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Coming to Terms with the Hate

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COMING TO TERMS WITH THE HATE

The pickup tailgates me for a minute, then swerves into the left lane and pulls alongside my car. A big hairy arm emerges, fat middle finger extended like a pale sausage. I am not alarmed, not even surprised. In the time of trump, anything can and does happen.

It’s hard to know which bumper sticker set him off. Beauty will save the world? Love the Creator, care for creation? God is not a Republican? Most likely, Obama 2012. That black man has more dignity and grace in his pinky finger than both of those white guys in the pickup put together. They know this and they hate it. So much resentment and hatred.

Am I making assumptions about the guy with the fat middle finger and his buddy? Stereotyping? You bet.

Abuse as Patriotism

Online I’ve been called a witch, a moron, a fat hag, and of course a snowflake. The latter is my favorite “insult,” a very common one on Twitter, meaning weak and prone to melting into tears. Personally, I love being likened to a sparkling crystal that dances and plays in the air before settling in place among other snowflakes which, in community and over time, can shut down a city and stop the federal government in its tracks.

My least favorite insult is “f%$king libtard,” not because it hurts my feelings, but because it flaunts “political incorrectness” by playing off a long-abandoned, derogatory term for people with mental impairments. The guy with the sausage finger and his ilk are egged on by their favorite president, who said:

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

So although I’ve been driving around w/ liberal bumper stickers on my car for decades and haven’t experienced anything like this before, I’m not surprised at the random rage. Things are different now. President Tweet has purposefully brought out the very worst in this country. I don’t have to tell you that.

I’ve got a list of books and articles theorizing about who these trump people are, and why they seem incapable of recognizing how sick he is or how he is manipulating them. It’s textbook demagoguery. But I don’t need to read about it, I know in my gut what’s going on.

Spiritual Sickness

It seems clear to me that America is suffering from a deep spiritual sickness. When you live in a society that worships ego and competition and glorifies wealth, weaponry, and war, you’re bound to run into serious problems eventually. Especially when so many “religious” people buy into this lust for power and wealth. I know one Christian guy who says that while we should have compassion, we have to be pragmatic about it. Where in the Bible did Jesus say that?? I don’t even want to hear his views on North Korea. Bombs away, no doubt.

For a time, after the shock and surprise of all the hate wore off and I realized it was here to stay — being stoked daily by abusive, threatening tweets from the President of the United States — I was just sad. Deeply sad.

Now, even the sadness is beginning to wear off. I wouldn’t say I have accepted this as “the new norm” —we must never, ever accept this behavior or view it as anything but the pathological brokenness that it is. But I’m learning to live with the hatred without letting it consume me.

Survival

I pray that our country’s institutions and the world can withstand what looks more and more like an actual take-over of our democracy by an authoritarian demagogue. I will march, write, call, organize, and raise holy hell. But I am also choosing to go on with my life, enjoying my garden, looking for the good in people, and reading and writing healing words.

So some big hairy white guy gave me the finger. That’s his problem; it doesn’t need to affect me. Easy for me to say, white snowflake that I am. I hate to think what might have happened had there been more melanin in my skin or had I been wearing a burka.

Praying.

Further Heresy: Sage & Crystals

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FURTHER HERESY: SAGE & CRYSTALS

I’ve been burning a sage stick lately. I just wanted to get that out there and let the “Happy Housewife” Christian lady know. After all, confession is good for the soul.

I purchased the sage stick at a rock and mineral swap in a tiny town in New Hampshire, where I also bought a lovely piece of quartz with opalescent slivers inside it. Yes, quartz is a crystal, which some Christians believe is just about as heretical as a sage stick.

They think that crystals are “new age,” or “false idols” or “occult.” Never mind that Saint Theresa of Avila’s beloved sixteenth-century spiritual classic “Interior Castle” is based on the contemplation of a crystal:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions . . . there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.”

Contemplating nature is a time-honored way to reflect upon and connect with the holy. Jesus was forever talking about sparrows and types of soil and grains of wheat. He found lessons about God in everything around him. I feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that I would want to use natural elements in my prayer time.

I light my sage stick and walk around my house, asking God to fill my home with Her spirit of peace and love and joy. I ask that She fill every space with the fragrance of Christ. (I don’t do this if my cat is downstairs, because it gives her a violent sneezing fit.)

I don’t believe crystals and sage sticks are magical or contain or control spirits; I think they are relaxing and beautiful. God made the rocks and the plants, and She gave us an appreciation for rich aromas and beautiful objects. We are intimately and organically connected to the plants and to the elements, and that’s why they help us embody our spirituality and connect with the Creator.

Here’s another confession: I am still a tad annoyed at the internet assaults launched by the Happy-Housewife Christian lady. So although she has already condemned me to hell for loving gay people, I am hoping to further annoy her with my hippy prayer practices. So there.

At least I am not cozying up to power and engaging in idol worship of a political leader like some other pastor-types.

Sacred Soil

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SACRED SOIL

I’m doing laundry, watching the last of the silty North Carolina river soil circle the drain and disappear. I’m always low when I first return from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival on the banks of the French Broad river. After spending four days with two-thousand-plus “spiritual misfits” immersed in spirit, justice, music and art, it’s hard to return to the “real” world.

My friends and I have been on sacred ground, sacred meaning “holy” or “set apart for or by God.” We set ourselves apart from our busy calendars and to-do lists and the traffic and the email and even wi-fi (!!!), and we dug our roots deep into the soil of truth and love and living spirit.

Standing on sacred ground at the Wild Goose Festival

Soil is what feeds us and nourishes us. It’s what we are made of. As the Bible says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Down by the river, we remember. We remember our true selves. We remember that we are connected to every other wounded soul on the planet – past, present, and future. And we remember that we have responsibilities to all those other souls.

We are each called to heal and to become our best, healthiest selves, now more than ever. Our very planet depends on it. 

What soil will we choose for nourishment?

We can sink our roots into the polluted soil of judgement and contempt and divisiveness, or we can choose the sacred soil of love and openness and peacemaking.

For a few precious days, my thirsty roots penetrated deep into the sacred soil by the rushing river. It will take some time to see what grows. I have pages and pages of notes, and my head is full of rainbow flags and sung psalms and the smell of campfires. I’m not quite ready to write about it. If you are curious or impatient, you can use the search function on this blog to find my posts from past festivals while you breathlessly await my 2017 Goose musings. 

Meddlesome Voices

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MEDDLESOME VOICES

I know a few folks for whom meddling in other’s lives is a full-time endeavor. They are certain that they know best, and they become frustrated or angry when their targets don’t follow their wise guidance on everything from the best butter substitute to a choice of careers to what one’s relationship with the Divine should look like.

You know these people, too. Perhaps you are one them. You may think you are being helpful or kind or even a martyr on someone else’s behalf. But if you are doing for someone else what they could do for themselves or trying to influence choices that are not yours to make, you are meddling.

Manipulating, even.

Ouch! Isn’t that an awful word? When I discovered that many of my interactions with others could easily fall under the category of manipulation — trying to get someone to believe or act in a way that might make me more comfortable — I cringed. I’ve worked hard to overcome this trait, which I learned from my family. I now have a permanent groove in my tongue where I bite it. This practice will remain necessary unless and until I finally believe that I do not, in fact, know best.

I have enough challenges managing my own life. I do not need “extra credit” for managing the lives of others. Even if they seem willing or eager for me to make their decisions for them.

Which brings me to something that can be even more destructive than those who meddle in other people’s lives: those who allow others to meddle in their own lives.

Letting Your Life Speak

I’m in the midst of making an important decision that could affect me heavily for the next few years at least. It’s a vocational type of decision: how do I spend my daily-dwindling time here on earth? Where do I invest my emotional energy? How do I employ the expertise and experience I’ve garnered thus far?

As Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer writes, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding, ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”

Whenever I’m faced with a major decision in this realm, I re-read Parker’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. There’s an astonishing amount of wisdom in this little hundred-page book, and it’s one of those reads that offers deeper and different wisdom with each visit.

One of Parker’s main points is that we are all born with a true self, a true nature, and then sadly, “From our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everybody but ourselves,” gleaning who we are  “. . . from the people and powers around us.” Meddlesome voices. 

All of our institutions train us “away from true self towards images of acceptability . . . we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”

This is a great weakness of mine, a painful “thorn in my flesh.” I know I’m not the only one with this need to please and a burdensome desire for recognition and esteem. Millions of true selves are being trampled by stampeding egos chasing the values of others rather than discerning and honoring their own.

My first inclination when faced with a big decision is to read books, talk to friends, and ponder possible scenarios to imagine how they might appear to others. In other words, to look outside myself. That’s all fine. It’s raw material.

But I must be careful that I don’t end up using another’s navigational system rather than my own inner compass. My “inner light,” as the Quakers call it. I need to get down to the business of prayer, meditation, journaling, and connecting with God in nature, because those are my channels for a voice that is “different than the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel,” as Parker describes it.

This means tuning out all the well-meaning (or not) meddlesome voices — past, present, and imagined future — and letting your own life speak.

 

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”  — Parker Palmer

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.”

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

Waiting for Willa

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Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

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