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Courageous Middle Age

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I never call myself “middle-aged,” I hate the term. I don’t like getting older, even if I am getting wiser (here’s hoping). But let’s face it, unless I’m going to live to be well past the century mark, I am there. In middle age and a teensy bit more.

Change is Afoot

Recently, though, something has clicked, or is in the process of clicking. I am rather suddenly learning to appreciate middle age! I’ve always loved those transition periods in life when you know you’re  evolving, but you aren’t sure what’s happening or where you’re going to end up. I’ve noted periods of passage in my journals since I was sixteen, and today was jotting about my latest one while soaking up the late summer sun at my place in New Hampshire, sipping tea on my deck and feeling entirely retired and entirely blessed.

In contrast to my past inner transitions, I can see this one has a direct cause, and it’s my recent weight loss. Not the actual shedding of pounds, but more the Noom weight loss program itself. It’s a whole mind, body, spirit thing and I’ve never come across anything like it. It’s put together by psychologists and while it’s relatively “simple” (ha!), it’s having a profound effect on the way I think and consequently behave. It seems my ability to lose weight after years of telling myself I’d never have the power to do so has allowed me to see myself and my life journey in a whole new light. I have been examining my past beliefs and behaviors with a curious but not overly critical eye, challenging the age-old pesky negative voices in my head, and allowing myself to dream a little.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

One of Noom’s “psych lessons” talks about goal orientations and how they can be either performance-based or mastery-based. As we get older, our less-ego-driven selves generally shift from an orientation of performance (What do others think? How do I compare? ) to mastery (What am I learning? Is this helping me grow, making me a better person?). This has been a hard transition for me. For most of my life, I’ve cared way too much what others think of me and have craved recognition and affirmation. That’s a draining and frustrating way to live because it gives others control over your well-being and serenity.

This idea — I’ll call it ego versus spirit — isn’t new for me; it’s not some epiphany. I was in therapy for eight years, have done related twelve-step work around growing up with an alcoholic parent, and have read several books on the topic. (Two good ones, if you’re interested, are Father Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” and “Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey” by James Hollis.) Well, through Noom I’m finally getting it, and it’s changing everything. You know how sometimes it’s just time?

Fear No More!

I’m banishing ingrained habits of thinking and feeling, like powerlessness and fearfulness. I learned to be risk-averse and overly cautious from my mother, and the river of fear runs deep. New things are dangerous, period. Laying low is always safest.

Noom to the rescue. They urged me to create a morning affirmation, and I’ve done so (don’t laugh, it’s working): “I have the ability to do whatever I choose because I am strong, determined, courageous, and wise.” At first I used “smart,” but smart is for younger people trying to impress others. By affirming my “wisdom” instead, I give myself permission to embrace what comes with middle age. I’ve been through a boatload of painful crap and I’ve learned some stuff! I’m owning it, along with the lines in my face and the sunspots on my arms. (Well, sort of.)

COURAGE
Courage is armor
A blind man wears;
That calloused scar
Of outlived despairs;
Courage is Fear
That has said its prayers.
— KARLE WILSON BAKER

So guess what? I’M GOING TO NEW ZEALAND!! Just like that. By myself. In a camper van. Don’t care what anyone thinks. So there, fear! I bought my (first) NZ travel book this week, read, researched, and emailed camper van companies and travel bloggers late into the night, and I’ve decided! Am I scared? Sure. But I’m also tingly excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. Time to get over the idea that middle-aged women can’t get tingly excited!

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Photo by my cousin, Richard Boyter)

 

Controlling Fear

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CONTROLLING FEAR

I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Survival

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

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

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

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

Until last night.

Just Say No

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

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

mt-rushmore

lady-liberty-weeping

resist-banner

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

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

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

Pray Without Ceasing

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

muslim-ban

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

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

Omran

Omran

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

An Urgent Primer: Malignant Narcissism

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I learned a new term today, and it’s one that every American and every foreign leader should become familiar with immediately. As soon as I heard the descriptor from a mental health professional who will remain nameless, I knew it was spot-on: malignant narcissist.

I Googled.

The first offering was an excerpt from Wikipedia, and it literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

“Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).”

You might not know exactly what all those terms mean, but you know exactly who they are talking about, don’t you?

The term was first used by the social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, when he described malignant narcissism as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil.” (Cue another rise of the neck hair.) Fromm called the condition “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.”

122

These people aren’t your run of the mill narcissists, who damage people for their own promotion but then might feel bad about it later. No, a malignant narcissist enjoys harming others and shows little empathy or regret for say, mocking disabled people or grabbing women’s crotches.

Another way you can tell a malignant narcissist from a regular ol’ psychopath, according to psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, is that psychopaths can’t really identify with anyone, whereas malignant narcissists “have the capacity to admire powerful people, and can depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images,” like say, Vladimir Putin.

Otto also wrote that, “Some of them may present rationalized antisocial behavior – for example, as leaders of sadistic gangs or terrorist groups . . . with the capacity for loyalty to their own comrades.” Can you say Bannon? Guiliani?

Author and psychoanalyst Dan Shaw is quoted in an article in Psychology Today (a must-read, seriously) as offering these telltale signs of malignant narcissism:

  • Someone who is “infinitely entitled and grateful to no one.”
  • When telling the story of his life, he “leaves out any trace of his own significant misdeeds and failures.”
  • Someone who “never hesitates to lie for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.”
  • Someone who “blames others for his own errors and failures.”
  • Someone who “is erratic, thin-skinned, belligerent, and constantly engaged in attacking and belittling perceived enemies.”
  • And in the case of malignant narcissistic leaders of cults and political movements, Shaw says, “he persuades followers to see their lives before joining his group as wretched, and he claims exclusive possession of the power to transform followers’ lives in miraculous ways.”

Bingo.

Please, people, let’s not pretend. Let’s not normalize pathology. Let’s not let the media get away with normalizing this, either. We are in very deep trouble. While denial might make us feel better, it is not an option right now.

Must-read: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-couch/201608/what-happens-when-malignant-narcissist-starts-unravel

Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

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Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

For the majority of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump, this moment is more than just an “upsetting setback” or an “alarming trend” or even a “crushing defeat.”

I have a friend who is a Trump voter and he is on Facebook trying to calm people down by writing things like:

“Our hearts should be wrapped up in loving God and loving others. (You know, the greatest commandment and the 2nd one just like it?) All this fear should be transferred to trust in God. We should not be looking to government to do the things we should be doing ourselves.”

Let me begin by saying this is not a helpful way to respond. First, it reminds the public that millions of people called Christians have voted for someone whose number-one character trait is attacking and mocking and belittling others. This does not reflect well on Christianity and it tells people that churches are not safe places to be. This is tragic.

Secondly, a white guy telling people not to be afraid of Trump is . . . well, I don’t actually have a word for that. Let me explain:

Just a Few of Our Fears

  • Millions of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims and LGBTQ people fear for their immediate physical safety. The bullying has already begun. Because it’s allowed now, even encouraged. “Political correctness” i.e., respecting and empathizing with those different from you, is mocked as un-American.
  • When millions of Jewish people see the language that Trump’s campaign lifted directly from anti-semitic websites, they hear boots marching and murderous voices chanting.
  • Those of us who have decided to stay in the U.S. and fight for “a more perfect union” with “liberty and justice for all” now fear retribution. Will we be targeted for intimidation and punishment? How will the public even know what’s going on after Trump bans unfriendly news outlets from the White House and congressional hearings? I am painfully aware that part of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is vengefulness. It wouldn’t take much of a search to identify anti-Trump bloggers and make sure that they have trouble getting driver’s licenses or passports or health care or . . .
  • Oh yeah, there’s that small matter of health care. Twenty-two million people will soon lose affordable health care, myself included. I have a pre-existing condition. I was with a woman yesterday who has a disabled son and she is inconsolable because he’ll lose his treatment and affordable medications. For the first time in his thirty years, he had the care he needed because of Obamacare.
  • I’ve heard many fathers and mothers express fear that their daughters will now be entering a time when it’s OK to grope and grab and trash-talk women, something most women have experienced and were hoping was becoming a thing of the past.
  • For me, fear of nuclear holocaust is at the top of the list because of Trump’s impulsivity, recklessness, and petty vengefulness.
  • Climate change? I wouldn’t call that fear, more resignation and deep sadness for the human race.

Anyway, my point is that white male Christians should please not tell people “Fear not because God loves you and your fellow Americans will pick up the slack when government programs are gone.” Because the most at-risk people aren’t feeling too warm and fuzzy towards their “fellow Americans” right now, especially evangelical Christians, and most of our fears aren’t anything fellow Americans can help with anyway. I cannot stop Trump from pushing the nuclear button, and you cannot provide healthcare to that woman’s disabled son. Tuna casseroles won’t do it.

Emerging from Denial

I seem to be emerging from the shock and denial stage of grief and entering into anger. That’s good, I guess.

I spent yesterday at a silent retreat center and it truly helped. There were twice as many people there as usual, nearly thirty of us seeking comfort and solace from a Higher Power. The leader suggested that we “befriend our tears” and consider them “an offering.” She asked us to allow our hearts to be soft and broken because nothing new and good can grow from hard, frozen ground. I took her advice.

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

I’m still deciding how else to respond. Silence and prayer is good — we should all take care of ourselves and take whatever time we need to grieve. But then we need to decide. How will we respond? My mind cycles between options:

Now What?

I could be marching in the anti-Trump protests, but I don’t think that’s especially helpful. While it is good to send a message to Trump that he does not have a mandate (not even a majority of the votes) and we are here and we are watching, it is not helpful to break stuff and set things on fire. But testosterone will be testosterone and anarchists will be anarchists, and they have glommed on to peaceful marches and rallies.

Or I could leave. I already have friends headed to Canada and Scotland and looking into Costa Rica. But no, I believe in this country’s founding principles, and I believe in a good God, and I absolutely believe that love will win in the end. I am not made of the stuff that runs away. I’m an American and I still love my country, even though I’m crushingly ashamed of it right now.

Or I could withdraw and go into an insular shell as I did the first time Reagan won. I spent nine months in depression, often not getting out of my dressing gown until I knew my roommates would be coming home from work. I supported the economy by buying a lot of marijuana. Yeah, that wasn’t my best response, and I’ll not be withdrawing again.

Or I could withdraw less dramatically and simply stay away from the news for four years and watch entertainment shows and history documentaries about Hitler and Mussolini. But life is too short and I’m too old to spend my last decades — if I’m granted that long — seeing everything I have worked for in my environmental justice career and personal life come unraveled. The arc of history bends towards justice, and I’m going to keep hanging on to the end of that arc with my friends.

Or I could dive in 110% and go back to work for a social justice organization and work fourteen-hour days and hope that I can save the world. Been there, done that. It’s a worthy pursuit, but not for me anymore. Trump has committed to undo decades of bipartisan progress on environmental issues and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, so rules & regulations & agencies are only as good as the leader. It’s hearts that have to be changed, not just laws.

Or I can give money to social change and civil rights and organizations. Lord knows they are going to need it. I hope you will do that. Right now. They need encouragement as they gear up to defend our constitution and our laws. But I don’t think money is enough.

Standing Together

People who care about justice and equality and peace and the planet need to stand together, literally. We need to look each other in the eyes and say, “I am with you. You are not alone.”

We need to pick our battles and engage. Tonight I’m headed to a rally in a nearby small town to show solidarity with Muslims and immigrants. Two hundred folks have already signed up. Next week I’m going to a larger rally in Annapolis to stand with my Native American brothers and sisters against the Dakota Pipeline.

I’ll be sporting a safety pin on my sweaters from now on, the new symbol of a “safe person” that loving Americans are now wearing in support of at-risk people. I hope that you will, too. And don’t just wear it, but speak up when you see a problem. Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

#safetypin = safe person

#safetypin = safe person

If you are one of the majority of Americans who are afraid right now, what are you going to do?

Thanks to WordPress Daily Post for the prompt: Or

Trump-Induced Panic

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Panic, of course, stems from fear. It also entails a certain loss of perspective, a degree of obsession. I confess to it.

Some days are worse than others. Usually the trouble starts with a visit to Nate Silver’s electoral polling website FiveThirtyEight (Avoid it at all costs.) I became addicted to the site after the conventions in July, when my nephew pointed to his computer screen with a celebratory, “Hey, come look at this! Hillary has an eighty percent chance of winning!”

I liked looking at the numbers then. I looked every few days. Then, as the lines on the charts grew closer together, I started checking every day. Now . . . well, we won’t talk about that.

Today Nate posted an election update entitled “The Case For and Against Democratic Panic.” His conclusion? “I don’t know.” Well, I’m way out ahead of him. And I’m not alone. I read a fascinating article in Slate this week quoting therapists who describe an epidemic of headaches, nightmares, insomnia, and digestive problems caused by Trump’s candidacy. Here is one of the many sentiments expressed in the article that captures my feelings exactly:

“Liz hasn’t agreed with past Republican candidates, she says, but she didn’t think they would ‘ruin my country, or cause civil war, or cause World War III.’ But her fear also stems from her incredulous realization that so many of her fellow citizens inhabit a reality that barely intersects with her own. ‘I can no longer see where they’re coming from,’ she says of Trump supporters. ‘I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone.’ Even if Clinton wins, she’s terrified of Trump’s followers responding with violence.”

The woman quoted above is not the only person I have heard utter the words, “civil war.” It is the easiness with which this has happened that scares the pants off of me. One day you think you know your country — yeah, there are racists and people with anger problems and there’s evidence on Twitter that thousands of people have lost all civility — but, still, we are in America and we will work it out. We have a democracy and we have people like Bernie Sanders.

Now I just don’t know. If Trump loses and calls “Rigged!” I could be in physical danger for the bumper stickers on my car.

Speaking of the Twilight Zone:

This week on my Facebook page, a “friend” whom I don’t really know (relative of another person I don’t know well) went whacko on my actual friends. When I posted that I was worried about the polls and heading to New Hampshire to work on the election, I got a lot of “you go, girl!” and “thank you” and “go for it!” responses.

And then up pops this woman. A conservative “Christian,” who drops in Jesus references here and there. She begins with sarcasm, descends into rants about Hillary murdering diplomats in Benghazi/the Iran nuclear deal/ISIS/Obama being a “muslim sympathizer”/email email email, and ends up by calling my friends “ignorant hater . . . insane fool . . . liar . . . ISIS sympathizer . . . revolting moron.”

Her main sources of information appear to be (her version of) Jesus and Fox News: “As for Jesus, he did cause a stir among the politicians of his day because he told them the hard truth that they didn’t want to hear.” (Presumably like Trump.)  And this: “Fox News is the ONLY major news media who even attempt a non-biased approach.” No comment.

She did own that perhaps Trump is “a bit of a wild card,” but still better than HRC because she is “pure evil.”

And here, in case you missed it, is an astonishing video of another denizen of the Twilight Zone, claiming that there was no racism before Obama came along:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/22/trump-ohio-campaign-chair-no-racism-before-obama

So: when today’s word prompt of “panic” came up, there was no question what I would write about.

Clowns often induce panic, especially if they are angry and incite violence and are running for president

Clowns often induce panic, especially if they are angry and incite violence and are running for president

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Naked Pastor

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The pain was sharp and paralyzing, and I doubled over and clutched my chest. “How old do you have to be to have a heart attack?” I gasped to my older sister.

“Older than twelve, honey,” she said smiling. “I think you’re just nervous about starting junior high tomorrow. It’s heartburn or something.” She headed to the bathroom for Tums.

This memory keeps popping up lately, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve just started a new job. Transitions are tough for me, and they awaken familiar angst. Even as I write this, a voice in my head tells me that it’s not a real job, that I’m not getting paid, that it’s only part-time, that I’m kind of a fraud. Just like my twelve-year-old self heading off to seventh grade dressed in fishnet stockings and a miniskirt, playing the cool teenager, but knowing inside that I was a fraud, just a knee-socked, saddle-shoed elementary school kid in disguise.

The fraudulent feeling is in full fling as I start my new position as a pastor. An “unordained pastor” in an independent community church, I was simply commissioned by my congregation to help lead, not educated at Divinity school, not given any fancy vestments, not awarded any letters to put after my name. The words exegesis and systematic theology mean about as much to me today as the words calculus and civics did to me the night my sister diagnosed my adolescent heartburn.

Seriously? You're the new pastor??

Seriously? You’re the new pastor??

The not-good-enough-fraud discomfort is second only to my fear of not belonging when it comes to transitional angst. 

In June of sixth grade, I walked to school with a pack of neighborhood kids I’d known all my life. The following September I was waiting at a bus stop with a bunch of rowdy older boys I’d never met before. Only three kids from my elementary school transferred to my junior high, and none of them were in my homeroom. I threw up in the girl’s room that first day.

Today I’m sitting in a writing class with a roomful of Divinity school graduates, mostly ordained pastors, who are speaking Greek – literally – and I’m flashing back to not being able to open my locker or figure out how to change classes. I might as well be cringing naked in the gym shower room.

Spirit on the Wing: Scaring the Hell Out of Christians

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Imagine being in a place of profound belonging, of shared vision, of arms-open love, no matter who you are. It’s a serene place on the banks of a wide river, and the music of the river mixes with the sounds of laughter and song all day and into the night. It’s a place that fills you with powerful spiritual energy.

Guess what? It’s real, and you can come visit next summer!

Hope for Justice

I’ve just returned from my third experience of the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Wild Goose is not just a place, as lovely as it is by the French Broad River, and it’s not just an event, although with several thousand attendees, it certainly is that. Wild Goose is above all a spirit, one with strong wings that will carry me another twelve months until I can be reunited with “my tribe.”

Soul Friends

Soul Friends

Everyone I met felt that way, all remarkable God-lovers who would be official saints if I were in charge of the churches that name saints. Souls who devote their lives to racial justice, visiting prisoners on death row, ending human trafficking, promoting peace in Palestine, forging guns into garden tools, fighting coal plants and climate denial, ending the oppression of gay folks, growing food for the hungry, on and on . . . the work of God.

When these tired travelers gather together each year for four days of music, art, justice, and spirituality, something magical happens: loneliness is banished and hope is restored.

For me, this is what the Christian faith is all about: restoration. Restoring our souls, restoring our connection with creation and with our Creator, restoring our relationships with other humans — even restoring a healthy relationship with death. All reasons for hope.

The Fearful Face of Christianity

Sadly, modern Christianity often leads people away from a sense of loving restoration and into a land of judgement, contempt, and fear — fear of God, fear of hell, and fear of people who think or believe differently — which tragically results in many professed Christians working against justice because they fear empowering “the other” and must defend “their” faith from attack, as if God needs to be protected from dangerous outsiders. 

These fearful folks don’t come to the Goose — there are too many “others” there. Milling around the festival grounds are Christians who don’t believe in a place called Hell, Christians who don’t believe that Jesus had to be slaughtered by his Father so that we could go to heaven, and Christians who don’t believe that their gay loved ones are headed for eternal damnation. I suspect some may actually be gay themselves — gasp!

Aaron

Aaron

There’s meditation. And yoga. And Tai Chi. 

No doubt about it. The Christian establishment — males who base their faith on rules and theories developed by other males ever since Jesus came to teach us how to live a joy-filled life — do not care for Wild Goosers. Their religious paradigm does not allow for thinking or questioning or evolution (in any sense of the word). “God is unchanging,” they argue, which I believe is true, but this doesn’t mean that our understanding of God and the universe shouldn’t evolve: God did invent the human brain. 

The religious establishment rants and rails against progressive “Emergent Christians” and the Wild Goose Festival.

And no wonder. The Wild Goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit, an unpredictable, uncontrollable love-power that can topple establishments and result in all kinds of rule-breaking — in the tradition of the historical Jesus, I might add.

This woman is clearly trouble.

This woman is clearly trouble

An Ongoing Story

I’m not good at doing serial blog posts; I tend to peter out after two. “Lessons from the Fall” that broke my arm and observations from my Desert Pilgrimage in April are still awaiting their third installments.

Nevertheless, you’re in for at least a couple of posts. This year’s Goose hosted several surprise guests right out of the headlines, and I have pages of notes from workshops and dialogues. The Wild Goose deserves full attention, both for what it means to me personally in my faith-walk and for what I believe it could mean for the future of Christianity and thus the world.

The Goose is on the wing!

DSCN4422Related links:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/wild-goose-part-one-celebration-sexuality/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/wild-goose-part-two-mud-music-and-exploding-head-syndrome/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/justice-scalia-meet-spirituality/

The Power of Names: Meet My Multiple Personalities

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I discovered my multiple personalities about five years ago while working with my therapist. I am going to introduce you to “my kids,” but first I want to make it clear that I do not have certifiable Multiple Personality Disorder, properly called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

True DID personalities would fight mightily against being introduced to you — it has been called “a disorder of hiddenness” — and they would likely have the power to stop this blog from happening. While my kids are shy and not sure that you’ll like them, they are nevertheless ready to reveal themselves.

I am not making light of DID when I speak of my kids. I know people who have DID, and it is a painful and debilitating disorder involving mistrust and secrecy that can isolate you from others. Many people don’t even know they have DID and have instead been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or bipolar disorder.

There’s a whole spectrum of dissociative disorders, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being the “mildest” (ha!) and full-blown DID being the most severe. DID is not a dysfunction, per se, it’s actually a remarkable coping mechanism for people who have experienced traumatic events. In essence, the “parts” of the self that have been traumatized “split off” in order for the psyche to survive.  They keep the painful memories isolated.

This becomes a dysfunction later in life when the trauma has passed, but the self and its dissociated parts remain separate and act as if they are still threatened. Hence, the separate parts are usually mistrustful, somewhat paranoid, and protective.

Psychology lesson over. To learn more, check here and here and here.

The Birth of My Personalities

Like a lot of people who grew up in chaotic, unpredictable homes, I experienced some dissociation when I was a kid. When confronted with painful and confusing situations, like my gentle and loving Daddy suddenly becoming an aggressive and nasty person after tossing back a few tumblers of Gallo sherry, my brain compartmentalized the chaos. Distancing from the craziness made it bearable.

My brother told me that when I was thirteen, I walked into the dining room and my father slammed down his glass and said, “So, are you pregnant yet?” I have no conscious memory of this. But the shock and confusion is in there somewhere.

You may be able to relate. Perhaps you’ve reacted to a situation irrationally and then in retrospect wondered why you were so bent out of shape . . . or since it’s easier to judge others than yourself, you may have noticed such inappropriate overreactions in friends, family, or coworkers. Often, the reason for this behavior is that our brains have made a subconscious connection to a similar upsetting situation from childhood and we are literally reacting with a child’s mentality. We have disassociated from our adult identity.

In short, I have some kids in my head, and they sometimes govern my reactions to life events. I can now recognize them and give them their due. It’s like being a parent to a passel of children. You need to listen to them, reassure them, and meet their emotional needs.

kids charleston2

The cool thing is, these little characters are part of my identity — I am reintegrating them into my adult self and find that they are creative, funny, and inspirational. And they like to express themselves through poetry. Their poems help me understand myself.

This week marks twelve weeks since my brother Biff passed away. The kids honored the event by expressing their feelings through poetry. The poems are Blackjack Poems, three lines of seven syllables each for a total of twenty-one. So without further ado, here are my kids and their poems.

Marnie and Biff

Marnie and Biff

Characterization through Poetry

Marnie

Marnie is what I called myself when I was too small to say Melanie, and the nickname stuck. Mom always called me Marnie when she was feeling mushy. Marnie is about four. She likes to laugh and have fun and play and is easily frightened by anger or confrontation. I have an image of her in a puffy party dress, hiding behind the couch waiting for an argument to blow over. She’s the reason I avoid tense situations. She writes:

The house is very quiet

I don’t know what happens next.

Nobody’s laughing. He’s gone.

Sport

Sport is a nickname my brother gave me when I was seven or eight. Sport is a fun kid with short hair, freckles, and a gap between her front teeth. She’s an animal lover and likes to be active outside. In the early sixties, she would flee whatever madness was going on in the house and escape into nature, which she found to be a healing balmalmost mystical. She’s probably the reason I became a vegetarian and devoted my career to environmental protection, and she’s definitely the reason I get so pissed off when people say they don’t believe in climate change. She knows that honoring nature is a matter of survival on many levels. She writes:

No, that’s silly. He’s hiding.

There’s no sun if he’s not here.

He’s the one that makes us laugh.

Whisper

Whisper didn’t show herself until well after the others had come out and named themselves. Whisper is intensely shy and prefers to be invisible because it’s less painful than being ignored or neglected. She feels responsible for bad stuff happening and carries a lot of shame — another reason for hiding. Whisper spent the late sixties sitting in front of the TV watching sitcoms and eating bologna sandwiches and chips, in the hopes that chubby layers would keep her hidden.

She’s a creative little soul, ten or eleven years old, who finds peace and joy in music and other artistic pursuits. When I decided to face my fear of computers and create a blog, it was to Whisper I turned. I gave her permission to be heard. I think she’s the one who helps me write from the gut. Her poem:

If I am very quiet

And don’t cause any upset,

Maybe he will come back home.

Cat

Cat. Dear Cat. Her name says it all. She is a teenager and powerful in a way that only teenagers can be. She strode in, dressed in patched blue jeans, a paisley t-shirt, and a bandana and stood between my father and the cowering Whisper. We were silent no more, though we could be sullen, surly, and snarky. Passive-aggressive and bitingly sarcastic, Cat was done with my father. (Now that I think of it, she learned those behaviors from her beloved big brother, Biff.)

Cat’s clever and brims with false self-confidence. Underneath, she’s just as fearful as Marnie and Whisper, but you would never know it. I love Cat — she took control and took no prisoners. She’s impulsive and spontaneous and is the one who still occasionally tears down the Beltway at eighty five miles-per-hour in pursuit of some idiot who cut her off. Sometimes she drinks too much and it took me several tries to get her to quit smoking. She cusses a lot. Cat is dismissive of poetry but offers this nonetheless:

How could he do this to me??

What the fuck! This can’t happen.

I gotta get out of here.

 Mel

Mel is a miracle. Mel totally rocks. She is my young adult, twenty or so. She’s the one who started asking, “Why not?” and “What if?” She is smart, capable, determined, and gets things done. Mel worked from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day and held a weekend job as well so she could pay her way through college in night school. When she didn’t find the major she wanted at university, she designed her own Environmental Studies degree. She nagged the folks at the Sierra Club until they hired her in 1982. I think she deserves most of the credit for the Masters in Nonfiction I just received from Hopkins. I need her to get me out of bed during this period of grieving. I’m sure she will step up, she always does. She writes:

I guess I’ll try to do this.

What is an executor?

I’ll ask the lawyer; he’ll know.

Melanie

Finally, there’s Melanie; adult Melanie. Me. Through spiritual disciplines, recovery support groups, and therapy, I’m learning to integrate my kids and am becoming a whole and healthy adult. I seek to appreciate and learn from all my parts — the whimsical joy of Marnie, the outdoor girl in Sport, the creativity of Whisper, the fearlessness of Cat, and the go-getter spirit in Mel. Here’s where I am:

On good days now, I can laugh.

Some days I stay home and cry.

My friends laugh and cry with me.

 ♥♥♥♥♥

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge: Power of Names. I’ve found it empowering and enlightening to name and claim the kids inside of me. Who’s inside of you?

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