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America’s Soul Sickness

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AMERICA’S SOUL SICKNESS

I have said before that what is wrong with America is a spiritual illness, a soul sickness. Most of us watched in horror in 2016 as the last remnants of civility and compassion were pummeled into the ground during the presidential election. When Donald Trump made fun of a disabled man, threatened to punch another man in the face, bragged about the size of his genitalia and his power to grab women’s genitalia — well, you don’t need me to go on.

Nobody believed he could win. Because we are better than that.

My contention is that this is where we were inevitably headed. Our national psyche is now firmly centered upon greed, getting  your own, and winning, winning, winning at any cost . . . well, ladies and gentlemen, behold your leader. This is who you are. At least this is who 38% of you are. “He got rich, right? He must be great.”

It’s no wonder that white supremacists are murdering people on trains, congressional candidates are beating up reporters (and winning anyway) and GOP state legislators are threatening to shoot their colleagues in the head. Again, you don’t need me to go on.

America spends $597 BILLION each year on weapons and war — as much as the next seven largest national military budgets *combined.* And the new president wants to increase that. Is this who we are?

Our greed and excesses have quite possibly already pushed our planetary systems beyond the point where humans will be able to adapt. And the new president is OK with that, wants to roll back even minimal protections. Is this who we are?

Is this who we are?? Photo: Dallas Morning News

Somewhere along the line, we lost our souls. Our souls tell us to love one another, to care for one another, to care for our fellow creatures. We have forgotten who we are at heart. We are soul-sick.

The Simple Truth

One of my favorite authors, Father Richard Rohr, writes about this soul sickness. He speaks the truth.

For what it’s worth, an excerpt:

“Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It’s hard for us to see this as an unsustainable and unhappy trap because all of our rooms are decorated in this same color. It is the only obvious story line that our children see. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken.

This foundational way of seeing has blinded us so that we now tend to falsely assume more is better. The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. This determines much if not most of our politics. In the United States there is never enough for health care, education, the arts, or basic infrastructure. The largest budget is always for war, bombs, and military gadgets.

E. F. Schumacher said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Pope Francis, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial.

Franciscan alternative orthodoxy asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in an individual as they move toward naked being instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our longing and restlessness.”

Digressions from Democracy

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DIGRESSIONS FROM DEMOCRACY

In the Pink

My mother used to use the phrase “in the pink.” I like it. It conjures up chubby chortling pink babies with kicky legs. It’s a happy, healthy phrase that’s defined as “being in robust good health and spirits; physically and emotionally well.”

The phrase actually isn’t cute at all. It comes from the cruel tradition of English foxhunting. The hunters wear scarlet jackets, the color of fox’s blood, and they are called pinks. So being in the pink means that you are about to gallop across your estate and kill hapless creatures. (Though banned, the “sport” continues in England.)

Not surprisingly, given the coarseness of our society, “in the pink” has also come to mean something sexual and demeaning to women. But I’ll leave those references to the boys in the middle school locker room.

Speaking of President Tweet, I am beginning to suspect that he is not ‘in the pink.” Obviously he is a heart attack waiting to happen, despite his golfing (which I wish liberals would quit complaining about — democracy is safer when he is distracted). But I’m talking about his mental health. The golfing therapy doesn’t seem to lessen the man-child’s obsessive paranoia and vindictive, impulsive furies one bit.

Orange Lava

By overeating, drinking wine, and doing crossword puzzles, I have managed to stay in denial about the imminent threat of nuclear war with North Korea and the even larger threat of climate protection programs being dismantled.

Sometimes I go to a march and wave a sign. That helps. I think I might survive until the impeachment.

But then every once in a while, the man-child’s whacko behavior erupts in such a way that his toxic orange lava from hell spews into my consciousness and scares the bejesus outta of me, as my father used to say.

Most recently, his petulant fury led him to fire FBI Director Comey for refusing to confirm Tweet’s paranoid wiretapping fantasies and for trying to protect the country from a foreign government’s interference. Pizza and a crossword won’t make that go away.

Beyond the Pale

Tweet’s personality disorder(s) have now taken our nation entirely “beyond the pale” — another phrase coined by the British and meaning “unacceptable; outside agreed standards of decency.”

The phrase “beyond the pale” comes from the common disease of de-humanizing other people and erecting fences to keep them away. (Fortunately, we in America are over that.) A pale is a fence post, and Catherine the Great built a pale fence in Russia to keep the Jews away from “decent” Russian people, and pales were used to drive away undesirables in Ireland and France as well. The phrase first showed up in a British poem in 1657 where young lovers wandered beyond the fence and were murdered. No doubt by “illegal aliens.”

But I digress. Actually I don’t digress. I’m not at all sure what this post is about.

Watergate Memories

I think it might be about the fact that our democracy is in grave danger. My ADD mind is just flitting about, lighting on fun phrases and researching etymology, trying desperately to escape the obvious: either the president goes or our democracy goes.

I remember this gut-churning feeling from Watergate days, and coming to the realization that it’s either him or us. I am not being hyperbolic.

Incidentally, isn’t hyperbole a great word? It comes from the 15th century and means “obvious exaggeration in rhetoric” — which brings me back to the White House.

Didn’t you love the part where Press Secretary Sean Spicer was hiding in the bushes the night Director Comey was fired, refusing to talk to reporters until they turned off their lights and cameras? His talking points only worked for FOX News, and he had already given them their marching orders.

I also liked the FOX headline, “Comey Resigns.” Alternative facts.

And boy is it good to see Kelly Anne Conway back in the mix! Saturday Night Live has missed her. Although my God I wish she would get something to eat. She’s seriously not in the pink.

Nobody over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in the pink. And so, neither are any of us.

#Resist

Today’s word prompt: pink

Fear of Frying

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FEAR OF FRYING

Sometimes I can’t help but think about all of us frying. The world is a terrifying place these days.

I check the news only twice a day now, and try not to do so right before bed. I wean myself more and more from social media, because that’s where I hear the sizzling most loudly: a conflagration of dreadful news, trauma-inducing pictures, and total strangers calling me “moron” and “libtard” and “fat hag.”

I know I’m not the only one who fears frying. People all around the world watch the childish nyah-nyah games between two unstable presidents and wait for the air raid sirens. (Do we even have air raid sirens anymore? I’m reminded of the “walk-run” home we used to practice when I was in elementary school in Miami waiting for the Cuban missile strike — the walk-run made about as much sense as the get-under-your-desk-and-cover-your-head posture.)

On a positive note, we might not have a thermonuclear exchange this year. Instead, the elimination of federal efforts to curb climate change and cut local programs for climate adaptation might allow us to fry more slowly over time, our food shriveling in the drought. Unless we go more quickly in a climate change-induced wildfire. Here in the D.C. area, it’s more likely to be floods or severe hurricanes and tornadoes.

On an even more positive note, it’s possible that humans might fry but leave the planet and other species more or less intact. In America, the gradual ascension of hubris, greed, and contempt for the poor that I’ve watched over my lifetime is now complete. The deal with the devil was clinched November 8, 2016. So if I believed in hell, I’d be waiting expectantly for the frying of certain deserving souls.

Driven By Fear

But that, dear readers, would make me just like them, wouldn’t it? Vengefully judging “the other” and living from a place of fear. Because let’s face it, mental and emotional imbalance aside, it is fear that is driving what’s happening in this country.

The man-child representing the U.S. is a bottomless abyss of fear, driven to run after more and more and more money — what an awful reason to live! What unspeakable insecurity. Same with his power lust. The lying and manipulation and bullying — it’s all a control thing, a terror of losing control. He trusts no one.

And that’s how he won the election. His pathological fear tapped into the real and imagined fears of millions of Americans.

America is frying in fear, from the Tweeter in Chief right on down.

The white people who are afraid of the “other” people who “don’t belong here.” The African-American boys who are afraid of the cops, and the cops who are afraid of the African-American boys. The straight people who are afraid that gay marriage will somehow threaten their straight marriage or turn their children into “perverts.” The people who fear refugee families are going to blow up their neighborhoods or Mexicans are going to take their jobs and rape their daughters. Coal miners with black lung disease and no jobs, local business owners still struggling after the Bush economic meltdown, seniors who can’t afford their prescriptions. On and on.

#Resist

I use the hashtag #resist a lot. It means I pledge to resist the mean-spirited, greed-driven policies of the new administration. But for me, it means more than that: it means I pledge to resist the fear that drives those policies and the supporters of those policies.

There’s a lot to fear. It’s not a safe time in America. So let’s talk about it, let’s take action, let’s get involved, let’s nurture compassion and stand with the most vulnerable. 

Let’s be part of the solution. But let’s not be part of the fear, OK?

I pledge not to let the fear move from my head to my heart. Because fear turns to hate, and hate fries souls.

You Can Save Lives — But You Must Act NOW!

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Regular, ordinary people like you and I can literally save lives today by making a couple of phone calls. Seriously. Don’t wait. A vote on Trumpcare to repeal our national health care policy is happening this afternoon in the House of Representatives. It will threaten those of us who are currently insured under an Obamacare plan, causing 24 million people to lose insurance, and it will especially disadvantage women, seniors, and lower income people.

Here’s how to help:

Call your member of Congress at 855-981-7297 and enter your zip code. If someone answers, tell them who you are and why you oppose the bill. If they are already opposing the bill, say thank you. They need to hear that you support them, especially if they are a Republican.

Next, and most importantly, contact these Republican members who are undecided:

Charlie Dent PA; Peter King NY; Mark Amodei NV; Trent Franks AZ; Steve Pearce NM; Alex Mooney WV; Darell Isa CA; Joe Barton TX.
Here’s a link to an article that explains the concerns each of them has with the bill.

You can reach them by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. Press zero and hold for an operator. Ask for the member’s office by name. If someone answers, tell them your personal concerns with the bill and request that they ask their boss to oppose Trumpcare.

If their mailbox is full, google their contact info and call one of their district offices instead, preferably the one in the state capitol. Or you may find their D.C. fax number and write a note that you can re-fax to each member’s office.

Please do not think that someone else will make these calls. And do not think you can only call your own representative. Each member’s vote will personally affect YOU today. Every single American has a right and responsibility to call and voice their opinion. Many seniors and low-income people don’t have much of a voice in this. Speak up!

You will want to express your own opinions, but here’s what I’m saying:
“My name is Melanie Griffin and I’m calling to ask Cong. XXX to oppose the healthcare bill this afternoon. I am a woman in my sixties and I will be hit very hard by this bill. I will lose the insurance I have now, along with 24 million others. I am also a Christian and am very concerned about how the poor and seniors are being treated in this bill.”

 

Recording American History

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RECORDING AMERICAN HISTORY

Historians will remember (assuming the DeVos Department of Education does not create an alternative reality) that America’s public policy was once at least loosely based on objective facts. Members of Congress were allowed to ask questions and read legislation before they voted — maybe even improve the legislation. It would have been unthinkable to scribble down a bill affecting the health of tens of millions of people and slip it through a committee at 4:30 in the morning.

Private citizens and nonprofit groups had input and even testified before Congress. There were public comment periods, and Senators didn’t run away from constituents at town hall meetings. There was a differentiation between facts and opinions. There was a public record and there were cost estimates.

All this information was committed to a written “record,” a noun derived from Old French circa 1300, meaning memory, statement, or report.

Factual written records can help us learn from our mistakes and hold people accountable, but they can be troublesome for some who would rather that certain things be forgotten, such as the hearing record where incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied and said that he had not talked to the Russians before the election. 

The Devolution of Recorded Truth

In the 1800s, as technology advanced, the noun “record” also came to mean “a disk on which sounds or images have been recorded,” such as real and true photos of two inauguration crowds of vastly different proportions.

Or recordings of an imaginary wiretap.

In 1883, we find the word being used in reference to “a best or highest achievement,” for instance the number of people at your rallies or the size of your electoral college margin or your TV ratings or how big your hands are or how high your wall will be or the number of women you have grabbed by the crotch or the breast.

Records used to be measured and based on reality, but now they are established by random tweet.

The verb form of “record” is older, from 12th century Old French, and it means “to repeat, reiterate, recite, rehearse, get by heart,” as in White House spokespeople reiterating that, for-heaven’s-sake-what-is-wrong-with-you-people, the president didn’t mean what he said literally, which has now morphed into “The President believes what he said.” Period.

They know that one by heart.

Restoration of the Record

Interestingly, the original Latin source of the verb “record” might provide America a way out of its current moral and ethical crisis. The verb “record” comes directly from the Latin word “recordari” which means to “remember, call to mind, think over, be mindful of.” The roots of this word come from re (restore) and cor (genitive cordis: the heart).

Restore the heart.

Can we remember and be mindful of our roots as a generous, open-hearted immigrant nation — stained though we’ve been by genocide and slavery — and restore the heart of America?

I pray that the record will show that we did.

Today’s word prompt: record

Inside the President’s Head: A Poem

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INSIDE THE PRESIDENT’S HEAD: A POEM

Through the president’s head swarm nightmarish images known only to him. Mostly recently, he saw that black president we had — you remember, the one who ruined America? — scurrying through the halls of trump tower, listening at doors and wiretapping phones.

Or something.

The president’s supporters attempt to stay abreast of their hero’s nightmares so that they can protect and defend him. Tweeting paranoid delusions as if they are truth, calling in to radio talk shows to decry the latest outrage, sharing alternative facts on Breitbart’s comments page.

It keeps a person busy! You hardly have time to think before you make your rally signs:

Did she think this was funny?

For those of us still living in what I think is reality, here is a poem in response to the word prompt: swarm.

Swarms of Mexican rapists and drug dealers descend on innocent golf courses, stealing landscaping jobs from hard working Americans, while hoards of black hooligans hidden under hoodies swarm our hellish cities, torching trump™ hotels and ruining the gold drapes.

Swarthy Iranians — or maybe they are Indians — swarm college campuses, pretending to be students, while boys who used to be girls and girls who used to be boys swarm school bathrooms and try to recruit our kids to turn gay.

IRS officials swarm West Virginia, hauling away coal miners for not buying Obamacare, while EPA officials swarm small businesses, forcing nice white men to fill out forms in triplicate and stop dumping toxics in the rivers.

Illegals, dead Democrats, and people in pink hats swarm polling places and vote for nasty women, while swarms of paid protesters, pretend judges, and dishonest reporters keep harping on about the so-called Constitution.

Ash Wednesday — Evicting Monsters and Embracing Glitter

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Lent has begun. As is often the case, I am over-reaching, counting on these forty days to miraculously transform me into a new creation all at once, free from all the parts of myself I don’t want anymore, leaping out of bed at 6  every morning and exclaiming “This is a day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!” and then making a healthy breakfast with no saturated fat or sugar before heading off to the gym and then coming home to meditate and read my Bible before mindfully munching a lunch of sprouts and legumes and walnuts (rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids).

I doubt it.

It’s not quite that bad this year. My plan is this: I will do my centering prayer meditation every day. I don’t know why this should be such a challenge – I did it daily for five or six years, but I’ve lost the hunger for it. Then I will read twelve pages of The Message Bible in contemporary language. At that rate, I will get through the New Testament in forty days.

In addition — and here is the kicker — I will spend only an hour a day on social media.

Facebook and Twitter flood my being with the lies, vitriol, and bigotry spewing from the White House, and even when the filth is accompanied by witty or wise or motivating commentary from my friends, it is bad for me.

Social media releases brain chemicals that numb my pain and anger, which is nice but not healthy. It allows me to feel as if I’m doing something useful when all I’m doing is losing sleep. But you know that quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one?” That is the real danger of social media for me. It taps into my hatred and contempt, and it makes me mean-spirited and rude.

And that, I do not need. I am sacrificing it for Lent.

I’m not shutting down, I’ll still be marching and organizing and calling Congress — I just need to survive and not become a monster, is all.

I’ll keep you posted on my efforts.

Beginning the Journey: Ash Wednesday

photo (38)

 

Today I want to share this excerpt from an Ash Wednesday poem by my friend Robin Gorsline. Food for thought. To read the full poem and others, please visit his blog .

“I saw an Ash Wednesday drive-by yesterday, a church advertising getting
ashes on your forehead when you drive into their parking lot—
no need to come to service, no need to join in community
prayer. At first, I was repelled, maybe still am, but also I
know that it might help some, who would not otherwise bother,
to pause to consider their lives, even for just a few moments.

And glitter. I like glitter, and am glad that some churches
are combining ash and glitter,
acknowledging that I, and everyone else,
is a complex mixture of saint and sinner.
I remember the year I gave up Lent for Lent.
I was tired of beating myself up for my failings
and decided to spend forty days focusing
on my good qualities. I wanted to put my best foot
forward for Jesus, to be all I could be with him
on the journey to the cross. I did that only once,
but I am glad I did, because it has helped me
ever since have a fuller view of me and my relationship
with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Parent.

So, here I am, here we are, another Ash Wednesday,
another Lent—again invited to walk
the often dusty and bumpy, sometimes crowded and busy,
at other times quiet and lonely,
even on occasion beautiful and merry, roads of life.
I’m a pilgrim, maybe you, too, with few if any answers,
and I’m here for more than sightseeing.”
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . I generally approach Ash Wednesday with mixed feelings, aware certainly of my shortcomings, but also not sure how much it helps to focus on them without also seeing my positive qualities, indeed doing that with everyone I encounter and/or care about. I decided that I would not pore over this poem with revision after revision as I often do but let it stand pretty much as it came out—a way of exposing myself for the still being formed person I am.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

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