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BEAUTIFUL RAGE

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I may not be the most qualified to speak on the topic of anger. Though I am well-versed in the costs of bottling it up. I could probably buy a small Russian yacht with all the money I spent on cocaine in my twenties and therapy in later decades. Avoiding conflict is one of my specialties: “None of that unpleasantness, now,” as my mother would say. My older brother and sister seemed to relish rolling in the unpleasantness, while I cowered wide-eyed behind the couch. And you never knew when my alcoholic father would blow. So I learned to hide out.

Fury at Injustice

It’s a lifelong challenge for me. But there is one exception: I have always raged at injustice. It’s why I chose a career in environmental protection, to speak out and fight for the defenseless. At first that meant animals and trees and vague visions of future generations, but when this privileged young white woman learned about the heavy costs of environmental degradation on poor people and communities of color, my rage knew no bounds. Which may be why I march around the streets of D.C. and wave signs and yell at the top of my lungs from time to time. That’s my therapy now.

Interesting that my rage only seems to grow as I age. No mellowing out or going gently into that good night for this aging hippie. I mean, shouldn’t things be getting better by now?? We know about climate change and its disproportionate impacts on marginalized people, we know about police rage and violence, we know about the ownership of politicians by the NRA and multibillion-dollar corporations, we know about systemic racial injustice in housing, healthcare, education, land use, the justice system, pollution exposure – well, everything.

And then comes the rebirth of authoritarianism, not just “over there” but right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. Even for those who find it hard to do “unpleasantness,” how can you not rage right now, watching yet another tragic, senseless slaughter caused by a narcissistic strongman and his pandering cronies?

And now, corporate-backed American politicians are using Putin’s murderous rampage to call for more drilling, mining, and carbon-dioxide spewing in the name of “freedom,” when any person with a brain (and a heart) can see that solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable sources could free us from foreign energy sources for good?! Great God!

Don’t Just Rage, Do Something!

Speaking of God (see how I did that?), it’s the start of Lent, as I mentioned in my last post. What about trying a Lenten practice of feeling and expressing anger at injustice in a healthy way? I find that much of my anger comes from feeling powerless. What’s breaking your heart and raising your blood pressure these days?

You’re smart. You’re creative. Find one useful thing you can do about it. Write a letter to a decision-maker. Write a letter to your local newspaper. Call in to a news show. Get your neighbors together (in a COVID-safe way, of course) to watch a video about an issue that gets your ire up. Gather a few friends and have a “honk and wave” on the street corner, holding signs about racism, the climate crisis, Ukraine, your passion. You are a co-creator of this world with God – get out there and generate some beautiful holy rage!

“God of Holy Rage,

Too often we fear that to allow for anger is to become less like You. Let us meet the God of the prophets. You, who tells the truth. You, who holds fury at injustice. Help us to remember that You, in embodied anger, flipped the temple tables at the site of injustice and exclusion.

In a world where the powerful terrorize the marginalized – exploit people and land – would You help us to become faithful discerners of when to calm and when to rouse? Rejecting that anger which leads to bitterness or hatred of another, yet tapping into a righteous rage when that which you’ve created is under abuse and neglect. The dignity of creation demands our emotions. Make ours a beautiful rage.”

Cole Arthur Riley

You Are Awesome – Please Consider Changing

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“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Carl rogers

I came across this quote today, from psychologist and author Carl Rogers. I think it’s the perfect sentiment for the season of Lent, which started this week. 

In the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday, many Christians adopt Lenten practices that help them explore who they truly are, as Jesus did in the Biblical story of his forty days of fasting in the desert. When confronted by the devil, Jesus basically said, “No, you can’t tempt me with material things, that’s not what I’m about. No, you can’t tempt me with fame and fortune, that’s not who I am.” The devil couldn’t even tempt him with immortality. Jesus had figured out and accepted exactly who he was: He was God’s child, and he responded only to God’s guidance. 

Jesus wasn’t going to accept all the false selves the world wanted him to put on. He went inward to find his true self, the one not driven by ego or fear or insecurity. The one lovingly dreamed up by God. 

Embracing Humility

And that’s what we do during Lent; we courageously examine ourselves, we explore our motivations, accept our imperfections, and become willing to change — or “repent.” When we are weighed down by egoic insecurity and fear, we are too busy covering up and defending our fragile false self to accept our true selves just as we are. It takes humility to become willing to change. 

Sometimes a whole religious sect can become a “false self,” defending itself as perfect and its scriptures as “inerrant,” fearing change instead of embracing God’s living presence and guidance, rejecting self-examination and declaring ever louder that their particular IMAGE of God actually IS God. 

God, the Divine, is way too big to be contained in the constructs of a human mind. Hence, humility.

My Lenten Prayer for You

My prayer for you, dear readers, whether or not you consider yourself religious or spiritual, is that you might take some time to look inward during this spring season of new beginnings. To gently prod your sore spots, warm your frozen places, and open your heart to accept the truth that you are unimaginably awesome just as you are. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the ancient Hebrew scriptures say. 

Once you accept that, may you recognize that you have unique and glorious gifts to offer to the rest of us. And that it would be best for everyone if you jettison the crap that holds you back from being fully who you are meant to be.

Amen. 

This post is dedicated to my beautiful friend Bill Duncan, who passed away from COVID a year ago today. He spent his life humbly striving to be his best, truest self, the person God created him to be. 

September Journal Snippets: Mountain Musings

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My journal snippets are always some of my most popular posts, so in the absence of anything profound to say, I’ll share some of my September musings with you. The first two weeks of the month were all about road tripping. I drove from my pandemic hiding place in New Hampshire back to my home in Maryland for the COVID funeral of my dear friend Bill, then took my annual pilgrimage south to Hot Springs, North Carolina for the Wild Goose gathering, a festival of “spirit, justice, music, and art.” I briefly returned to Maryland to allow my dermatologist to snip my ear to biopsy, and then headed back to the mountains of New Hampshire.

I will spare you the suspense and let you know that I do, in fact, have skin cancer, but it’s not serious and hasn’t spread. So don’t worry.

Without further ado: 

  • September 1

.Cabin #4, Hot Springs, N.C. Before-bed hot tub. Early morning hot tub. Gonna be a rough trip. I will say, I feel guilty. I’m trying to embrace the both/and. Yes, Taliban terror is already starting in Afghanistan; yes, Bill and 600 thousand others have gone; yes, climate catastrophes abound: Hurricane Ida and another massive direct hit on New Orleans. But also, yes! I hear the wind in the trees, the rushing river, the whir of the wings of the approaching Wild Goose. It’s all captured in the dark clouds of Ida’s remnants roiling over these peaceful mountains.  

I feel so painfully aware of my privilege, sitting here. It’s kind of obscene. It is a gift to have the amount of money and time that I have and to live in the U.S. I want to be fully aware of that, and also to give back where I can. Such abundance. I’m feeling very spoiled. It is a nice connection, too, to know that Bill sat in this very hot tub, relaxed and happy; that he gazed across these treetops to that mountain. Sat at this table on this deck and wrote in his journal. My dear friend. 

At this table, on this deck
  • September 4

Notes I made at Goose Wisdom Camp: “indecision, confusion, restlessness, aimlessness, uncertainty. A little frantic. Fears underneath, of dying, of aging, of not having done enough, been enough, of over-committing, of failing.” At another session, author Gareth Higgins spoke about seven basic fears, the deepest being fear of death, and another being fear of having led “a meaningless life.” That resonated. 

The question is pretty simple, really. How do I spend my remaining time and energy? And how can I best align with my true self, with God’s vision for me? I need to re-read Parker Palmer. My passion for environmental work has faded, for whatever reasons. Too depressed about climate? Disillusioned? Hopeless? Don’t get out in nature enough? I do feel some passion around spiritual growth and pastoral roles. Yet I stepped down from being an official pastor. Kind of lost my mojo around blogging and have to force myself to work on my memoir. 

I believe the small things matter, loving your neighbor, being kind to kids (and adults), serving in simple ways. But I still want to save the world.

  • September 5

Taking a tea and chocolate break to both rest and wake myself before my guests arrive at the cabin. {Bill’s wife Shobha, his sister Linda, and our mutual friend Lori.} I love our tradition of a left-overs feast on the last night of the Goose. Poignant this evening because today is six months since Bill left. That seems incredible to me. I believe I need more chocolate.

What We Need Is Here
  • September 11

Twenty years. Just a check-in, not time to reflect on 9/11, except to note that it wasn’t that long ago that a national or global emergency would bring out the best in us, bring us together regardless of politics, remind us that we are one. No longer. Now millions of grownups refuse to get a shot or even wear a cotton mask to save children’s lives. This Delta variant is cramming pediatric hospitals. No words. And so I just live my life. Today is packing day, I’m on the road back to New Hampshire tomorrow. Awaiting a biopsy. Won’t think about that, I have cleaning and packing to do. 

  • September 13

Ah – what a whirlwind the past few weeks have been. It is good, good, good to be back in the silence. There are just the beginnings of fall, a blush of red and a few orange-tipped branches. I’ve cooked up a batch of hummingbird sugar water in case some of my friends are still around, or at least passing through. How I wish the mosquitos would migrate elsewhere! 

  • September 14

It’s a lovely sunny morning, warming up after a chilly start. The dew is offering up tiny rainbow prisms on the tips of the grass, and the crickets are singing their late-summer chant. There’s a hummer in the phlox, there’s wind in the trees, and the rustle is drier now, crisp, higher pitched than it was a few weeks ago. The maples by the driveway have turned their muted gold, steady and understated sentinels. An orange swallowtail flits from phlox to goldenrod, unaware or unconcerned about its tiny lifespan. It is enough for it to become itself, to taste nectar, to feel the sunshine, to float upwards on the breeze, wings outstretched. An acorn falls. It is enough. More than enough. 

The grasshoppers are mad this year, flinging themselves this way and that, seemingly unsure of  direction or purpose . . . or am I projecting? Need I ask? Better the unconcerned butterfly than the frantic grasshopper. 

Awakening From the Trump Nightmare?

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I’ve had the strangest feeling lately, sometimes several times a day. I feel happy. I’m just going about my business, chopping fresh summer squash and tomatoes or brushing my newly adopted kitty Alice, when all of a sudden I realize there’s an underlying happiness. I’m not sure what this is about, but I have some ideas.

You can brush my tummy. No, really, go ahead . . . trust me

Life Right Now

Several things have happened. For one, I’m staying longer term at my beloved country house in New Hampshire, away from the COVID hotspot near DC where I live most of the time. Four months instead of six weeks. So there’s less anxiety. I am still very careful, but I don’t feel as if I’m taking my life in my hands when I go to pick up cat food. At night I watch stars, listen for owls, and hope to see the shadowy shape of our local bear. During the day, I sit on my deck and gaze over the same meadow that my grandmother and my mother gazed over, waiting for the wild turkey and deer to show up.

The Meadow

I also got off my last prescription meds after losing seventy pounds. In my journal I wrote: “Last prescription med taken. I am the Queen, the boss, the winner, the smartest, best, rockingest human on earth. Just so you know.” (That last sentence has the ring of a presidential tweet, doesn’t it?) This is a long-time goal, and I’m feeling really good about it — so good that I went to the local sandwich shop and got two scoops of my favorite ice cream, peppermint stick. First ice cream since December, and it was beyond delicious, especially topped with hot fudge and caramel sauce.

Hope At Last

Lastly, there’s Kamala. I’ve already told you how I feel about her. I am under no illusion that the pollsters have a clue what they’re talking about. I am nowhere near complacent after 2016 and with all the voter suppression going on. The stakes in this election are literally life and death, COVID, healthcare, climate chaos, police brutality. Even more so if you happen to have been born with brown or black skin.

Still, there’s a tiny tinge of hope where there was none a few months ago. Perhaps America will step up. I don’t know. But we might.

Tears, All the Tears

Last night was unexpectedly weird. We knew it would be weird, being the first virtual convention in history. What surprised me was my reaction. I was in tears within minutes. I often cry at “America the Beautiful,” but I never cry at the National Anthem. Too militaristic for me. Not so last night. I started crying when all those regular old American people began reading the Preamble to the Constitution, was in full flood by the time Biden’s grandkids read the Pledge of Allegiance, and then all those faces, young hopeful faces singing the anthem! By the time we got to Bruce Springsteen’s inspiring song, The Rising, I was drenched.

 

Watching the videos and listening to the heartfelt speeches, I proceeded to run through all the feels in short order: deep sorrow, anger and rage, hope, fear, even trauma. Especially trauma. What we have been through and continue to suffer, as individuals and as a nation! I love America so much. I texted my friend: “I hate what he has done to us!”

And you know what? I feel happy about those feelings, all of them. It reminded me that Melanie’s still in here. All my feelings are still alive, despite having had to put a lid on them for the past four years. I mean, you have to build up defenses against the constant atrocities and the dread, especially if you’re a sensitive sort like me.

I felt my defensive numbness starting to melt last Sunday at the Quaker meeting I attend. A woman rose to remind us that New England Quakers are celebrating three hundred sixty years as a faith community working for justice and peace. “And two years ago,” she said, “a new light was lit when we began meeting here at Orchard Hill. I am constantly amazed at the light.”

I found I was crying. All the lights, all the amazing lights.

A light was lit at Orchard Hill

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Questioning Christianity

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I continually struggle with the term “Christian,” as I know many of us do these days. For a religion that has framed itself as having all the answers, it surely has some questions to answer.

 

These days, of course, the main question I hear from Christians and non-Christians alike is how on God’s green earth could millions of Christians *still* be supporting trump? Heck of a good question, one that this particular Christ-follower struggles with and prays about daily.

A closely related but more important question for me is this: how, how, HOW did a religion that began with (and is ostensibly still aligned with) a leader who preached love, compassion, and radical inclusion end up preaching wrath, judgment, and exclusion?

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

How did fear of a place called “hell” become the driving force in the effort to recruit followers to a religion whose God is Love, according to their holy book? Here’s a news flash: To most humans, a wrathful God who will banish you to a fiery place of eternal conscious torment if you dare question “Him” doesn’t sound like good news. At all.

Will the “Christian Church” as a body ever grow out of their fear-fueled need for answers, certainty, & control, and open their collective minds and hearts to the deepest truths in their sacred book? Can they overcome their fear of not having all the answers and instead allow God’s mysterious love and endless grace to have the last word?

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.” — Anne Lamott

Cherishing Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating today!!

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Cedar Ridge Community Church

Thanks to WordPress for the prompt — yep, cherish.

Bring Back Mercy!

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BRING BACK MERCY!

Don’t you love the word “mercy?” I guess if you grew up with the image of an angry God and you were yelled at by a preacher about hellfire & brimstone and how you’d damn well better pray for God’s mercy, etc., etc. etc., maybe the word isn’t so comforting to you.

I was fortunate not to grow up in that type of “religious” home, although I still absorbed the angry-white-man-in-the-sky image and am working to banish it from my psyche. When I see the damage such shaming and haranguing has done to many of my friends, I can only pray for God’s mercy!

Today, though, “mercy” seems like a quaint, outmoded word, a word our grandparents might have used. In fact, my father often used the phrase, “Lord, have mercy!” — something I’m sure he picked up from his childhood in Texas. Daddy usually wheezed out these words when he was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

Mercy is an old-fashioned concept. With an economic system built on competition and greed, America is not designed for it. Certainly the last remnants of mercy (and grace) departed America during the 2016 election and its aftermath. In the U.S. now, there are only winners and losers, and the one who fancies himself on top glories in dumping on the people he views as “losers.”

Saddest of all, it’s the people who call themselves “true Christians” who seem to be rejoicing in the deportation of refugees and the loss of healthcare for the poor. A guy told me on Twitter last night that I wasn’t a “true Christian” because I didn’t believe in sending all LGBTQ people to hell.

Heart of mercy, right there.

Anyway, Lord have mercy, and keep me from politics this morning!

Bathed in Mercy

Mercy makes me think of water. It’s free and powerful and lovely, and it envelops you and holds you up when you’re immersed in it. It may be gratuitous glistening drops of dew that seemingly appear from nowhere, or a gently flowing stream that accompanies you as you journey in an unfamiliar place, or it may be a rushing river that picks you up off your muddy knees and carries you to a safer place downstream where the banks are sturdier.

In my experience, when I recognize how seriously messed up I am and I decide I want to heal, mercy abounds. I don’t have to do the guilty grovel or say the “sinner’s prayer.” The God I know is a God of grace and mercy who just wants us to help Her make the world a better, more loving place.

The Bible says that all God requires of us is to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

Isn’t it fitting that the French word “merci” is related to mercy? I just want to say “thank you” to God and to all my merciful friends and family who put up with my (slight) imperfections.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have mercy on the beasts!

Lenten Question: What Does it Mean to Be You?

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LENTEN QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE YOU?

Today I’ll share some thoughts about Lent from one of my favorite authors. Even if you’re not a Jesus-person and you’ve never given Lent a second thought, this could be a useful exercise for you. Lent — which begins the day after tomorrow — is a traditional time for self reflection and re-centering, and Frederick Buechner gives us food for thought and prayer in his book, Whistling in the Dark.

† † †

“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus  went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

  If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

  When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

  If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

  Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

  Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

  If this were your last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”

flowers and Dayspring 039

Approaching Lent

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APPROACHING LENT

Lent starts this week, which I know is very exciting news to you. OK, maybe not.

I’m probably one of the few people who actually likes Lent. After all, it’s still so dark this time of year, and Christians insist on saying things like, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Really? We *know* that, thank you very much, and we expend plenty of effort trying to forget it. And then to add insult to injury, they smear ashes on your face!

Those Jesus people also talk about Lenten “repentance and sacrifice” and — ACK! — SIN. That whispered word and the shame with which it’s been imbued by some church traditions is probably the reason a lot of people reject religion altogether. I know it was the reason my mother did.

“No man who doesn’t even know me is going to stand up there and tell me I’m a sinner. I’m a perfectly nice person,” she would say. And so she was.

But the word “sin” — despite being used as a weapon to manipulate people and strike fear into their hearts — really only means “to miss the mark.” That’s not so bad, right? It means we’re not all we could be, and even my Mom could have owned that truth.

For me, Lent is a time of great hope and expectation, because we get to press the re-set button. It’s a time to intentionally step back and take stock of our lives and decide how we want to change. It can be humbling to admit how much we “miss the mark,” yet it’s empowering to know that we have the power to change, if we have the will.

So I look forward to Lent, beginning with Lenten “eve” on Shrove Tuesday, when I’ll gather with a group of friends for an overly large pancake dinner and bid farewell to my usual state of denial as I begin to “return to the Lord to examine and probe my ways.” (Lamentations 3:40)

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

Photos From the #RESISTANCE

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PHOTOS FROM THE #RESISTANCE

What a loaded word these days, made more powerful by the hashtag that’s often in front of it.

#Resist.

It’s a blessed word, too, encapsulating everything that guy Jesus talked about two thousand years ago. Resisting corrupt systems of power, resisting the worship of money and material things, resisting the all-too-human impulse to judge and divide people from one another, resisting the hubris and ego that pit us against each other instead of recognizing that we are all in this crazy life together and our species will only survive if we love one another.

Today’s word prompt from WordPress could produce a book, and I’m sure there are several being penned as we speak. Sadly, I don’t have time to write much today. But I hope you are thinking resistance. A lot. Especially if you are a follower of Jesus. Because those things that Jesus spent his life resisting? They all live in the White House right now.

Here are some pictures from Saturday’s White House rally in support of refugees and our Muslim brothers and sisters.

#Resist

Some buddies from church & I connected with other people of faith

Some buddies from church & I connected with other people of faith

 

This message could not be more important as the new administration tries to silence opposition and freedom of speech

This message could not be more important as the new administration tries to silence opposition and freedom of speech

 

monument 2

16265748_10211494885998455_3506724938925754934_ndscn5567

Not in my name.

Not in my name.

Love these signs together. We are one.

Love these signs together. We are one.

dscn5584

 

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