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Women on Fire

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I could spend the day watching the last flickers of decency and integrity vanish from the Congress, but I choose not to. I spent enough time doing that last week.

Now the GOP has decided their best strategy for stacking the Supreme Court with extremists is to mock victims of attempted rape and other sexual abuse and to rally their voting base by stoking more fear and anger: “Your son’s lives will be ruined by fiery feminists making up sexual abuse charges!! No male is safe!!”

I need to step away from the screen.

Instead of watching my country circling the drain, I will do the laundry, wash the dishes, and clean the bathtub. I’ll do what I can to clear away the dirt from my immediate surroundings because at this particular moment, I can do nothing about the filth that floods the Capitol and the White House.

I say “at this particular moment” because November 6th is coming. If you, like me, have been overwhelmed this week by friend’s stories of sexual attacks, or if you, like me, are a survivor yourself, the thought of election day is never far from your mind. Whether or not you generally pray, you are praying now. Praying that somehow the “angels of our better nature” can pull America out of this spiral. November 6th will tell.

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Well, ladies, we are on fire.

I pray that the intense pain, anger, and grief burning in the hearts of so many American women will not be extinguished by despair, but instead will burst into flames of tireless community activism and political engagement at every level. 

The radical misogyny of the GOP couldn’t be any more clear, beginning with the admitted sexual predator in the White House. The politicians need to hear us loud and clear. Regardless of your party affiliation, it’s time to call your nearest Democratic headquarters. Ask how you can help. Don’t sit this one out. 

Photo Credit: APA/Getty Image, circa 1920

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Confessions of a Twitter Addict

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CONFESSIONS OF A TWITTER ADDICT

I am quitting Twitter cold-turkey, and I do not use that addiction language lightly. I’ve been fighting a social media addiction for what feels like a long time, but it only became serious about a month ago. I’m not sure exactly what the addiction is, but I can feel the dopamine shooting into my system as surely as if I’d just snorted a noseful of cocaine. I had been a recreational Twitter user for quite a while and dabbled in softer drugs like Facebook, but I recently hit bottom.

I’m not sure how it happened. In mid-August, I suddenly started getting tons of notifications in my feed from people I had never heard of. I’d somehow ended up on several threads that engaged in — well, let’s call it “political discourse.” I’ve always loved a good political debate, but of course it isn’t really debating these days. For most Twitter users, it’s just trading insults, the nastier the better.

These people on Twitter are beyond ugly — mean, vitriolic, crude, vicious. Truly. And it’s not just the trump people. Mostly, but not always.

ONLINE HELL

I quickly became part of a de facto “liberal team” against an opposing “alt-right” team, and it went downhill from there. Many of the fifty people on the threads have apparently been yelling at each other since February.

Here’s how it works: One person makes a statement of “fact” or opinion and then those who disagree run off and google to find counter-arguments. I recently had tabs open to a glossary of hard-rock mining terms, an EPA report on toxic waste in Colorado, Michelle Obama’s thesis from 1985, Helen Keller’s biography, a speech Joe Biden made in 1992, and court records of a foreclosure hearing involving the parents of the woman who has accused Judge Kavanaugh of attempted rape. You see what a good use of my time this has been?

“Libtards” or “snowflakes” generally post major news outlets or analyses by government agencies, and then the tribe of trump shouts “fake news!!” and tweets random fake news and conspiracy websites and crazed blogs as sources. Then they post an anti-Hillary meme or two, and usually end by tossing insults: Liar! Fraud! Fake! Hater! To which a liberal occasionally replies: Liar! Fraud! Fake! Hater!

One of the many “Christians” in the tribe of trump might quote Bible verses that damn you to hell while posting memes of trump standing on top of a tank with bombs bursting behind him. Recently “Daughter of the Most High God” told me to pray that “the Democratic Deep State will stop conducting mass shootings in our schools as a ploy to take away our guns. Amen.”

For a while, I tried arguing with said Christians about what Jesus might think of taking children from their parents or taking healthcare from the poor or turning away refugees or destroying God’s creation. But those people are scary, really scary, and I eventually blocked most of the religious ones.

HOOKED

I knew within a week that I was hooked and that I needed help. But I couldn’t stop. I’d get several hundred notifications a day and started to feel as if I knew these people. I’d get a feeling of accomplishment and superiority whenever I scored a “point” against the opposition and my fellow liberals would applaud me and say, “Way to go, Mel!”

Oh, there were redeeming moments and comments, and I did establish a certain joking rapport with a few trump people. I had some good laughs, like when one woman wrote, “I don’t believe in history.” But then of course she was mocked mercilessly by the liberals and it wasn’t funny anymore.

A POWER GREATER THAN TWITTER

This “confessional” blog is part of a ritual I created to give myself the strength to deactivate my account. If you have not had such an addiction, you won’t understand. I didn’t really understand either. So as part of my ritual, I journaled a stream of consciousness to find out what it is I’m addicted to — what I think I get from Twitter. I wrote words like “excitement, belonging, relevance, engagement, competence.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of those desires, but from Twitter?? God, this is embarrassing.

Anyway . . .

Last night I lit a candle, I said a pray, and then I recited a version of the first three steps of the twelve-step program: “I am powerless over Twitter and my life has become unmanageable. I know that only a power greater than myself (which I call God) can help me be free of it, and so I turn my Twitter addiction over to You and ask You to help me let it go.”

Then at 7:13 pm precisely, as the sun went down, I deactivated my account.

In thirty days, I will reactivate it to see if I can go back to reading the news and interacting with other writers, readers, literary magazines, and spiritual seekers in a healthy way. If not, I’ll deactivate for good.

Wish me luck!

 

This is Why They Kneel: Jordan Edwards

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Jordan’s picture has haunted me even more than they usually do. Because you can see it, can’t you? The spirit, the humor, the warmth, the potential. All that potential. Shot dead in front of his brothers for something that probably would have produced a police warning, if that, had the kids been white.

But you know the story, right? I don’t need to set it up for you. We read them all the time. We even see videos of them, unarmed Black people running or begging. And then the gunshots, always multiple gunshots. I think Jordan took five.

He was fifteen years old.

This old story, though, has a new ending. And I’m praying that this different ending births different stories. Stories where the police officer takes a deep breath, thinks twice, or maybe just doesn’t aim for the head. The officer might not imagine Jordan’s face, but maybe he or she will see their own child’s face, or perhaps an image of a white police officer being escorted out of a courtroom in handcuffs, headed for prison.

I pray that the conviction of Roy Oliver in Texas today — sixty-three years to the day since fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman — will be a new beginning. I know, I’m a radical optimist. But someday I hope to live in a country where Black boys can go out with their friends without worrying about getting abused, searched, insulted, beaten, or murdered.

This is why they kneel, Mr. President.

Jordan Edwards: Rest in Peace and Power

Wild Goose 2018 #2: Resurrecting the Church of Jesus

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Every year, I intend to write multiple posts about my experiences at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, a spiritual gathering of thousands of souls thirsty for peace, justice, beauty, and creativity. And every year I get sucked in to some other reality and end up sharing only the tiniest taste of the festival.

Sunday Parade: “Down to the River to Pray”

This year my first post-Goose offering was simply about the struggle of returning to the “real world” only to find a certain someone still occupying the White House. 

Fortunately, I soon entered another alternative universe, one which, like Hot Springs, has poor internet connectivity. So except for my daily nose dive into the headlines, I have generally maintained my serenity here in New Hampshire with my nephew and his gaggle of teenagers. I am on vacation from the ugliness.

I can now take time to reflect on the 2018 Goose and begin sorting through pages and pages of notes and dozens of memories and photos of the festival.

Resurrecting the Church . . .

A few good friends and I arrived early for a pre-festival event hosted by a group called Convergence, a new program for progressive Christian leaders hoping to transform their churches and become part of “the larger multi-faith movement for peace, justice, ecological responsibility, and inclusion for all.” (If this sounds good to you, check out their website and apply for the next cohort by August 27. Apply now and get 50% off!)

Convergence leader Brian McLaren (who is also the founding pastor of my church) began by stating outright that “the old model of church is dying and salvaging the dying won’t work.” Though there was little disagreement, most of the people there were heavily invested in that old model, having attended seminary and devoted their lives to pastoring in denominational structures. All agreed that acknowledging what’s been lost is necessary before new growth is possible, but this acceptance gave the day a bittersweet mood.

One of the Convergence leaders personifies this journey of loss and new growth. Anna Galloday was a Methodist pastor in Tennessee who was relieved of her duties for marrying a gay couple earlier this year. Anna felt certain that following Jesus meant accompanying all her parishioners through every life transition, but the result was that the life she had planned crumbled around her. From the rubble she is building a new life as an outspoken leader in the social justice field and a supporter of other clergy who stand for a loving, inclusive Christian faith.

“Leadership without love is just noise,” says Brian McLaren.

The new face of Christian leadership PHOTO COURTESY RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK

Creating Discomfort

Change in any institution is hard, but churches are especially tough because many pastors see their job as keeping their congregations happy, and as Brian points out, “Happy people don’t change.” He says that a pastor’s job should be to instill a desire for change, to create discomfort with the status quo; in fact to make people unhappy.

If you read the Bible, you’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus did. He constantly challenged institutions and individuals to move towards compassion and justice. He probably wasn’t a very comfortable guy to be around, especially for those invested in their egos and/or the status quo.

Just imagine what Jesus would say to the preachers on the extreme right who are supporting the current administration! And just imagine if they listened to him! Tragically, these lost souls are caught in the triple-deep pit of ego, money, and power. Barring divine intervention, I’m not expecting them to become Christ-like anytime soon. 

Change is Inevitable

I can’t begin to cover all that we discussed during the pre-festival gathering — Brian shared his ten commandments of church change, we talked about how various personality types respond to change, we covered “Moral Foundations Theory” and how liberals and conservatives view it differently.

Brian McLaren: Mastering Change

The bottom line is that change is inevitable because “today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems,” so leaders had better get used to it.

I left the Convergence session feeling overwhelmed but grateful that our little independent church isn’t tied to any institutions or existing power structures. Unlike most churches, Cedar Ridge is entirely free to follow God’s Spirit where we feel she’s leading, which for us means a contemplative frame of mind and a movement towards social justice — racial, economic, and environmental.

I see why I have trouble capturing the Wild Goose Festival — this post is quite long enough and I haven’t even gotten to the official start of the festival! Stay tuned for random thoughts on discernment, Buddha, and the creation of new rituals . . . In the meantime, check out “Wild Goose” in the search function of this blog and read about past festivals.

How to Prepare for the “Second Civil War”

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Today is the day that right-wing conspiracy theorists have declared liberals will start “a second civil war.” Of course the imaginary troops are all those “animals” crawling over our border and being recruited by Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters to fight against self-proclaimed “patriots.”

(Never mind that those right-wing extremist “patriots” are the ones armed to the teeth — don’t confuse them with the facts.)

Of course liberals are having a heyday with this ridiculousness, and it is amusing, in a warped way. Sometimes you just have to laugh to protect your heart and spirit, right?

The Liberals are Coming, The Liberals are Coming!!

But I think this made-up crap about an impending war and the need to arm oneself against people who disagree with you politically is no laughing matter.

I feel powerless against the lies and misinformation and the constant race-baiting and fear-mongering, not to mention the increasing number of crazies with guns. And if I venture into the world of Alex Jones, FOX “News,” and other conspiracy peddlers, I feel that I’ve fallen into some vortex of dark fantasy. Like this “second civil war” thing — talk about inciting violence!

Retreating to a Peaceful Place

I’m trying to limit my exposure to our national crisis while I’m in my peaceful place in New Hampshire. (Most people up here have taken down their trump signs by now, thank God, so I can pretend we are still governed by a stable administration.)

To avoid the news and my grief over losing my aged kitty yesterday, I’ve been blessedly absorbed in several books. First was a Canadian mystery, then a wizards & dragons tale, and this morning I’ve been engrossed in a spiritual book.

Father Richard Rohr is one of my favorite authors, and I consider him a spiritual mentor. The book I’m reading, “Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go,” was written decades ago, but its timeless wisdom speaks to the age of trumpism. I found the following quote especially appropriate to mark the start of the imaginary “Second Civil War,” and helpful in accepting my own powerlessness:

“Many things in life cannot be changed; we can only grieve them. So long as we are no longer under the compulsion of wanting to change them, we have the freedom to change them. Then the change comes from much greater depth — not from our anger, but from a place of integrity; not from a place where fear dwells, but from deep trust; not from a place were self-righteousness rules, but from wisdom.”

If, as I believe, America’s ailment is a spiritual sickness (the pure essence of which is embodied in the current president), then we must be especially careful not to “become the monsters we fight,” as Nietzsche put it. 

May we all be armed only with the weapons of integrity, trust, wisdom, and compassion. Amen.

The Real Crisis in America (It’s Not What You Think)

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There are many, many things amiss in America today, and I don’t need to get into them. I am on vacation and refuse to write about gun violence, the state-sanctioned kidnapping and caging of brown children, Supreme Court seats being bought and sold, and the president’s vilification of the free press. Not going there.

Because really, we have a much bigger problem in this nation and indeed the world over. I am ashamed to say I was not aware of this hidden crisis, and you may also be ignorant of the threat.

Thank heavens that Elle Magazine’s latest issue has uncovered this menace, creeping across the faces of women everywhere. Some men may also be at risk.

Here, apparently, is the problem: we were all born with the wrong eyebrows and this is ruining our lives!

Not the complete corporate takeover of our economy, nor the militarization of our police forces, nor the prison-profiteering that has resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world, nor the melting ice caps, the rising flood waters, and monster hurricanes.

Nope. What you need to be losing sleep over is right there in front of your face.

Fortunately, word is getting out. Elle informs us that we are in the midst of “an eyebrow revival.”  Wait, not “an” eyebrow revival, THE eyebrow revival! My mistake. This is because we have “finally realized that structured brows act as frames for your face and give your whole face definition.” So all these years we’ve been walking around with undefined faces! 

Eyebrows defining a face

Please don’t panic. Elle’s crisis managers can help you “find the right eyebrows for your face,” and they offer “a super useful guide to eyebrow tinting.” The magazine reveals which celebrity eyebrows are the most-googled and tells us whom to emulate. (Hint: “Meghan Markle’s eyebrow game is strong.”)

In a breathtakingly bold public service, the magazine tells us how to avoid “the most common eyebrow mistakes” and recommends eleven of the best eyebrow pencils for under $13, plus eighteen of the best eyebrow “products.”

So you see, in addition to finding the right eyebrows for your face, you can also contribute to a strong economy and help corporations as they work to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

And a fascinating endnote: Elle declares that if you have thick eyebrows, “You’re probably a narcissist.”

Narcissistic Eyebrows

Beware trump Boredom

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BEWARE tRUMP BOREDOM

It’s finally happening, the thing I have been dreading but also secretly hoping for. I am getting bored. Bored with the chaos, crimes, and corruption in the White House. Bored with the lies, the golf, the ego, the tweets. Bored with the ludicrous nominations of trump’s unqualified buddies, the hate-filled attacks on the free press, the blatant attempts to undermine our judicial system, the straight-up cruelty towards poor people, immigrants, and future generations who will view this administration as the final nail in the climate coffin.

My boredom is absolutely not OK. Detachment is one thing; I have been intentionally learning to enjoy life even as the travesty plays out (while acknowledging this as my white privilege). But boredom and passivity? Not acceptable. They indicate that I am being lulled into normalizing a situation that is anything but normal. 

Still, it’s hard to hold all the outrage and deep sadness. It wears you down, eats at you from the inside out. As someone who spent her career promoting environmental protection, this is an especially dark time.

Holding on for dear life

What To Do With The Anger?

I recently heard Parker Palmer speak at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. The man speaks truth. I appreciated his statement that our anger is fine, it’s good, it’s God’s own righteous anger on behalf of the oppressed, the marginalized, the earth. God’s righteous anger is splashed all over “the good book” that the evangelicals wave around at trump rallies. The question is, what does one do with the anger?

Parker Palmer at the Festival of Faith & Writing

As Parker spoke, I was abruptly overtaken by a conviction that I have not been doing my best during this national crisis. I have sometimes added to the negativity. Fear has stoked anger has stoked cynicism has stoked despair. Also panic. I try (mostly) to walk as near to God as I can manage, yet none of these emotions come from God, except my healthy anger.

No, I have not been doing my best.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s why I haven’t written much lately. I’m processing. I don’t want to spew more anger and divisiveness into the atmosphere. That is precisely what the raging attacker in the White House is doing, and I hate it. But I’m not sure how to be constructive. I know I’m not alone in this — constructive voices are few, far between, and usually ignored.

Anyway, I think my recent desire to do better may have led to my boredom. If I cannot churn out a blog-blast full of anger and snarky cynicism, I have nothing to do with my emotions. I can’t let them build up or I’d explode, and so I just . . . deflate. I look at my inner turmoil and say, “Oh look, more outrage and despair. Ho-hum.”

At Present, There’s Only One Thing I Can Do

In the same good book that talks about God’s great love and Her outrage on behalf of the marginalized and the outcasts, there is the following advice:

“Have no anxiety about anything. But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” {Philippians 4: 6-7}

This is one of my favorite pieces of scripture. So in this spirit, I pray —

God thank you for this beautiful country, for this grand experiment in building a just and free society. It’s not working, God, and it’s getting scary. I am deeply grieved, and I confess I sometimes despair. My heart is broken for the dying coral reefs, the dying polar bears, the dying frogs and fish. I weep for the island people around the globe whose homes are disappearing, and for the children who will follow our folly. I weep for black teenagers dead in the street. I weep for their mothers.

God, money has become our idol. So-called leaders take millions from weapons merchants who put profits and power over the lives of school children, from prison machines that profit from incarcerating our young people, from a military addiction that feeds endless war, and from heartless corporations that intentionally spew poisons into our air and water.

God, we are sick. We are very, very sick. We really screwed up, bigly. Please. Fix. This. Amen.

“You are the light of the world.” On a good day.

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