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Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

WordPress Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

Talking Turkey, Trump, and Testosterone

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Talking Turkey, Trump and Testosterone

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

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

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

The New Normal is Not OK

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

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

220px-turkeys

Gobble

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

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

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

turkey2

 

Sexual Assault, Anger, and Gentleness

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I may have to re-think this every-day blogging practice. I opened my journal this morning and realized that I haven’t written in six days, which is unheard of during my retreats in New Hampshire. I have a call with my therapist this afternoon, and I don’t know what to talk about, since I have no record of my musings.

In fact, I do know what I’ll talk about, and it’s probably the same thing most women are processing this week with counselors, therapists, and friends. I am bowled over by the reaction to Trump’s sexual predation tape on social media — my Facebook and Twitter feeds are crammed with women remembering and re-living predation stories from the past. Many, like me, are surprised by their anger and even rage.

I blogged on that recently and included a list of my experiences from childhood to twenty-five. Last night as I was falling asleep, I remembered another that I had completely wiped out of my mind. The closest I have ever come to being raped. My boyfriend’s best friend, and my boyfriend wouldn’t believe me. He said I must have “misunderstood” because K would never do that. No wonder I wiped out that memory!

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today. I am exhausted by it all.

Instead, I want to share a quote about gentleness that I came across while preparing a sermon on the topic. I think the sentiments are much needed right about now. I apologize that some of my posts about The Donald have not been very gentle. I am human, I am a woman, and I am angry. Also sad.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

On Gentleness

If you don’t know Henri Nouwen, you should. He was a remarkably gentle and loving man, a priest, professor, theologian, and writer. He wrote this about gentleness, which the Bible says is one of the signs of being a Jesus follower:

“Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness.

We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count.

But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.

Gentle is the one who does “not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something.

A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force.

Let’s dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.”

Amen.

Day fourteen of my daily blogging practice

 

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