Turkey, Trump, and Testosterone

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Talking Turkey, Trump and Testosterone

My guess is that meat sales will be on the rise for a few years. I hear that a January 20th Executive Order will require every federal employee to purchase a weekly minimum of Trump Steaks. If a state wants to receive federal assistance during anticipated monthly climate-induced floods or droughts or fires, their employees will be required to participate in the minimum steak program as well.

Trump’s new health-care plan will depend on shorter lifespans, due primarily to an increase in cardiac-related deaths from heavy meat consumption and more deaths from food poisoning due to the repeal of food safety rules.

The hoped-for rise in premature deaths will be aided by another Executive Order requiring that elementary school children carry guns to school.

The New Normal is Not OK

Not everything will be accomplished by laws and regulations. Manipulation of cultural norms through the mass media has already begun — Trump met with leading media representatives in his golden palace this week to tell them what to cover and how to cover it. “A f–king firing squad,” is how one attendee characterized it. And of course there is @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter account and its sixteen million followers. Check those characters out — you’ll see the new norm.

These are days when Latino children are bullied, Muslim women are shoved off sidewalks, and African-Americans might want to stay inside for their own safety. Overweight? Disabled? Gay? Jewish? Female? Keep a low profile and pray that any trouble is only verbal.

Aggression is now admirable. Testosterone is king. Civility and gentleness are dead.

There will be no vegetarians appointed to Trump’s new Cabinet. Under the new administration, a humane diet (or even a vaguely healthy one) will become an object of scorn, along with other “politically correct” pursuits like polite conversation, fact-based news, and words with more than three syllables (examples of the upper limit include disaster, amazing, terrific, and Mexican).

No, these are not gentle days in America: November, 2016.

Happy Thanksgiving

November has never been a gentle time for turkeys. More than forty-six million of the creatures are killed every single Thanksgiving, after spending short, miserable lives crammed together in massive warehouses, usually with no ventilation and no windows.

220px-turkeys

Gobble

I generally re-post my popular Thanksgiving blog about vegetarianism each year, but I thought that this year, we needed a call to action:

Are you looking for ways to protest the new president-elect and the ugliness he has ushered in? How about engaging in radical gentleness? Our society may be in for a lot of chaos and violence in the coming years, so why not rebel by adopting a kinder lifestyle? Go vegetarian!

And in case you want to read the story of my vegetarian journey and learn about the benefits of such a lifestyle, here is a link to my traditional Thanksgiving post: Seriously? This is Your Thanksgiving Post?? 

turkey2

 

Before Forgiveness

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Today my church hosted a workshop on Crucial Conversations that was intended to help us have constructive conversations around racial issues over the upcoming holidays. Of course when the session was organized, nobody expected that Donald Trump would be moving into the White House, but there you have it — fortuitous timing in that racism is now front and center in the national conversation.

How can we, as followers of Christ who are hurting and angry after the election of a man whose words and behavior fly in the face of decency, curtail our emotions and interact in loving, constructive ways with friends and family who might have voted for that same man?

I won’t go in to all we talked about because it’s late and I have to get my houseplants inside before it freezes tonight, plus I’m tired because I haven’t been sleeping well since the Tuesday of Darkness.

I did want to share a few photos taken at a solidarity rally I attended last night that was meant to support Muslims and immigrants but which ended being a huge help to everyone. Four or five hundred of us sang and cried and listened to speakers and waved signs. America.

Waving signs is good for my soul

Waving signs is good for my soul

The next generation holds hope and love

The next generation holds hope and love

It does

It does

Use your first amendment rights while you've got 'em!

Use your first amendment rights while you’ve got ’em!

I also want to share a Desmond Tutu poem that was read at the end of our Crucial Racial Conversations workshop. It’s called the Prayer Before the Prayer and it’s perfect for this moment.

 

“I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon . . .”

 

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