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Wild Goose 2018 #1: Holding on to Serenity

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After five days at the Wild Goose Festival in the mountains of North Carolina, unplugged from the internet and living in a community of four thousand smiling, creative, hopeful, “damn-givers,” as John Pavlovitz calls us, it is hard to return to . . . to . . . what shall I call this train wreck of a world?

I will not call it anything. I will not spend my precious time searching for words despairing enough to describe the darkness and brokenness. I will not let it burrow back into my soul.

I will simply allow it to parade by in all its sick ugliness and violence and pettiness, and I will hold on to the hope and courage and truth and generosity of spirit that defines Wild Goose.

This is the ultimate act of resistance. Resistance of the heart. It’s not easy.

The moment my phone reconnected me with so-called “reality” — the one where the President of the United States offers aid and comfort to the KGB-president who is working round-the-clock to undermine our nation — I lost my serenity. I drove eight hours back to Maryland, greeted my cat, unpacked my cooler, and immediately became engaged in a Facebook debate about the meaning of “treason.”

Then I perused Twitter until 1 a.m., first in disbelief, then in outrage, and finally in numb horror.

I chose this. I simply handed over my serenity and exchanged it for madness. There’s an awful lot about which I have no choice. But what I allow to rule in my mind and heart, I can choose.

So here are a few images from the Goose this year. More words and images of hope to come . . .

Blogger & pastor John Pavlovitz speaks to the “damn-givers” (If you don’t read his blog, I highly recommend it!)

A communion table where everyone is welcome

Listening to singer/songwriter Amy Grant

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America’s Guardian Genie

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AMERICA’S GUARDIAN GENIE

It’s a lovely spring day here in D.C., and I’m feeling hopeful about our current national upheaval for the first time in a while. As more and more judges overturn or stall the countless egregious policies spewing out of the White House — including trump’s golden boy Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch — I wonder if maybe, just perhaps, our democracy can survive until the current occupant of the Oval Office has departed.

Yes, people are getting sick and dying and being jailed as a result of this administration. But because of the blatant attacks on everyone who isn’t wealthy, white, and/or male, people who have never been involved in politics or activism are stepping up and speaking out.

Look at the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and now all over the nation. Look at the #MeToo movement. Look at the head of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Wait, what?

Yup – in case you missed it, yesterday the head of the Coast Guard said he will completely ignore the White House and continue allowing transgender people to serve until an official policy bans transgender troops.

And Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft did not mince words. “Seems to me this is an invented problem and a waste of time and dollars and military resources by targeting these dedicated service members who’ve proved their fitness and their ability to serve,” he told a House subcommittee.

Yipes. That is stunning when you think about it. Given the rash, vindictive behavior of the president, Zukunft may well be fired for this.

Knowing Love

I wonder if the admiral would have been this courageous if he didn’t have a trans service member in his personal office. It happens so often, even in conservative Christian circles: when you discover that someone you know, love, or respect is LGBTQ, God will surprise you by changing your heart and mind. (Unless you decide that being “right” or “righteous” is more important than loving one another.)

For my friends who still don’t understand, I pray for you a loved one who is brave enough to bear your scorn by telling you they aren’t straight. May hearts be softened and lives changed as people risk their jobs & even their lives by coming out of the closet, and as straight allies speak up for the first time.

For Such a Time as This

In the Book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures, a woman hesitating about risking her life for her people is asked, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” It seems that an increasing number of Americans, including Admiral Zukunft, are risking all to step into their place in history.

I firmly believe that God brings good from bad. As much of a menace as trump is, his shocking disregard for other people and for our democracy may be waking up a complacent America. When we see people marching in our streets carrying Nazi flags, it’s kind of hard not to notice.

Perhaps the growing “resistance” has finally caused enough friction to release America’s guardian genie from her bottle. She is floating over our country calling, “Wake up, wake up, speak up! You are made for such a time as this!”

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt is genie, which means a “tutelary spirit” and comes from the Latin for tutor — a wise guide and protector.

 

 

“Good” Friday & Stinkin’ Saturday in America

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“GOOD” FRIDAY AND STINKIN’ SATURDAY IN AMERICA

The first “Good” Friday was not a good day. Not at all. That was the day that the “empire” won — the greedy men in power, the violent oppressors, the ones who ruled by fear and hate. You know the ones. They are still around today and seem to be winning again. They talk a lot about winning.

The oppressors murdered Jesus on a Friday, and it was not a good day.

Saturday was godawful, too. All the marginalized people who hoped that Jesus was the guy who would overcome the empire lost that hope on Saturday. They woke up to find that the Friday horror had not been a dream, it had been real. Jesus was dead. Hope was dead.

For all they knew, that was the end of the story.

Easter Always Comes

Today, those of us who follow the way of Jesus know that the crucifixion was not the last word. We never have to lose hope, even when oppression and ugliness and hate seem to be winning. Even when — as was true in Jesus’s time — religious “leaders” are the worst of the worst. Because we know that love wins. Easter Sunday always comes.

The murder of Jesus exposed the extraordinary evil and hatred of which humans are capable. Even so, he died with words of forgiveness on his lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’s love swallowed up the hatred. Grace and mercy pulled out a victory.

Sometimes a society has to bottom out, to plumb the depths of darkness before it begins to reach again for the light. Maybe that’s where we are as a nation right now. Maybe it’s Stinkin’ Saturday here in America. Ugliness and greed and hatred has won, and hope is hard to come by. 

We worship guns, we worship money, we worship pride. We fear “the other.” Self-proclaimed Christians argue for higher military budgets and no support for refugees. We are spiraling down into the darkness, dismantling all the protections we have put in place for the poor, minorities, our health, our children, and God’s creation. It looks dark.

But I will take a lesson from Holy Week. You never know what God has up her sleeve.

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.

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

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

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