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Your Tiny Part in Saving the World

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“But how am I going to save the world??” I wailed.

My friends and I had just watched Michael Moore’s movie, Where To Invade Next, a thought-provoking and unsettling film about  . . . well, what is it not about? Consumerism and greed, stress, sex, militarism, racism, education policy, nutrition, prison reform, women’s health, basic human dignity.

All the ways my beloved country doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

One thing about the horror that is Donald Trump — it has awakened my long-dormant patriotism which was badly damaged by decades of slogging through the political sewage on Capitol Hill. I’ve been reminded that this country and its ideals are worth fighting for, not in the sense of drones and tanks, but in the sense of loving your neighbors, speaking out against systemic oppression, protecting our air, land and water, and seeking dignity for our seniors and hope for our kids.

This country cannot afford to be derailed by an orange demagogic purveyor of fear and hate.

Broken Systems

But what’s my part? Where does one start? So much needs to be done, and it all seems urgent. When I left my lobbying job at the Sierra Club, I vowed I would never go back to political work unless there was a serious effort to overturn Citizens United, in which case I would dedicate the rest of my life to that. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, that might now be a possibility.

But I fear that even extensive corporate and electoral reform would be piecemeal. Don’t misunderstand me, Citizens United is a huge problem from which many other problems stem. As is capitalism, which is based on self-interest and greed, pure and simple.

No, the real problem isn’t policies or court decisions or economic systems. The real problem is a heart problem. It’s the fear and insecurity that lead to anger and hate and then violence. It’s the need we seem to have to divide ourselves — to create categories of “others” to fight or compete with or disdain or oppress. It’s the greed.

It’s the me, me, me. Protect me, enrich me, admire me, entertain me.

I believe this is a spiritual crisis we’ve got going on here, and if it’s not addressed as such, we’re toast.

Broken Hearts

Our hearts are broken. They aren’t working right. They’ve been cracked or punched or shattered or rotted away or maybe numbed out. We’ve seen too much. Too much war, too much rage, too many school shootings, too many religious leaders preaching hate, too many black people being shot or beaten by officers with broken hearts.

I had to close my eyes multiple times during Moore’s film, because nowadays it is too painful to have a soft heart. Many of us have been left all but paralyzed by the ascendancy of Donald Trump’s aggressive arrogance and vitriol.

We have been left wailing, “But how am I going to save the world??”

My friends are good to me. They say, “You do what you’re doing . . . you do your tiny part . . . you preach your sermon on gentleness . . . you write . . . you pray and listen . . . and yes, making casseroles for sick or sad people counts.”

But, but! That just doesn’t seem enough in the face of the world’s ills.

Casseroles

I wonder: could it be my ego that wants to do something “bigger” and “more important?” What if I have a touch of the egomaniacal disease that has taken over the heart of Donald Trump?

What if Jesus actually meant it when he said that our Big Job is to love God as best we possibly can, love our neighbors and love ourselves? What if that really is the answer?

What if we each attended to our own emotional and physical and psychological needs, supported and encouraged our neighbors from a place of strength and love rather than a place of neediness, and humbled ourselves enough to acknowledge that perhaps there is a power in the universe greater than ourselves — one that might just have a heart even softer than our own? What if that’s the way to save the world?

I know that when I’m loving God as hard as I can, I am open to holy promptings, and I’m unafraid to step up to whatever I’m called to do, be it large or small. I have clarity, I feel confident, and circumstances fall into place at the proper time.

And in the meantime, I suppose casseroles are enough.

Casseroles Count

Casseroles Count

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A Labor Day Tribute to a Flaming Liberal: Robin Williams

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One of the things I love about Labor Day is that liberals are allowed to say they are liberals. We don’t have to call ourselves “progressives” because that’s what the focus groups recommend, or mutter equivocal statements such as “Yes, I’m a liberal but I’m actually a moderate on this-or-that.”

On Labor Day, everyone remembers that weekends and sick leave are good things, and that we have liberal labor unions to thank for them.

Elected officials aren’t allowed to mention such things for fear of being labeled a socialist or a community organizer, but regular folks may still — only on Labor Day — refer to antiquated concepts like “looking out for each other” or even “lending a hand when someone’s in trouble.”

Last year, I blogged about the history of Labor Day in A Shout Out to America’s Labor Unions, which you can read here.

A Union Brother

This year, I want to honor a flaming liberal, Robin Williams. Robin was an active union member and won two Screen Actor’s Guild awards, the only awards that specifically recognize union members. He became a member of the Guild in 1977, just a year after he left Julliard acting school, and the same year that he had his television debut on Laugh-In. He was a strong union supporter for the rest of his life.

Robin Williams, R.I.P. photo credit: Joe's Union Review

Robin Williams, R.I.P.
photo credit: Joe’s Union Review

A Heart of Love and Compassion

According to national union organizer Stewart Acuff, Robin was “one of the entertainment industry’s most progressive performers. He financially and vocally and energetically supported progressive ideas and causes and Democratic political candidates time after time after time . . . Robin Williams was one of us progressives with a heart of love and compassion, a commitment to justice and to the human race, and a commitment to creating a more perfect union.”

That sounds like the definition of a liberal to me, except that unlike the stereotypical sour-faced liberal who takes everything just SOOO seriously, Robin was, of course, very funny. He did annual televised comedy fundraisers for homeless people with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, and he was masterful at delivering serious social messages with a huge dose of laughter, tackling issues like healthcare (Patch Adams) and the horrors of war (Good Morning, Vietnam).

Sometimes it’s the ones with the softest hearts who can’t survive in this world. We will march on in your memory, Robin.

This Labor Day, do justice, love kindness, and march humbly with your God. Like a good liberal. (Micah 6:8)

And please hug a union member!

An impromptu shrine to Robin in Keene, NH

An impromptu shrine to Robin in Keene, NH where he filmed scenes from the movie Jumanji.

Robin's Theological Reflection

Robin’s Theological Reflection

Amen

Amen

 

Home, Heart, and Tkei

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The rain pounded on my windshield and the trees at the side of the road began to thrash as I watched the huge black cloudbank to my left turn an ominous yellow and begin to elongate at the bottom.

I told myself that watching The Wizard of Oz the night before had agitated my imagination: I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and not in Kansas with Dorothy and Toto. Still, the images of twirling houses and flying cows would not be banished.

“There’s no place like home,” I said out loud, though I was alone. This made me laugh, which was good, and then there was a sudden burst of sun, and a brief but brilliant rainbow splashed across the darkness.

The rainbow gave me courage, and I decided to nix the idea of a hotel and push on towards home, though New York City’s Friday afternoon traffic had cursed me with several extra hours behind the wheel.

I just wanted to be home.

Theoretically Home

The concept of home is near-mystical to me, even if the reality conjures up never-ending lists, especially in the summer when I shuttle between New Hampshire and Maryland trying to keep up two houses. Mow lawn, buy groceries, do laundry, feed birds, water plants, pay bills.

I’m theoretically home now, back in Maryland. Yet I also feel I’ve been ripped away from home, having left my nephew and his four kids at our house in New England. spring nh 2013b 026.Lillys I have friends in New Hampshire as well, and I miss them when I’m not there. I want to keep up with them, to be a part of their lives, not just a drop-in visitor.

Divided Hearts

They say home is where the heart is, but it’s not that simple.

You see, hearts can be divided.

I’ve got bits of my heart all over the world. People own my heart, places own my heart, animals own my heart — even memories own my heart.

I suspect that memories own an increasingly large part of our hearts as we age.

In the months before my elderly mother passed on, she asked over and over, “Is it time to go home yet? Can I go home now? “ She was clearly torn. Although she was in familiar surroundings with her children, the bits of her heart invested in memories were beginning to outweigh the here and now.

She talked to her father, she talked to her Godmother, and she talked to an old friend. One night, she told my uncle in no uncertain terms, “I know you’re my big brother, Rolphie, but I’m not ready to go yet!” Her conversations and joyful reunions spooked her night nurse, but I found them comforting. I truly felt she had another home, and that she was preparing to go there.

So Where is Home?

The traditional definition of home points to a place — a dwelling or residence or village.

But Dorothy was right when she said, “There’s no place like home.” Home is more a state of mind than any one place. A sense of safety and belonging and familiarity, regardless of where you are.

An etymology dictionary will tell you that the “full range and meaning” of the concept of home “is not covered by any single word.”  That’s true, but I think the early Indo-European root word, tkei, comes close. It means “to lie, to settle down.”

That’s what Mom wanted. To settle down and be done. And that’s what I was pining for on the Jersey Turnpike. To be done with the doing. To rest.

Home is a spiritual and emotional space where you can let down your guard and just be. Even when you’re busy at home, your soul is lying down, at rest.  Familiar routines lower your stress level. Chores and errands aren’t fun, but they are comfortable.

No matter how colorful and exciting Oz seemed to be — what with the dancing Munchkins and talking apple trees and appearing and disappearing witches — from the moment Dorothy arrived, she just wanted to get back to her routine.

For most of us, that familiarity does belong to a place, even though it’s not the place itself that is home. It’s the belonging.

In your home space, people truly know you — they don’t simply tolerate your shortcomings, they smile at them. Their voices plug into well-worn tracks in your brain; their laughter is like an old favorite song.

I am blessed to have more than one of those home spaces.

If I’m blessed with old age as Mom was, I imagine I’ll start feeling less and less at home in any earthly place. Many of those familiar voices and songs of laughter will be just memories.

Then I’ll follow the yellow brick road home for good.

Who, what, and where is your home space?

An interesting related post:
http://james9butler.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/theres-no-place-like-home-in-the-wizard-of-oz-but-what-is-it/

A Rant About Violent Movies

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So you want a rant, do you? What? You say you’re tired of the frothing at the mouth, end of the world, I-have-all-the-answers racket that goes on 24 hours a day now?

Me, too. But this one can’t be helped.

Creating Demand for Violence

The WordPress blogmeister has this thing called Mind the Gap where you present your “side” of an issue.  I rarely participate because as I say, I’m tired of negativity and division and general pointless opining.

But this week, they asked: Does watching violent movies inspire violence in the real world?

This is something personal to me, like being a vegetarian.

Several decades ago, I chose to stop supporting violence in the movies after I heard some producer saying that the reason they made so many violent movies was because that’s what people wanted. So I thought I would vote with my dollars.

I miss an awful lot of movies, and I often can’t join in conversations with my friends who have just seen a film I skipped because of violence. I’m sure some people think I’m eccentric or stodgy or overly dramatic. I don’t care.

I feel pretty strongly about this. I do not want that crap in my head. It is bad for my psyche. I think it’s bad for your psyche, too. And I think it’s bad for a budding young terrorist’s psyche.

Does it affect society? Damn straight it does. Frankly, I do not know and I do not care what studies show. It is common sense.

I cannot believe that people are seriously asking about the Boston bombers, “How could a young man who grew up in America commit such an unspeakable act?”

Duh.

Garbage in, garbage out. Blood and gore in, blood and gore out.

I wonder if one reason so many people are on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds is that we’re all walking around with mild post-traumatic-stress-disorder from exposing ourselves to blood and guts and body parts and decapitations and stabbings and shootings and bombs.

That is not entertainment to me. It is trauma.

At best, we can brace ourselves for violence in a film, inure ourselves, numb ourselves. How is that good? Why should I pay money for that?

This is not an unpleasant reality we’re forced to face, like a Boston Marathon bombing; it is an unpleasant fake reality people choose to subject themselves to. It’s a cheap, low-blow to the gut that makes people think they have seen an effective movie.

Remember the great Alfred Hitchcock films? Those scary movies from the 40s and 50s and 60s that practically made you pee your pants?  Yet in his most celebrated films, the murders always took place off stage. Maybe the shadow of a knife.

You lost none of the drama – in fact the subtlety contributed to the terror. Until the Psycho shower scene, when Hitchcock gave in to the pull of violence, and we started our inexorable plunge down the drain to the cesspool we’re in now.

We Don’t Even Recognize Violence Anymore

The other night I went to a movie at my local theater.

“Is it violent?” I asked at the ticket window.

“Noooo,” the guy said, considering.

“You don’t sound too sure,” I said. He knows me. I ask this question every week.

“Well, two older women walked out of the last show, but it’s not that bad.”

“That’s OK,” I said. I went home and watched a Downton Abbey episode instead.

I found out later that the whole movie was about violence, but one friend explained that it really wasn’t violent because it had a redemptive ending where the guy decides not to pull the trigger (this, after several hours of carnage).

One Voice for Nonviolence – Plus One, Plus One, Plus…

I know it seems silly. One person’s choice to boycott gratuitous violence in movies won’t make a difference in what Hollywood does. True. One person might not make a difference. But if one person doesn’t start, it is guaranteed nothing will change.

It’s like being a vegetarian. Back in the early seventies when I quit eating meat, only one percent of Americans were vegetarians. I didn’t know one. Now – depending on whose polls you look at – it’s 5% to 13%. And that doesn’t include the 1/3 of the population that regularly eats vegetarian meals. This weekend I went to a local vegan festival and hundreds of people showed up. Here are two of them — perfectly normal folks.

Vegans

Vegans are Sprouting up Everywhere

Eating meat is not good for me. Watching violent scenes is not good for me. I don’t think either of those things is good for you either, but I’m not going to get in your business. You make your own choices. But at least think about it, OK?

And a last word from the Bible, because I like the Bible:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. “

Thanks to Publicdomainpictures.net

Inside a Pagan Cult at Solstice

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This Winter Solstice, I participated in my first Druidic rituals. I didn’t know what to expect when I journeyed to the well-known Cosmic  Center of Lancaster, Pennsylvania to commune with a mysterious pagan cult, which, it turns out, bears a remarkable resemblance to my everyday nephew, Jeff, and his family.

I had some trepidation, not so much because of my Christian sensibilities, but because I doubted I could get up before dawn to greet the sunrise. While I wanted to show respect for my only nephew’s faith tradition, I also like to sleep.

But I’m ahead of myself, as usual.

Not Lancaster, Pennsylvania

GATHERING AT THE TABLE

The rituals began in the early evening of the longest night of the year, with the roasting of a sacrificial offering; in this case, it was peanut butter cookies baked by my grand-niece, Savanah. While we munched the sacrificial cookies (nary a crumb was left for the Gods), we painted symbols on black rocks to be used in the rituals. The Druid princess and artist in residence — otherwise known as Jeff’s new wife, Ali — helped me transform my fingerprint into a mystical golden bear track with the help of a paint-stick from the local craft store.

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God's protective love for everyone and everything  -- betcha didn't see that!

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God’s protective love for everyone and everything — betcha didn’t see that!

While the rock images dried, we partook of a traditional pagan repast.

Spaghetti, followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream.

After the feast, the table was transformed into an altar (although even with the lights off, it still looked suspiciously like a suburban dining room). Ali’s parents and her brother, Jeff and his four kids, and this blogger each explained the symbols they had painted on their rocks, and we sang a nice song about being children of the earth. Ali lit a candle and some incense (to symbolize fire and air, she said) and explained that pine needles (from the earth) and water are natural elements with which we are all connected.

No argument there.

Druidism is a form of Paganism (earth-based religion) that is connected with Celtic traditions, and I am fully aligned with Celtic Christianity, which honors the earth as God’s sacred creation and recognizes that humans are a part of God’s creation and co-creators with God, working to make the world a more loving place.

candle

IN THE BEAR CAVE

The Bear was the theme of the night. Ali told the story of Leto, a goddess from ancient Greek mythology whose dalliance with Zeus resulted in the birth of twins, Apollo and Artemis. The bear is sacred in this story, but I have to admit I have already forgotten why. It seems the protective mother bear goddess does not save us from absent-mindedness; besides, I got all distracted when Ali said that bears will not give birth to cubs unless there is enough food. If Mamma doesn’t put on enough weight before it’s time to hibernate, the embryo will reabsorb instead of implanting itself. How cool is that?

grizzly bear: adult grizzly bear with cubs -- Britannica Online ...

Mama Bear and Cubs
Credit: Britannica Online

But I digress.

Jeff led us in a chant, and while there was a good bit of kid-giggling at first, it slowly subsided as the mellow tones soothed their inner goofballs. Then he led a guided meditation where we ended up in a cave with a bear. It’s OK, though. Nobody got hurt. In fact, my bear morphed into a kind of motherly Jesus, and I felt safe.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

The thing I found most interesting about these rituals is that they mirror almost exactly the rituals that I employ for Christ-centered contemplative prayer services. In our “prayer practices,” as we call them, we use candles, purifying water, different types of soils, and natural elements. I lead guided meditations and visualizations of the natural world. Last Ash Wednesday, I led a chant.

There is nothing new under the sun, as the book of Ecclesiastes says. Humans have been reaching for God in the same ways ever since we became aware of our “disconnected” condition. Except for the humans who have decided there is nothing to reach for and nobody to connect to.

The Christian narrative is different from the Pagan stories, of course, since we believe that the Spirit of Jesus allows us to access the very power of God to transform ourselves and our lives as we become who God intended us to be. Pagans have lots of Gods and Goddesses.

Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit lives and works in everyone, regardless of what we call It, and whether we know it or acknowledge it or not. It’s just that when people intentionally work with the Spirit and are open to “going with the flow,” they will get farther in becoming the unique, whole, healthy humans they were designed to be.

THE LIGHT

After the lights came on and the incense smoke cleared, we all cuddled on the couches and went back to watching Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas and the whole night felt holy and sacred.

Cropped screenshot of Bing Crosby and Danny Ka...

And yes, I did manage to make my appearance on the morning following solstice, and we stood on a hillside at a local park and serenaded the sunrise.

Just as I trust that the days are now getting longer, I trust that God’s purposes will be accomplished, no matter how we label ourselves or divide ourselves.

The Light will overcome the darkness. That is the Plan, whether the candles are lit by Druids, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

We are all One. We all love, we all grieve, we all long for wholeness and truth. If we reach for God, we will find God reaching for us.

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and may you see the sacred in everyday things like peanut butter cookies, black and white movies, and children’s giggles.

Lancaster Sunrise

Lancaster Sunrise

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CIA Unrest: An Untold Story

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My years working at the CIA seem eons away, and so they are. Most of my memories are fuzzy, which is probably the way the agency would prefer it. But apparently there are untold inner stories agitating to be free.

I went to see the movie Argo this evening and came home with my insides churning. The movie is about the CIA efforts to free the American hostages from Iran in 1980.

American Embassy in Tehran, 1979

I can’t quite put my finger on why the film upset me, but I know it has something to do with Maya Angelou’s statement :

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I’ve already shared one CIA secret that needed to be purged, the one that’s flopping around out in the daylight this week after General Petraeus’ unfortunate nose dive. Sexual mores at the CIA aren’t what they could be, or at least they weren’t in my day.

I have no comment on the General’s performance, except to say that unless they found evidence of some truly egregious classified pillow talk, I think the resignation is an over-reaction. But what do I know?

Besides, I’m sick of sex at the CIA. I’ve said what I needed to say about that, here:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/rubber-ducky-exposes-cia-sexual-harassment/

There’s something else causing me agony tonight. Some untold story.

I was at the agency during the Iranian hostage period, and I had a good friend who had only just escaped Tehran before the fiasco. Perhaps the movie simply stirred up the fear and upset of those times. Although I was just a lowly clerk, I certainly absorbed the crisis vibes all around me.

I think, though, it’s something more personal. More like,

What the #@$%!! was I doing at the CIA??

The -foot ( m) diameter granite CIA seal in th...

The sixteen-foot diameter granite CIA seal in the lobby of the original headquarters building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a psychological term, cognitive dissonance, which describes what must have been pounding inside my brain and my heart the entire seven years I worked there. It’s a situation where you’re trying to live with two conflicting beliefs, or where your behavior and beliefs don’t match.

Say that you are demonstrating in front of the White House against nuclear power on Sunday, and then filing documents promoting nuclear power abroad on Monday. Or maybe you’re hoarding a closetful of anti-Vietnam war buttons, posters, and flyers while microfilming documents detailing the long history of U.S. aggression there.

I did not belong.

I told myself I didn’t care when one friend stopped talking to me because I’d chosen to work “for the dark side.” I told myself I needed the money to pay for college tuition, which was true. I was working two jobs.

Still, I might have paid more attention to the bizarre juxtaposition between a degree in Environmental Studies and a career at the CIA. Crazy, right?

I had stumbled into a career that was taking me far from my values. I was 18, for Heaven’s sake; I didn’t even know what my values were.

Apparently, though, I did. Instead of facing it, I just drank and partied and tried to numb the cognitive dissonance. That’s why it’s still in there, deep in my gut, an untold story.

The emotional unrest I felt during those years got stirred up tonight, watching scenes of stressed-out white men in black suits stalking the marble halls in McLean.

I was there. And I shouldn’t have been.

<Disclaimer: I do not mean to say that I don’t respect part of what the CIA does. I knew some true patriots there, including my Dad. I honor those people.>

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