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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

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Redeeming trump™ Ugliness

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REDEEMING TRUMP™ UGLINESS

Most of us with eyes or ears are thinking a good bit about ugliness lately. It’s creeping like toxic orange sludge across our country. It won’t be ignored. If you are on Twitter, you can’t escape the ugliness even for a minute.

It’s shocking.

Things are bad. Things are really bad. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Don’t ask me how they’re going to get better, I do not know, except to say that there are way more people pumped up and engaged and talking about justice and kindness than I have seen in my lifetime. That can’t be bad. The resistance to ugliness is blossoming.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement is true: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ My religion is based on a similar truth, love always wins in the end, although certain followers of Christianity mask that truth well.

Today I want to share just one silly — but brilliant — tip that might stem the ugliness and bring a smile to your day. You’ve probably heard about it, but I highly recommend the app from Google Chrome that turns social media pictures of trump™ into cute kittens. It only works with about half the media outlets, but I guarantee, every time you see a picture of that man pop up and then disappear and turn into a bit of harmless fluff, you will smile.

The orange kittens are the best.

So in the interest of the aesthetics of your electronic world, I highly recommend the app. Follow this link to an article about it, and here is a link to the app, Make American Kittens Again.

Now, isn't that better?

Now, isn’t that better?

 

The Election: Getting Beyond Hate and Grief to Hope

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As I continue to try to understand what is happening to my country and to process my grief over what feels like the loss of all civility and human kindness in America, I am subject to the occasional “relapse” in my emotional and spiritual growth.

At times I feel like a terrified three-year-old hiding behind the sofa while a crazy drunken uncle rages around the kitchen breaking stuff, and at other times I react like a pissy teenager who does things like, say, staying up half the night shooting snarky Tweets at the new president-elect. (This is theoretical, of course.)

Being brought up in an alcoholic household means I will occasionally leap into battle to save someone or something — in this case, the whole world. Since I’m not 100% sure that I can save the world from nuclear holocaust or climate change, I have to resort to plan B, which consists of telling my therapist how unhealthy social media is for me and then going home and diving back into the Twitter-mire while eating a gigantic bowl of pasta.

I forget that God’s got this, that God always brings good from bad, that there is no darkness in God, that love wins. I forget. Essentially, I think that I am God.

So it is a comfort to be around cooler heads, to come across an article or a blog that steps back from the situation and offers a larger perspective. Since I don’t personally have much perspective yet, I’m going to just share someone else’s post on my page, which I rarely do.

Charles Einstein is a vaguely familiar name to me. He’s written a couple of books I’ve heard of, including the Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics. While I’m not sure I agree with everything he says in here, I agree with a lot of it, especially the last half about how we should move forward.

Charles encourages us to copy and share his essay under the Creative Commons Copyright, so feel free.

Enjoy.

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

Posted on Nov 10, 2016

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

This essay has been translated into German as well as Spanish and French.

 

Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See here, here, here, here) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.

We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.

We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?

It is time now to bring this question and the empathy it arouses into our political discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the election outcome and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself, “What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the caricature of misogynist and bigot to find the real person.

Even if the person you face IS a misogynist or bigot, ask, “Is this who they are, really?” Ask what confluence of circumstances, social, economic, and biographical, may have brought them there. You may still not know how to engage them, but at least you will not be on the warpath automatically. We hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not know. So let’s stop making our opponents invisible behind a caricature of evil.

We’ve got to stop acting out hate. I see no less of it in the liberal media than I do in the right-wing. It is just better disguised, hiding beneath pseudo-psychological epithets and dehumanizing ideological labels. Exercising it, we create more of it. What is beneath the hate? My acupuncturist Sarah Fields wrote to me, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”

I think the pain beneath is fundamentally the same pain that animates misogyny and racism – hate in a different form. Please stop thinking you are better than these people! We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. Something hurts in there. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more. The acute trauma endured by the incarcerated, the abused, the raped, the trafficked, the starved, the murdered, and the dispossessed does not exempt the perpetrators. They feel it in mirror image, adding damage to their souls atop the damage that compels them to violence. Thus it is that suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. military. Thus it is that addiction is rampant among the police. Thus it is that depression is epidemic in the upper middle class. We are all in this together.

Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.

We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations, and prayers. Can we take them now into the political world and create an eye of compassion inside the political hate vortex? It is time to do it, time to up our game. It is time to stop feeding hate. Next time you post on line, check your words to see if they smuggle in some form of hate: dehumanization, snark, belittling, derision.., some invitation to us versus them. Notice how it feels kind of good to do that, like getting a fix. And notice what hurts underneath, and how it doesn’t feel good, not really. Maybe it is time to stop.

This does not mean to withdraw from political conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute political analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Usually, those evangelizing compassion do not write about politics, and sometimes they veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do we will receive an invitation to give in to the dark side and hate “the deplorables.” We must not shy away from those confrontations. Instead, we can engage them empowered by the inner mantra that my friend Pancho Ramos-Stierle uses in confrontations with his jailers: “Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.” If we can stare hate in the face and never waver from that knowledge, we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.

Image: Creative Commons – picture by Abhi Ryan

Love Conquers All

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I’ve spent the morning drafting a blog about Christian voters (doesn’t that phrase send shivers down your spine right about now?) and I think it might be good enough to submit for publication. Hence, I can’t post that offering here. But I really want to connect with “my tribe” in the blogosphere because November 2016 is not a good time to be alone in your head. So I will simply share this quote from Frederick Buechner today.

I cannot say I am here yet, by any means. I am still in the reality of Romans 8:26, where ” . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

So I groan.

But Buechner has words, and here they are:

“The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

photo-95

Before Forgiveness

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Today my church hosted a workshop on Crucial Conversations that was intended to help us have constructive conversations around racial issues over the upcoming holidays. Of course when the session was organized, nobody expected that Donald Trump would be moving into the White House, but there you have it — fortuitous timing in that racism is now front and center in the national conversation.

How can we, as followers of Christ who are hurting and angry after the election of a man whose words and behavior fly in the face of decency, curtail our emotions and interact in loving, constructive ways with friends and family who might have voted for that same man?

I won’t go in to all we talked about because it’s late and I have to get my houseplants inside before it freezes tonight, plus I’m tired because I haven’t been sleeping well since the Tuesday of Darkness.

I did want to share a few photos taken at a solidarity rally I attended last night that was meant to support Muslims and immigrants but which ended being a huge help to everyone. Four or five hundred of us sang and cried and listened to speakers and waved signs. America.

Waving signs is good for my soul

Waving signs is good for my soul

The next generation holds hope and love

The next generation holds hope and love

It does

It does

Use your first amendment rights while you've got 'em!

Use your first amendment rights while you’ve got ’em!

I also want to share a Desmond Tutu poem that was read at the end of our Crucial Racial Conversations workshop. It’s called the Prayer Before the Prayer and it’s perfect for this moment.

 

“I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon . . .”

 

What?? How? Why? And What Do We Do Now?

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What?? How? Why? What do we do now?

At first, most of us decided we were having a nightmare. You know the kind that seems like it’s going on way too long and it’s way too detailed to be a dream and when you finally wake up you are soooo relieved?

Except we’ve not woken up yet.

Many of us are still saying, “What??” This is where I’ve been since last night: shock and denial, and glad for it. Because I know what happens next. I know gut-grief.

I finally gave in to a short burst of tears this afternoon. How could my fellow Americans have voted for a man who makes fun of disabled people and says he wants to punch a person in the face? A man who talks about grabbing women’s crotches? Just no. And given that over 60% of Americans believe he’s unqualified to be president, how could so many vote for him anyway?

When I Start Feeling Again

When I get beyond this shocked “WHAT??” I will start asking “how?” and look for someone to blame. And I will probably begin feeling again.

I hope that I will not be filled with rage and hatred against Trump voters and/or against the people who voted third party or wrote in someone because they were too pure to sully themselves with our current political reality. And/or against people who consider themselves Christian but who know a different Jesus than I do, one who supports increased military spending and decreased funding for food stamps. And/or against people who did not even bother to vote.

Blaming doesn’t help me recover, although I know it’s a necessary phase of grief.

Making Sense of it All

After “how?” will come “why?” My mind will try to make sense of this. If I can understand it, maybe I can control it and keep myself safe from it. I will ask “why, why, why?” Probably by then there will be tears. There might be wailing. “Keening,” as one dear friend put it. Like me, she has dedicated her life to protecting our planet and is likely experiencing a primal grief for our species and all the others that will suffer from or succumb to climate change.

I’m sure many pundits will be paid for producing many words about “why” for many decades to come. History books will talk about racism and fear of homosexuals and Muslims, and note “nostalgia” for the good old days when we were all white except for our maids, and we all went to our stone churches in our station wagons on Sundays and mowed our little squares of green lawn on Saturdays while our little wives made lemonade.

The Good Old Days

The Good Old Days

There are lots of reasons why, not just one. But my hunch is that 99% of the reasons are based in fear. Fear of the other. And that is a spiritual problem, not a political problem.

Fear Not

So — what do we do now? Well, for one, we must not fear. Because fear leads to hate, as we have seen. That’s what led to President-elect Trump. Which is why the Bible uses phrases like “fear not . . . do not be afraid . . . have no fear” more than one hundred times. Jesus said it. All. The. Time. He knew what fear does to the human heart.

Fear makes us feel powerless, but hate makes us feel empowered. That’s why we go there. That’s why terrorists carry out cowardly attacks, because they are afraid that the west is polluting their way of life and threatening their patriarchal power system. And so they hate. That’s also why Donald Trump is like he is. He is a sick and fearful soul who latched on to judgement and contempt (and money) to make himself feel powerful.

But we who have hearts for justice must not allow ourselves to go there. We must somehow be love in the world. Because love is the opposite of fear. The two cannot coexist. Perfect love drives out fear. Fear got us into this; only love can get us out.

I don’t yet know how to Be Love in this extreme case. The last thing I want to do is make myself vulnerable. Anger feels like the safer route.

I will eventually start praying for the willingness to love. For the time being, though, I’m choosing to stay in numb denial for a little longer.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Her, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” —- Romans 15:13

Emotive Weekend Entertainment: Historic Election Nights We Have Known

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If you are a political junkie as I am, the link below will be all you need to keep you occupied for a good chunk of time. You might want to go through it more than once. I already have.

I remember every one of these nights as if they were just last year, and each memory contains either ebullient joy or devastation.

In 1980, I was on my way home from night school to watch the election returns with my roomies. We were expecting a long night. It was 8:15 when I stopped at the liquor store for champagne. The TV was on, and John Chancellor was announcing that Ronald Reagan had won in a landslide. Just like that. Half the country hadn’t even voted yet. I sat down on a chair and wept.

Of course, Bush vs. Gore in 2000 was the worst. It stretched our nation almost to its breaking point. It still makes me nauseated when I remember the moment the Supreme Court said, “Stop counting the ballots.” The level of shock I felt was on a par with September 11. My country, shaken to its core. This can’t happen here! Don’t count the votes? Don’t count the votes?

But keep scrolling through the article and you will come to 2008. You can watch us elect our first African-American president all over again. And again. And again. With tears streaming down your face as you watch thousands and thousands of people of every race and ethnicity rejoicing together in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and beyond. Oh, for that kind of energy in progressive America again!

Another wave of nostalgia may hit you when you see real TV newscasters. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Intelligent people who try to report actual news in an unbiased manner without letting their personalities take the stage. Talk about history!

It Might Be OK

Watching these videos one after the other, you may also get just the slightest sense that “it’s going to be OK,” as we stand at the precipice of what is, I believe, the most important election in our history. We are getting awfully close to our last chance to keep climate change from wiping out a million or so species — but maybe the human one will survive a while longer, and maybe America will.

Hillary has a decent chance of defeating the Orange Menace. And even if Trump gets elected, hopefully we’ll get a Democratic Senate to protect the Supreme Court and limit the domestic damage, and maybe someone in his family can keep him from starting a nuclear war. The rest of the world will just have to wait four years while he tanks bigly, and then America will be back.

We are resilient, we are strong. We’re just, well, kind of schizophrenic: red or blue, black or white, pro-choice or pro-life. I don’t know how we heal this rift of the heart.

I will be in prayer this weekend. I suggest you join me, no matter what your view of prayer might be. Can’t hurt, right? Meantime, check out this awesome article from the Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/11/04/what-time-will-this-election-finally-be-over/?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1

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