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Going Around the World to Escape America

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At long last, I have found a reason to thank Donald Trump. I’m not certain, but there’s a good chance that without his spectacular take-down of my country, I would not be here in Auckland, New Zealand at the start of a Grand Adventure. (I also want to thank the Accidental president for dictating that random capitalization is a Big and perfect Win.)

Pondering the Grand Adventure

I hadn’t realized that America’s Great Embarrassment had anything to do with my impulsive exit from the U.S. of A., but this morning as I pondered my maps, I realized for the first time that I have journeyed to the far side of the earth from my home near Washington, D.C.

As far away as I can get.

Note: In actuality, the antipodes of D.C. is a 15,912-foot-deep trench in the Indian Ocean called the Diamantina Fracture. These waters are known as some of the stormiest and loneliest in the world — could it be that the vicious D.C. vortex penetrates the earth’s core, ruptures rock, churns magma, and agitates the depths of the Indian Ocean on the other side of the planet? I’d believe it. At any rate, New Zealand is one of the nearest land masses to the trench, and this is where I have landed after seven hours of hanging about in three airports, eighteen hours of flying through the air, and the total loss of November 5th, 2019, which was left hanging somewhere over an ocean.

Blessed Space

I’ve written a bit about my motivations for coming here, but thus far they’ve been in the “life is short and I’m not getting any younger and you only live once” category. I feel I’m in a dynamic transition after long years of grieving family losses, leaving my pastoral role last year, and shedding thirty-plus pounds this year. Exploring the wilds of New Zealand in a camper van seems as good a way as any of spending a month while I try to open my spirit to sense what God has next for me.

I had not identified the need for escape as part of my motivation. Yet last night over spinach cannelloni and salad, as my Kiwi cousin implored me to explain what in bloody hell is going on in America and who ARE these trump voters anyway, and I struggled to articulate what I have spent three years trying in vain to grasp, I felt a familiar sense of heaviness descend, a physical sensation of added weight, as if I were carrying not just those lost thirty pounds, but another hundred as well.

In America, I walk around with this heaviness all the time, sometimes in the form of dread, sometimes despair, sometimes grief, sometimes horror, sometimes numbness. And it never entirely goes away because there is a Malignant Narcissist in the White House who is trying to destroy my beloved homeland. Here in New Zealand, the heaviness seems to be lifting. This morning when I saw on the news that there is a big rally in D.C. tomorrow calling for the impeachment of our Great Embarrassment, I thought, “Excellent, I hope a million people turn out.“ And then I thought, “I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast.”

I finally have some blessed distance from America’s crisis: 8,774 miles, to be exact. Or 12,742 miles if you go straight through the center of the earth. I have space to breathe. This morning I lounged in bed with my tea and gazed out the window, where I swear a bird was singing something very like, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I scrolled past atrocity after atrocity on my newsfeed, but instead chose to read Mike Tidwell’s fun example of travel writing about his 1998 expedition to a place I will not be visiting: a big rock that juts out of the lower Indian Ocean and is the actual antipode of Washington, D.C. 

Morning view over the rooftops of Botany Downs, Auckland to the volcanic mountains beyond

Precariousness Happens: Autumn, Impeachment, and Anxiety

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This happens sometimes, usually in the Autumn when I’ve been cloistered away at my New Hampshire retreat for a time. It starts as a vague feeling of perhaps needing someone to talk to, progresses through the sense that your skin doesn’t fit and you might need to get out of it, and ends with lying awake at dawn wondering what terrible fate is about to befall you. Sometimes cancer, sometimes bankruptcy, sometimes North Korean missiles. You get the picture.

I blame it on the shortening days, the darker nights, and the mood of these northerners who are dreading another long winter of shivering and shoveling. Today I had lunch with a friend at the Badger Balm factory where she works, surrounded by hillsides bursting with near-peak color. As I walked out of the building and into the beauty, the woman following me sighed heavily and said, “It really smells like fall, I guess it had to happen.”

Had to happen??? I just drove ten hours to see this happen! But if you live here, autumn heaviness is apparently part of life. And it might be contagious, even if you don’t live here year-round.

I guess it had to happen

Happenstance

This year the depression/anxiety engulfed me on my first day. It probably had something to do with the fact that our president is quite clearly out of his cotton-pickin’ mind, as my father would say, and also with the fact that my financial planner just really, really screwed up, resulting in a massive tax bill and the possibility of losing my health care.

These two realities staged a fierce competition to see which could wreak more havoc with my brain chemistry during the two-day drive up from Maryland. Although I was listening to an outstanding audiobook (Lab Girl, by geobiologist Hope Jahren), every time I stopped the car, trump was still president and my financial world was still rocking. I had way too much time to cogitate and fret. I watched late-night news in my hotel room, diving ever deeper into the details of impeachment.

Yesterday I spoke to my financial planner over the phone and finally lost it — which I never, ever, do — when she kept telling me how complicated taxes were and how she wouldn’t exactly call this a mistake, more of a “learning experience.” It felt good to yell in the moment, but not so good afterwards. To comfort and numb myself, I spent the day on Twitter. I repeat: to make myself feel BETTER, I spent the day on Twitter. ‘Nuff said.

Hence, my 3 a.m. musings on North Korea’s latest missile launch — from a submarine, mind you, which can cross oceans — which took place while the so-called president was tweeting about his impeachment being BULLSHIT, in all caps in case we missed it. (This was all before he stood before a bank of cameras on the White House lawn this morning and encouraged Communist China to investigate his political opponent.)

Precariousness

Today I have been thinking about the nature of the word “precarious.” It just popped into my head as I was journaling and meditating this morning.

It’s a good word, even better than an onomatopoeia, which merely sounds like the action the word implies, like buzz or hiss. Precarious is more clever than that, kind of sneakily apt. As if you might unwittingly step onto the platform of “pre” and totter at the top of that brief, crisp “c” before tumbling headlong into the “AAAaaaaar-eee-ooouuus” abyss.

It doesn’t sound it, but precarious was a legal term in the 1600s — “held through the favor of another” — from the Latin, meaning “obtained by asking or praying.” This notion of being “dependent on another” led to the broader meaning of risky or dangerous.

So here I sit seeking comfort in language and writing, gazing out the window at the flaming leaves precariously clinging to their branches until the will of a breeze or a rainfall decides otherwise, and feeling grateful for my health, my financial security, and the democracy in which we live. And praying for the favor of God’s protection on all of it.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

– Lady Julian of Norwich, 1342 – circa 1416

Listen to Greta, Please

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Please take five minutes to watch Greta speaking to the UN Climate gathering this morning. This is history in the making and, I pray, the future in the making. As world leaders gather to talk about how they are trying to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg asks, “How dare you?”

Meanwhile, the American so-called “President” and his profile-in-courage Vice-President staged a walkout after making sour pouty faces for about ten minutes. And no, I’m not kidding.

 

 

 

What September 11th Means To This American

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September 11th: we call it the “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” Honestly, I’d rather not remember that soul-shattering day in 2001, except for the surreal sense of oneness and belonging — the connection, concern for others, grief for the state of the world — dare I say universal love? I do want to remember that. There were beautiful tributes at American embassies worldwide, thousands of flowers and flags and candles and cards. And of course we remember those first responders, many of whom are still paying the cost of their sacrifice. No wonder this date is dedicated to unity and charitable service.

The world loved America that day, warts and all. Even this old hippie drove around with an American flag tied to her car antennae for months afterward. Remembering the unity and big-hearted patriotism that surrounded us in the weeks after 9/11 makes me feel homesick, wondering how we could have fallen so far so fast. The seeds of division and nationalism that plague us today were already planted and well-rooted in 2001, but they were easy to ignore if you were a privileged white person such as myself. I was busy.

Now, though, there’s no denying it.

America is desperately ill, and the seeds of evil have grown into gnarled trees of corruption and greed and white nationalism. Our president and his cronies are intentionally feeding and watering those trees. Evil is flourishing right out in the open: we have a mentally unbalanced, strongman authoritarian seeking dictatorial power with the complete compliance of the once “Grand Old Party.” There may be violence if he loses, he warns, as he stokes the fires of anger and fear at his hate-fueled rallies.

I barely recognize America anymore. She never really was “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” but at least we all wanted her to be. Now the strongman tells elected officials of color to “go back where you came from.”

But here’s the thing: I still love America, even more than I did when I tied that flag to my antennae on September 12, 2001. Her founding ideals may have become a mockery, corporate money may have damaged democracy beyond repair, and greed-driven climate denial may spell the beginning of the end for our species. But that “liberty and justice for all” thing? That’s still worth pursuing and defending with all we’ve got. Good-hearted women and men have fought for those ideals for hundreds of years, some in uniform, some in courtrooms, some protesting in the streets, some being martyred. Their spirits live on.

So on this “Day of Remembrance and Service,” let’s remember what this country stands for. Let’s commit to speaking up when we see racism and injustice in our daily lives. Let’s commit to educating ourselves fully, to admitting and learning from our mistakes, to voting, and to teaching our children to vote. Let’s march in the streets to protect one another, and let’s get involved in the upcoming election.

“Don’t mourn, organize!”

Joe Hill, songwriter and union organizer executed by the state of Utah in 1815.

In Remembrance

 

 

I Don’t Want to Dwell on the Sharpie Thing, But . . .

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Of all the bizarre, twisted, scary, unfathomable actions and statements from the man we all wish we could ignore, this latest “Sharpie-gate” thing has thrown me into the deep end. I can’t reach reality with my feet or find a safe flotation device to cling to. It’s as if one tiny scrawl on a map means more than the entire Mueller report. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have a hunch I’m not the only one who feels this way. My mind is on strike and refuses to process any more of this.

I can’t even . . .

The person sitting in the Oval Office has the emotional maturity of a nine or ten-year-old, so his lying to cover a mistake isn’t a surprise, even a mistake that could have been deadly: Thank God that the man-child’s magical forecast did not accidentally omit a state targeted by the hurricane, rather than add one. He undoubtedly would have spent the week insisting there was no danger in South Carolina, no flooding or destruction happening; he would denied federal aid and raged at fake media outlets for showing victims on TV.

But there’s no need for speculative craziness, what we have is more than enough. The president if undeniably unwell and unfit.

What I can’t fathom is the White House staff and agency personnel who coddle and enable him. Do they all have Stockholm syndrome – has every one of them completely lost all sense of shame, responsibility, decency, duty, reality? The latest reports are that the man-child himself literally took his Sharpie in hand and altered an official weather map (a crime punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, but criminal activity doesn’t seem to hinder this White House). He faked the map to continue his fantasy falsehood that Alabama was in deep doo-doo due to Dorian.

He did this in front of staff – lots of them. During an official briefing leading up to a press conference, he decided at the last minute to change the map being presented. How on earth could not one person in the room say no? “You can’t do that, Mr. President, that’s our official map and lives depend on its accuracy.” Sure, he/she would have been fired, but how, how, how could they not speak up? There is some deep psychological distortion emanating from this president, and it seems to engulf everyone around him. Smart people. Experts. Public servants.

Most of all, why has the Vice President not invoked the 25th Amendment? And is it possible that Mitch McConnell is every bit as sick as the president? If Sharpie-gate isn’t enough to see what a clear and present danger trump presents to all humanity and what a completely broken psyche he has, what is?

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” Psalm 82:2

 

PROPHET OR MYSTIC? EITHER WAY: VOTE

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It’s a fine line many of us walk these days. I’m a big believer in not “normalizing” the man-child’s behavior; nor should we ignore it, though that is one strategy a parent might employ with a child throwing tantrums and spewing lies and invectives. We may occasionally laugh at his outlandish hubris or his ignorance about our system of government. But we must not fall into the habit of seeing him as a joke, as the Germans did with Hitler. This is dangerous and we should call it dangerous, even if friends tell us we need to lighten up or “let it go.” Let decency go? Let values go? Let justice go? Let our planet go? No.

So there’s that.

At the same time, how can I be a “light in the world,” as Jesus said? How can I “sow joy where there is sadness” and “hope where there is despair,” as Saint Francis prayed? How can I deepen the roots of my faith and truly believe, as mystic Dame Julian of Norwich believed, that “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well?”

Then there’s Philippians 4:18: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

So there’s all that.

But what about the prophets of old who called out depravity and violence in their political and religious leaders when they saw it? Not that I fancy myself a prophet, but it doesn’t take a prophet to see how depraved the man-child is. Yesterday, he complained that his political momentum was slowed down by a massacre of Jewish people and some assassination attempts. In case you missed it: “Now, we did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible. Because for seven days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum.”

It also stopped eleven beating hearts and threatened dozens of others, but who’s counting?

Also yesterday, at a press conference designed to terrorize his voters about an “invasion” of brown-skinned people — “a lot of young men, strong men” — trump declared that he had told the military they should view any potential throwing of rocks as an attack by rifles. “Consider it a rifle, I told them.” Which means, of course, shoot the brown-skinned people.

Fortunately, there is a high likelihood he’s lying and did not actually order our soldiers to shoot desperate families seeking asylum. He’s just trying to make this sound like a crisis so his 32% will vote and he can justify using the military in a political stunt, right? Right? Because our military wouldn’t do that, right? Right?

Much as I’d like to write a funny post about the challenge of closing up my New Hampshire house for the winter, or an inspirational post about the scents and scenes of autumn, or a despairing post about the mess that is my memoir, I can’t do that today.

Today my prophet needs to speak out, and she’s yelling from the rooftops: If you don’t vote Democratic this week, a lot more people are going to die, whether by assault weapons, loss of healthcare, white supremacist murders, racist police or soldiers egged on by their Commander in Chief, or the storms, floods, and fires brought by climate change.

Think that sounds like an over-reaction? Think I should “let it go?” If you are a trump fan, no doubt you think I’m fear-mongering. Know what? I don’t care. This is no joke.

Swirling Evil and Deeper Truths

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SWIRLING EVIL AND DEEPER TRUTHS

“The surface swirls with events, circumstances, problems, worries. Its tasks seem impossible and overwhelming. In the deeps, something else is taking place.”

This quote from N. Gordon Crosby came across my email this morning, one of three inspirational messages I receive each day and usually don’t get around to reading because when I turn on my computer, I’m assaulted by “events, circumstances, problems, and worries” and rarely take the time for “the deeps.”

This week I’m overwhelmed, trying to prepare a sermon for Sunday, get ready to hit the road for seven weeks, and deal with doctor’s appointments for my bad hip and my two elderly cats with cancer.

Also, my country is stealing thousands of children from their parents, slapping numbers on them, and locking them in cages where nobody is allowed to hold them or comfort them.

I just read several new polls saying that most Americans don’t care for this. Well, bully for them. The same polls show that 55% of self-identified Republicans and 40% of white people think this is just fine.

It is hard to remember the deeper truths when our nation is being overwhelmed with evil.

It is hard to remember that God works all things for good. That the moral arc of the universe eventually bends towards justice, as Dr. King said. That “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” as the fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich said.

God is not working fast enough for my tastes. Neither is Robert Mueller.

 

Photo credit: John Moore

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