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Learning From Our Racist History

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LEARNING FROM OUR RACIST HISTORY

If we make it through our trumpian crisis without a civil war or a nuclear blowout, perhaps we will learn from this mess.

On a good day, I have a half-written blog in my head about how we’re going to recognize and repent of what we’ve become; we’re going to see where greed and selfishness have brought us; we’re going to reign in corporate power and learn to care for and lift up our poor; we’re going to treasure this beautiful planet and begin to accept and even embrace our differences, etc., etc., etc.

Today is not a good day, though, so I can’t write about that. I am too sad. The man-child’s behavior since the racist rally and murder in Charlottesville has shocked and shaken me, which is, in itself, shocking. How can I still be shocked?

I suppose it’s just the degree of ugliness that flattens me. I honestly did not know that a human being could get like that. If he was a main character in a novel, you would put down the book halfway through because it wouldn’t be believable.

“Very Fine” Neo-Nazis

I won’t dwell on his remarks yesterday calling neo-nazis “very fine people” and comparing our nation’s founder George Washington to confederate generals who committed treason and waged war on the United States. You probably saw that highly alarming press conference.

 

The worst of that spectacle was the backstory, which I also won’t dwell on because it’s all over the news. Basically, after not clearly denouncing the neo-nazis and white supremacists on Sunday, his advisors all but forced him to do so on Monday. But then he just couldn’t stand not getting his way so he reneged on the renunciation and dug deeper into his racist trench on Tuesday while his aides tried to melt through the floor.

His ego is so twisted and poisonous that even with his polling numbers and political career at stake (not to mention our country’s stability), he had to spew that, that . . .  whatever it was he spewed yesterday. Which does not bode well for the moment when the Vice President is telling him not to push the nuclear button. “Don’t tell me what to do!!” the man-child will wail.

Remembering — Not Honoring — the Confederacy

Anyway, my purpose for this blog today is not to dump more negativity into the world, although I will confess that I succumb to that temptation far too often. Writing is therapy for me, and I’m afraid I must vent and rage and grieve for my country from time to time. 

Today though, I want to make a constructive suggestion. When I was in Budapest some years ago, I visited a statuary park where they had moved all of the old statues of Marx, Lenin, and other Communist leaders — sort of an outdoor museum. It is a haunting place.

Photo attribution Yelkrokoyade

I think we should do something similar with all these confederate statues that are coming down one way or another. While it’s tempting to destroy them, we should not erase our history but rather learn from it. There’s a reason they did not tear down Auschwitz.

Here’s a link to a short and powerful video about a slavery museum in Louisiana that sounds like a great place to process some of our collective pain and shame. I’ll bet they would take a few statues.

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I Want To Write About Charlottesville

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I want to write about Charlottesville. About watching my Twitter feed in horror as scene after scene scrolled by — swastikas, confederate flags, t-shirts emblazoned with Hitler slogans, torches of hate surrounding a church full of peaceful praying people, a black boy being beaten with poles, and finally the car — the car crashing into living, breathing, beautiful human beings.

I want to say Heather Heyer’s name.

But I can’t seem to gather the words.

I want to write about how I wonder if even just a few trump voters are thinking, “Oops.”

If they might see the teensiest connection between the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history and the election of a man who encouraged his supporters to commit violence and pledged to pay their legal bills, expressed regret that he couldn’t punch a protester in the face, yearned for the good old days when people were carried out on stretchers, and just the other day advised the police to rough up people in their custody.

But there simply aren’t words.

I want to write about the nameless fear and deep sickness and vast emptiness that must be devouring those raging white men who chant “We will not be replaced.” What is that? Whatever happens with healthcare, can we at least get these people some therapy?

I want to write about how I smirked at the images of the little boys with their tiki-torches and the fact that the Tiki-Torch company actually had to disavow nazism — I mean, it’s all so ridiculous — but then I remembered how much evil a bunch of “boys” with a simple loop of rope can do.

There aren’t words.

I want to write about the feeling of solidarity at the rally yesterday, thousands and thousands of us marching purposefully, signs aloft, our chants booming off the hulking federal buildings that line the roads in the nation’s capitol and then rising to a thunderous crescendo of “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME” as we passed the trump hotel.

And my further feelings of love and gratitude when I got home and found dozens of Twitter photos of demonstrations and vigils in Philly, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta, Durham, Vancouver . . . and virtually all of my Facebook friends expressing grief, determination, love, and commitment to fighting for justice in whatever ways they can.

My friends didn’t post pictures of their cats and appetizers this weekend.

But all of these feelings are too much. There aren’t the words.

So although I want to write about Charlottesville but am unable, I will instead leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, which I must believe or I would perish.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Coming to Terms with the Hate

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COMING TO TERMS WITH THE HATE

The pickup tailgates me for a minute, then swerves into the left lane and pulls alongside my car. A big hairy arm emerges, fat middle finger extended like a pale sausage. I am not alarmed, not even surprised. In the time of trump, anything can and does happen.

It’s hard to know which bumper sticker set him off. Beauty will save the world? Love the Creator, care for creation? God is not a Republican? Most likely, Obama 2012. That black man has more dignity and grace in his pinky finger than both of those white guys in the pickup put together. They know this and they hate it. So much resentment and hatred.

Am I making assumptions about the guy with the fat middle finger and his buddy? Stereotyping? You bet.

Abuse as Patriotism

Online I’ve been called a witch, a moron, a fat hag, and of course a snowflake. The latter is my favorite “insult,” a very common one on Twitter, meaning weak and prone to melting into tears. Personally, I love being likened to a sparkling crystal that dances and plays in the air before settling in place among other snowflakes which, in community and over time, can shut down a city and stop the federal government in its tracks.

My least favorite insult is “f%$king libtard,” not because it hurts my feelings, but because it flaunts “political incorrectness” by playing off a long-abandoned, derogatory term for people with mental impairments. The guy with the sausage finger and his ilk are egged on by their favorite president, who said:

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

So although I’ve been driving around w/ liberal bumper stickers on my car for decades and haven’t experienced anything like this before, I’m not surprised at the random rage. Things are different now. President Tweet has purposefully brought out the very worst in this country. I don’t have to tell you that.

I’ve got a list of books and articles theorizing about who these trump people are, and why they seem incapable of recognizing how sick he is or how he is manipulating them. It’s textbook demagoguery. But I don’t need to read about it, I know in my gut what’s going on.

Spiritual Sickness

It seems clear to me that America is suffering from a deep spiritual sickness. When you live in a society that worships ego and competition and glorifies wealth, weaponry, and war, you’re bound to run into serious problems eventually. Especially when so many “religious” people buy into this lust for power and wealth. I know one Christian guy who says that while we should have compassion, we have to be pragmatic about it. Where in the Bible did Jesus say that?? I don’t even want to hear his views on North Korea. Bombs away, no doubt.

For a time, after the shock and surprise of all the hate wore off and I realized it was here to stay — being stoked daily by abusive, threatening tweets from the President of the United States — I was just sad. Deeply sad.

Now, even the sadness is beginning to wear off. I wouldn’t say I have accepted this as “the new norm” —we must never, ever accept this behavior or view it as anything but the pathological brokenness that it is. But I’m learning to live with the hatred without letting it consume me.

Survival

I pray that our country’s institutions and the world can withstand what looks more and more like an actual take-over of our democracy by an authoritarian demagogue. I will march, write, call, organize, and raise holy hell. But I am also choosing to go on with my life, enjoying my garden, looking for the good in people, and reading and writing healing words.

So some big hairy white guy gave me the finger. That’s his problem; it doesn’t need to affect me. Easy for me to say, white snowflake that I am. I hate to think what might have happened had there been more melanin in my skin or had I been wearing a burka.

Praying.

Digressions from Democracy

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DIGRESSIONS FROM DEMOCRACY

In the Pink

My mother used to use the phrase “in the pink.” I like it. It conjures up chubby chortling pink babies with kicky legs. It’s a happy, healthy phrase that’s defined as “being in robust good health and spirits; physically and emotionally well.”

The phrase actually isn’t cute at all. It comes from the cruel tradition of English foxhunting. The hunters wear scarlet jackets, the color of fox’s blood, and they are called pinks. So being in the pink means that you are about to gallop across your estate and kill hapless creatures. (Though banned, the “sport” continues in England.)

Not surprisingly, given the coarseness of our society, “in the pink” has also come to mean something sexual and demeaning to women. But I’ll leave those references to the boys in the middle school locker room.

Speaking of President Tweet, I am beginning to suspect that he is not ‘in the pink.” Obviously he is a heart attack waiting to happen, despite his golfing (which I wish liberals would quit complaining about — democracy is safer when he is distracted). But I’m talking about his mental health. The golfing therapy doesn’t seem to lessen the man-child’s obsessive paranoia and vindictive, impulsive furies one bit.

Orange Lava

By overeating, drinking wine, and doing crossword puzzles, I have managed to stay in denial about the imminent threat of nuclear war with North Korea and the even larger threat of climate protection programs being dismantled.

Sometimes I go to a march and wave a sign. That helps. I think I might survive until the impeachment.

But then every once in a while, the man-child’s whacko behavior erupts in such a way that his toxic orange lava from hell spews into my consciousness and scares the bejesus outta of me, as my father used to say.

Most recently, his petulant fury led him to fire FBI Director Comey for refusing to confirm Tweet’s paranoid wiretapping fantasies and for trying to protect the country from a foreign government’s interference. Pizza and a crossword won’t make that go away.

Beyond the Pale

Tweet’s personality disorder(s) have now taken our nation entirely “beyond the pale” — another phrase coined by the British and meaning “unacceptable; outside agreed standards of decency.”

The phrase “beyond the pale” comes from the common disease of de-humanizing other people and erecting fences to keep them away. (Fortunately, we in America are over that.) A pale is a fence post, and Catherine the Great built a pale fence in Russia to keep the Jews away from “decent” Russian people, and pales were used to drive away undesirables in Ireland and France as well. The phrase first showed up in a British poem in 1657 where young lovers wandered beyond the fence and were murdered. No doubt by “illegal aliens.”

But I digress. Actually I don’t digress. I’m not at all sure what this post is about.

Watergate Memories

I think it might be about the fact that our democracy is in grave danger. My ADD mind is just flitting about, lighting on fun phrases and researching etymology, trying desperately to escape the obvious: either the president goes or our democracy goes.

I remember this gut-churning feeling from Watergate days, and coming to the realization that it’s either him or us. I am not being hyperbolic.

Incidentally, isn’t hyperbole a great word? It comes from the 15th century and means “obvious exaggeration in rhetoric” — which brings me back to the White House.

Didn’t you love the part where Press Secretary Sean Spicer was hiding in the bushes the night Director Comey was fired, refusing to talk to reporters until they turned off their lights and cameras? His talking points only worked for FOX News, and he had already given them their marching orders.

I also liked the FOX headline, “Comey Resigns.” Alternative facts.

And boy is it good to see Kelly Anne Conway back in the mix! Saturday Night Live has missed her. Although my God I wish she would get something to eat. She’s seriously not in the pink.

Nobody over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in the pink. And so, neither are any of us.

#Resist

Today’s word prompt: pink

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.

Executive Order Imprisons 110,000 People!

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EXECUTIVE ORDER IMPRISONS 110,000 PEOPLE!

On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any and all people “as deemed necessary or desirable” away from “military areas.” Pearl Harbor had been bombed ten weeks before.

The military decided that the entire West Coast was a military area. It also happened to be where most Japanese Americans lived. So off they went. A few months later, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans had been “relocated” (imprisoned) in internment camps built by the U.S. military. Sixty-two percent of them were American citizens. They lived in those prison camps for two and a half years. Then the “evacuees” were allowed to return to their homes . . . if they were still there.

Wow. Isn’t that shocking? I’m so glad nothing like that could ever happen in America today.

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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

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