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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.

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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.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Lucky Charm: You!

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SPECIAL COUNSEL MUELLER’S LUCKY CHARM: YOU!

I don’t usually do this because, hey, who am I to tell you what to do? But I would like to make a strong suggestion that you —  yeah, you — can help protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian influence on our election.

You have a magic object that’s probably within reach right this minute, an object that could make the difference between whether our democracy stands or falls. It’s called a telephone, and there are hundreds of millions of them in our country. Even kids have these powerful talismans.

Today’s word prompt, talisman, means “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.” It is “an object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck.”

Special Counsel Mueller could use some magical powers and a good dose of luck as he battles the dark forces of the universe. (Have you seen A Wrinkle in Time? You gotta go!) His investigation is being attacked by this administration in the most blatant case of obstruction of justice I’ve ever seen.

Mueller needs protection. He needs our help.

It’s All About YOU!

Here’s where you come in. All you have to do is activate your talisman. It will take you three minutes, tops.

As you may know, there’s a bill in both the House & Senate designed to protect Mueller from being fired and to ensure that his investigation into Russian influence can be completed. The bill needs support, or cosponsors.

Here’s all you need to do: Call 202-224-3121. The voice will guide you into choosing House or Senate and then entering your zip code. Choose “House” first, and you will be connected to your representative’s office. Tell them your name and town, and ask that they cosponsor and be a leader on H.R. 4669 to protect the Mueller investigation. That’s it!

Now call that number again. Choose “Senate” this time. You will have a choice of two senators, and you want to talk to both of their offices, so choose either one. Once connected, tell them where you live and leave this message: you want the senator to cosponsor and be a leader on S. 1741 to protect Mueller’s investigation. Then call a third and final time, choose the other senator and leave the same S. 1741 message.

Now ask your friends to use their talisman to do the same thing.

Congratulations! You are a magical citizen activist!

Thank you for standing up for America.

In Search of Silence

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IN SEARCH OF SILENCE

Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.

Pilgrimage

Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.

Reflections

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt: Noise

Guns & Schools

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GUNS & SCHOOLS

This week has been sadly sweet for me. The sweet part has been spending every day teaching kindergartners. Their innocence and vulnerability turns my heart to mush. The sad part is, I can’t get Sandy Hook out of my head. The nausea clutches at my stomach at unexpected times, like when one child slips his hand in mine or another one asks me to tie her shoe.

Pictures of the children killed at Sandy Hook and their parents have been all over the news since the latest school massacre.

I am anxious at times, angry more often, but mostly sad. It is beyond imagining that our “leaders” have literally been bought by the NRA to the extent that children are being slaughtered in their classrooms and nobody does anything. Nada.

Today, two first-grade girls ran up to me excitedly and said, “Is it true that trump wants teachers to have guns?” One said, “I saw it on TV,” and the other said, “I heard my Mommy and Daddy talking about it.”

I presume that their regular teacher deflected the question, because the girls made a beeline for me when I came into their classroom to supervise lunch. They have questions, and they want answers.

I told them that yes, it is an idea of his, but it is a silly idea and everyone knows it so we don’t have to worry about it.

They asked why he would want to do such a silly thing, and I said because he doesn’t really understand what it means to be safe.

”Well, WE’RE not going to do that,” harumphed one of the girls (a pretty safe bet, since we are a Quaker school).

Like the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Florida, these children know a dumb idea when they hear it. And they know a charlatan. In their own way, they are echoing MSD student Emma Gonzalez’s cry: “We call B.S.!!”

This Time it Feels Different

Many of my friends are saying, “This time it feels different.” And it does. For one thing, the outrage has lasted more than a week. We aren’t just moving on to the next media frenzy. The students won’t let us. The NRA boycott is gathering steam and major airlines and insurance companies have stopped giving discounts to NRA members. Dicks Sporting Goods and Walmart are both tightening their gun purchasing rules.

Even trump has made encouraging noises this week about maybe doing something useful, although his ignorance of the issue is appalling. And he seems dead set on arming teachers (pun intended). Fortunately, many governors are pushing back on behalf of teachers and law enforcement.

Yes, something feels different this time.

Could it be that the pernicious evil that powers the NRA has finally met its match in the bold persistence of America’s high school and middle school and now apparently elementary school kids?

We Call B.S.

The NRA seems desperate and is losing its already tenuous grip on reality. Their spokespeople sound like raving lunatics, hinting at armed rebellion and accusing the media of loving mass shootings because “crying white mothers are ratings gold to you.”

The NRA public relations department is working overtime to remind us that school shootings are “extremely rare events” and that more kids die in pool drownings and bicycle accidents than mass shootings. And comfortingly, although there are 55 million school children in the U.S. only an average of 10 per year are killed by gunfire at school. That’s pretty good odds, right?

God in heaven, who thinks like that??

#WeCallBS

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