Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanks-taking Day!

I enjoy the traditions of this day! The third Thursday in November is a national holiday that is secular and all-American (except for the original "Americans.") But the myth of the first Thanksgiving is dangerous. I've taught all my children the truth: the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians was made up to whitewash genocide. Just yesterday, I told Seth, who is now twelve, a version of this, and since he's autistic, we never know how he'll react. He did reportedly, say, "Happy Thanks-taking Day" to a few people, but he also, when put in a group to make as many words as possible out of "Happy Thanksgiving," added in s--t, a prank that has more to do with his fascination with cuss words than with his newfound understanding of Thanks ("giving.") 

My son(right) in first grade, 1988

I think schools are far less likely to teach the old pilgrim and Indian story now. I know our national parks and museums have begun to include truthful accounts of the invasion and genocide we prosper from. You could say: that's the past, so get over it, because we can't change it.

But Native American communities are suffering today. They are suffering from poverty, early death, and addiction at higher rates than the general population. And the opioid crisis has hit them even more intensely.

My great grandfather, J.D. Self, and three daughters. My grandmother, Agnes Self Patton, is the eldest.

My great-grandmother was a Cherokee Indian who married a white man. She died in childbirth, and the baby, a boy named after his father, died a few months later. This was in the late 1800s. He was left to raise three girls, my grandmother, and her sisters. I found the graves of my great-grandparents and the baby in the tiny town of Telford, TN, some years ago. My grandmother married an alcoholic, my grandfather, also from Telford, and the disease has run rampant through my family. 
Great-grandmother Mora Lake Self

Family systems are remarkable. Without even knowing the patterns, we repeat them. My mother died when I was five, and my father raised three children, albeit with a stepmother. I married an alcoholic, and my own sons suffered from the disease. All of this is to say that holidays are fraught with memories and sadness and pain that may be invisible to others, and incomprehensible, even to oneself. You can repress them, but grief unacknowledged will surface.

Alice Miller:

“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” 

My first child, 1982.

My mother died on December 10, 1960. It took me a very long time to acknowledge that Thanksgiving and Christmas, and especially the time in-between, would never be uncomplicated. My father's only brother, a beloved uncle who played a magical role in my childhood, came to our house for Thanksgiving when I was 13 and died in his sleep that night. My father's grief was bottomless. He drank even more than he had before. He and his brother had been best friends, and had both been bachelors and sportsmen into their forties.

The Thanksgiving before we separated, my then-husband told me he wouldn't cook and he wouldn't be there, after I'd invited my family. I can't even remember why. I know he thought I'd beg him to stay home. But I went forward, and just decided I'd cook the food myself. He ended up being there, and cooking, after all. It was a cruel trick.

Because of divorce, I spent many Thanksgivings alone, or without my kids.

After I remarried, and our daughter came along, the bad holidays continued. Once, we drove to New Jersey, and brought all the makings for Thanksgiving dinner, to find that my half-sister and stepmother had decided to go elsewhere, and my sons had to eat with their father, so my husband, our daughter and I ate alone in my family home. This sort of disregard is typical in my family.

My brother lives in Connecticut, and I haven't seen him for about ten years. My half-sister in New Jersey isn't speaking to me. To be fair, I confronted her angrily in April for what I perceived as her lack of hospitality to my kids (and me.) I may not have any meals, far less Thanksgiving, at the home I grew up in. It belongs to her now.

One thought I had when I heard David Cassidy died was, "Well, he and his family will be spared another hellacious Thanksgiving." Cynical, I know. But having alcoholics in the family is worst on holidays. The apprehension about whether they will show up, and in what condition, is bested only by cumulative fear and anxiety when they don't. Texts and phone calls, excuses and late arrivals, slurred speech and bleary eyes: these are on the menu in an alcoholic family. Just recently, one of my sons told me that the holidays caused him intense anxiety. I'd never taken the time to see it from his point of view. Now, I can. I am so grateful to him for telling me.

I could go on, but you get it. And I know I'm not special. Or unique.

Last Thanksgiving at home? 2014

I actually love this day: my favorite part is the food preparation. This year, we are using lots of things we grew ourselves. I'm grateful for so much! My sons are years into recovery. One of them is in Oregon, working on a fishing boat, because he can now follow his dreams. The other one will be at our family gathering. He's a vegan, and so is my daughter. I'm healthy, and have time to write, garden, and do research.

I focus and raise up the problems of the world, because we cannot ever forget those who suffer, who are impoverished, addicted, oppressed, or disenfranchised.The world, like the body, will present its bill, already has, and we can no loner afford to evade the truth. At the same time, I can be profoundly grateful for what remains. You wouldn't fight for a world you didn't love.

I would be happy to have it called "Gratitude Day." And in our gratitude, remember all of those who came before, those who didn't make it, those who aren't here, and those who writhe in pain today:

If you are here to read this,
think of those who aren't.
Pray for them: good thoughts for those
who lost their minds, love and years
to compulsion, addiction and fears.
Think of their great sacrifice.
We recover on the bones of others.
Wrap your loving thoughts around them:
alone no more.
If you are here and recovering
your original shining true self,
a moment of silence for those driven mad
by the voices and screams of disease-
driven dreams. We walk from night to day
on a path made of the bones of others.
Hold them tightly in the warm arms of your spirit:
cold no more.
If you are here and attaining freedom,
a thousand bows for those who didn't
reach this shore and drowned in a
sea of despair: suffering no more.
We walk in freedom past cages made
of the bones of others.
They hand us the keys of desperation.
Quench their burning thirst
with the tears of your soul.
Calm their cravings. Still their minds.
Grant them peace in the dark and
lonely places below and above the ground.
Fill the gaping holes left by their deaths
with the immensity of your love.
Remember them as you sleep;
remember them as you wake.
Only a thought is the difference
between you and the bones of others.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

There But for the Grace....

Days like this, it is so good to go to the local Amish store and chat with Alfred and his daughters. It's not that the Amish are perfect or exempt from the challenges of living; in fact some things, like health care, impact them directly. They self-insure as a community, and Alfred's one son Michael (out of 8 kids) just broke his foot and had four pins put in... he told me each pin cost $700. (All things considered, I wondered if they did it without anesthesia, because it sounded pretty cheap.) But they are, in spite of their vastly increased contact with the English (only about 10% earn their living by farming now) still detached and serenely unconcerned with the turmoil and distress of modern life. It's their faith, and even if you find it absurd, you must admit that they are joyful, uncomplicated, and successful people.

Today, though, after having made that visit, and feeling I had stepped away from the ranting and speculation and finger-pointing after yet another mass shooting, a torrent of words and phrases I don't even want to get into... because it leads nowhere... and because I dispute the premises upon which it begins... something happened that left me far more disturbed, in some ways.

We live in a very small town (pop. about 200) and on my way home from the Amish store, where I bought fresh bread, nuts, kombucha made locally, chips, soap, and some items for my bnb, I stopped at the Dollar General to get something the Amish did not have. Heading to the register, I became aware of a woman with three small children ahead of me, trying to deter one of them (all girls) from fingering some candy. "Mommy can't buy that today. She doesn't have her food card.." The children were filthy, not a common sight in our rural town. People here are poor -- we have free lunches for all at our school --( and in fact, we are "poor" by common standards), but proud. We get by with loaning and borrowing, canning and freezing, stretching and scrimping. It doesn't look like a place of poverty. Yards and roadsides are clean and tidy. And kids have clean clothes and decent haircuts. So this woman, and her kids, stood out.

I glanced at her. And saw what I didn't want to. Her shoulder length hair was matted, her face as dirty as you'd ever imagine. Her stretch pants hung below her pregnant belly (the oldest of the three girls could not have been more than four) and also revealed a few inches of her buttocks. She had two residual black eyes and her nose was flat. Too flat for a white woman. Her front teeth, when she spoke a moment later, were gone.

Another woman, well dressed, with highlighted hair, swooped in and did what I'd briefly considered: Let me buy some candy for them. My treat, she said. 

It's just the money... the mom said.

Really, it's no problem at all, the lady stooped down and made sure each had two of the same, Mentos, and a round pop, so they wouldn't fight. You go on now. 

And on they went.

I was shaking as I paid my bill. This woman, a tiny saint, who knelt down to those children and said, in gestures, someone is out here who is kind and will care about you, was paying at another register, and I heard her say, That could have been me one day.

It was one of those idioms that I couldn't quite decipher; did she mean in the past, or in the future, if she hadn't escaped some situation?

That's right, I said, meaning me. Meaning, people I know, now and in the past, and people I am related to, meaning, it's not an either/or. It's just a matter of degree. There were four women in the Dollar General then. Two clerks and two customers. But a moment of understanding fell upon us that I think I have never experienced.

I had to stop three times on the four mile drive home. 

Yes, I know that there are men of color and women who are abusive. But the vast number of abusers are white men, from whoever is beating that woman so senseless that she doesn't even care if her butt is showing to the white man who just murdered and injured hundreds in Las Vegas, to our so-called President who spent days insulting and assaulting the Mayor of San Juan as she struggled to get a call for help out of her strangled throat.

God: what will it take for you to hear this prayer?

I tried to raise sons who would never demean or diminish women. I tried to raise a daughter who'd never sit still for one word of gesture that belittled or in any way impugned her.

Yet. Yet. The face and body of this poor, battered woman and her three daughters has nearly broken me, because I feel her within me. I think she lives within all of us, in the shadows, triggered so easily by the words of a domineering, narcissistic, dismissive, male (or female) and hiding there, in the shadows, where she was born. She wasn't born with us. We came into this world whole, proud, lusty, and worthy. And, just because you look "okay" doean't mean you're not on the continuum. With her.

The broken, beaten woman was born as the abused child, by stern fathers, mothers, teachers, abusive step-brothers, ex-husbands who cheated, demeaned, controlled, accused, bosses, and the shame that followed, and mocked by all the other women who I saw needed help and didn't know how to reach.

When I see her, in the flesh, it's like a ghost. I'm haunted. Pray with me.

Monday, September 25, 2017

How are you, Beloved?

Swing built by Big Daddy for Pupcake. I loved sitting in it and thinking about how strong and sturdy he made it, of her day dreams as she watched him at work... and I loved the drink holder her made for their pop! All little girls should have a dad like this. It's at the top of the hill where there's a cool breeze no matter how hot the day.

First, allow me to check in regarding Big Daddy (Benjamin) for those who read my August post. He is still in custody, and has been moved around the country numerous times. From KY to Indiana, to Chicago, to Jena, LA (remember the Jena Six?) to a facility in Texas right on the Mexico border and now back to Chicago.

Protesting Jena Six arrest 2006
With UK students

Imagine that you are his wife, Pansy Valdez, a forty-something Black woman from Springfield, KY who has rarely left the county... and who depends upon "Big Daddy" for her livelihood and that of their foster daughter, Pupcake. You're going to have to roll with me on the nicknames. So far every person I've met has one, including me. I'm "Casey's mama," and almost never Cynthia.

Pansy is beside herself. Benjamin is not a criminal nor a felon and he has been here for eleven years, they are married, and his paperwork for staying is almost complete. But he is being treated like a criminal, or worse, like an animal. Moved from place to place, indiscriminately, denied contact with his family, and proper care and attention. I'm also disturbed by the way Pansy, a Black woman, is treated by the system. In this case, Black Lives and Brown lives do NOT matter.
Legal papers

Since I wrote about their plight, I've become friends (on Facebook) with a young woman at Transylvania University who is a DACA recipient and who was the victim of a racist and hate-filled campaign by another student. He has since withdrawn, but the issue gives off the scent of having been swept under the proverbial carpet.

I heard from a young man I know here in Washington County, a college student who has also been covered by DACA. The latest earthquake in Mexico struck his home city, and he would love to go there to provide aid, but he can't because he realizes he may not be allowed to return to this country.

Knowing individuals affected by these policies is something I highly recommend. It brings a humanity and a reality to the brutal and disruptive lack of sensitivity with which families and communities are being wrenched apart. Immigrants, both legal and undocumented, have been tolerated and even encouraged in this country for decades largely because they worked hard for low wages. Blaming them for coming here to escape dangerous situations and take those jobs is worse than disingenuous. It's dishonorable. In fact, if you think long and hard about it, people from South and Central America who are primarily indigenuous people have a closer link to the people who actually once owned this country than most of us (white Europeans) do.


I detest the rhetoric of exclusion and expulsion. It goes against every instinct that I have.

But, as I started by asking, how are you? Because I think those of us who have a softer heart toward the disenfranchised, the dispossessed, the disinherited of the world are also suffering at this time. All around us walls of security and promise are crumbling, and barriers, real and metaphorical, of hate and fear are rising. We are absolutely seeing the worst of our own colleagues, friends, families, and sometimes, ourselves.

Just last week, I brought up an issue at a local meeting of Democratic Women and found myself facing an angry and defensive response. I was talking about how our small county seat had no Black teachers even though there is a significant Black population (22%). They immediately disagreed, and some of the answers were: You are wrong, the Catholic school has a Black teacher; Well, there used to be a Black teacher; and they don't put themselves out for positions.

A few days later when I spoke to my son's 7th grade teacher about the notion of using Teaching Tolerance in the classroom, he proceeded to tell me he had issues with the Democratic party and Southern Poverty Law Center (which produces the Curriculum.)

And these are the liberal and progressive members of the community!

Our friends and acquaintances of color tell us that it's been this way for them all along. "Welcome to the party. We've always known how bad it is. You finally woke up and got a whiff of the Starbucks, soccer lady." Even those of us who've spent decades contemplating and reading, writing and preaching about racism and racial justice feel hopeless and answer-less.

We feel as if we are on a ladder to nowhere or a crazy amusement park ride that the carnival barker won't stop.

I don't like football. I didn't even like it when my son played 20 years ago, but he did, and my current husband watches it, even though the jury is no longer out about CTE. It's a barbaric sport and the mostly Black players, to me. trade their health, sanity, and years of their lives for money. Fans who watch it, well... I just can't understand that. It's like gladiators. But when someone says, regarding the current controversy about athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest killings of Black men, it's a very week argument to say, "they are paid to play.It's their job. Do that on your own time." I cringe. Indeed, they are paid to do a lot more than play.

But IMO, many of the teams came up with a reasonably creative solution on Sunday: locking arms, showing solidarity, kneeling or standing together. It was not enough for some, and too much for others. A point was made.

So, I hope your answer was, Not fine. I am not fine at all. I think it's a most important time to be not fine. I think it's ok to go on Facebook if you live way out in the hinterlands as I do, to touch base, to converse, to connect. I think we have no choice but to stay engaged and figure out, individually and collectively, with as much courage and creativity as we can muster, what is ours to do to stop this menace that grows daily and to win back our country and its place in the world.

I have put a great deal of thought into how we are much like a huge addictive, alcoholic system at this time...which, for some of us, feels almost "normal...," which is why we must keep saying to ourselves and one another, This is not normal.

To be continued...

Friday, August 18, 2017

In Big Daddy's Garden

Walk with me in Big Daddy's garden.

The abandoned shovel, trowel, and rake. Amongst the rows of neatly organized, pruned and tended fruits and vegetables, not a thing out of place, it was clear that someone had hastily departed. Dozens of cantaloupe lay ripe and warm, already detached from their stems. Tomatoes hung heavily from stems that were trained onto carefully constructed supports. Clearly, the gardener was missing.

What are these huge green things?

I was there because I'd offered to help weed the garden and pick the veggies. The garden's owner is a man who has been a part of our community for eleven years, and he's the husband of a good friend, a friend who probably saved my son's life with a phone call. She is very dear to me, and we are currently working together to start a Black History Society in the county we live in. Her husband, Benjamin Valdez, is from Mexico, and despite the fact that his paperwork for a green card is almost complete... he is in custody after being picked up by ICE over a week ago.
I don't know what the sharpened wooden posts are, either!

He's being held in Boone County, several hours away, so Pansy, who doesn't drive out of Springfield, and their foster daughter, who is devoted to Benjamin, and has been through desertion and trauma too many times to count, can't visit him, and he doesn't have his asthma medication.

The tidy and immaculate arrangement of everything was reminiscent of my father.

My initial reaction was envy. How could someone have so few weeds and bugs after a week's absence? Then I realized that no doubt Big Daddy (which is the name everyone uses for Benjamin, and I'll use from now on..) doesn't have an organic garden. I took one of the melons home, and ate it, still warm. It was nirvana. I have to admit that I began to wonder whether organic farming is worth it! I've spent the entire summer battling weeds and pests.

Even the debris is perfectly ordered!

But soon, as I tried to find a weed or two, and then resorted to picking what was ripe, and taking pictures, my mind wandered to Big Daddy. I don't know him well. I don't know a lot about the adult children he has in Mexico. I know he is a devoted church-goer and a hard worker, a foreman in the tobacco fields and an agriculture worker during other seasons. Last time I saw him, we talked about gardens and tomatoes, and he asked about my son... who no longer lives in the county. After I told him how well he is doing, he asked me if he goes to church. His English is heavily accented, and I couldn't understand church until he said iglesia. When my son was struggling with addiction and alcoholism, there were so many people who loved him, cared for him, and prayed for him. I will never forget that. And I am praying for Big Daddy, Pansy, and Pupcake (the daughter's nickname, and I have one, too. So does my son, and everybody in the Black community.)

These are strawberries.

Grapes. I ate one, and it tasted exactly like the grapes on my father's grapevines, of which he too was very proud. I started to think about how much he'd approve of Big Daddy's garden. And yet, and yet: to my father, born in 1909, Mexicans were the people who came around in the summer and worked in the farms. I'm sure he never met one otherwise. African Americans were inferior. While I never heard racist slurs from him, there is no doubt I learned and lived White Privilege.

The garden is terraced, and from the top down we have grapes, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, eggplant, tomatoes, squash & more. As you ascend, a breeze stirs and lifts around you, even on the hottest day. I try to feel what it must be like for Big Daddy, especially compared with grueling, numbing work of tobacco fields in Kentucky heat.

Nonetheless, my father hated Nazis. He lived through two World Wars. He actually instilled a dislike of  Germans as strongly as that of Jews, Catholics and people of color. I had to look at my knee-jerk aversion to Germans! I don't know how he'd react to all of this. But in Big Daddy's garden, I saw the evidence of a man who must have found order, calm, peace and joy in his contact with the earth, his ability to grow something from nothing, his assurance of filling his family with good food. Much like my father.

I think they shared this.

My father, also an inheritor and (I would say) victim of white privilege, worked for the now-closed Frankford Arsenal during the Vietnam War, and until the mid-seventies. I think this troubled him. I think many things did. His garden, I am sure, gave him solace.

At this time during which we are being asked to stand up and take sides, I know that my father's daughters and all of my children are already standing with people of color, with Jewish people, with immigrants, and with the disenfranchised and the disempowered people of this land.

Everything was stacked and tidied to perfection. 

Pansy is optimistic. She feels certain that Big Daddy will not be deported because he has a lawyer and his paperwork is in order. He's one step away from his green card. I share this walk with you because you may not know a person who has been picked up by ICE and is being held prisoner in a country in which they've been a productive and peaceful citizen for more than a decade. A person who is going through all the steps to become a legal immigrant. 

So when you hear Trump or Jeff Sessions or others talk about "illegals" who bring drugs and rape people and who are criminals, think about Big Daddy. A person who plants, strawberries, takes his foster daughter to the pool, worries about my son, is loved by his community, is a man of faith and integrity.

I know Pansy and Big Daddy would welcome prayers and thoughts. Thank you for taking this walk with me. Please share.
Rake, left behind.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


It's a newish saying, this "I have no words." Never a problem for me. But at present I have words, and no pulpit. It also intrigues me when people say, I have no words. No words=silence, and that's the last thing we need. If we ever needed speaking up and out, it's now.

In the wake of Charlottesville, what will you do?

Carry on, perhaps shake your head or shed a tear for the young woman who was murdered standing up against Fascism and bigotry, then get back to your Sunday routine?

Or will you add a new dimension to your thoughts and prayers, your wondering about the future, whether you will be here or not? Will you spend some time reading up on the history that was referred to yesterday, Kristallnacht, Fascism, the KKK, David Duke, Robert E. Lee, and even the racist legacy of Thomas Jefferson? Most important, will you seek out the persons of color (POC) that you know and check to see how they are doing? Most are feeling eviscerated as these events unfold, and especially as they see the President seem to sanction police violence and other forms of extreme bigotry with a wink and a nod. Will you go to church today? Will you confront your pastor if she doesn't mention Charlottesville? Will you counter words posted on Facebook that in any way support Trump's "many sides" narrative?

If not: don't wonder what you would have done if you'd live in Nazi Germany. This is how it begins. No, I don't think it will happen here. Because I still think Americans are too kind, compassionate and courageous to allow it. But it's way past time to show that conviction.

I was more troubled than anything by the youth of the white supremacists: most were in their twenties. My daughter's age. I am beyond touched by my adult children's anti-racism. No, they are not just "not racist." They would all go to the mat to fight racism and bigotry. My eldest son is particularly big and strong. He's also busy and doesn't follow all the news. Half joking, I texted him early Saturday, and said, I just want to send you to VA to beat up these Nazis! He says, definitely. Then, I have no idea what you are talking about, but I'm always ready to beat up a Nazi (again, kidding, but no hesitation.) His life long best friend is Black, and unlike people's "I have a Black friend," he just lives his beliefs.

My daughter posted a most beautiful statement. She works now and has worked against oppression for many years:

I stand with those in Charlottesville putting their bodies on the line for justice. I name the demonstration in Charlottesville as as domestic terrorism, radical, violent racism, as a hate crime. I stand against white supremacy, though I have and will continue to benefit from it. I am on my knees in prayer.

My youngest child, who is Autistic and would have been destroyed by the Nazis, came to me the other day and said, "I got a new avatar (in Pokemon) and I named her Pansy (a friend from the local Black community) and made her brown, to fight against racism."

This touched me, because I started to think about my kids and how they all four have fought for justice and fairness in a lot of ways, not perfectly, but because they saw a living example of service and involvement. Also, far from perfect. But they see that I never stopped trying.

So, finally, I ask parents to look inward and examine their own behaviors and their own lives, choices, and commitments. This mother of the terrorist who murdered someone with his car was shocked. Really? He even TOLD her he was going to this rally. It's not enough to tell your kids, "Don't be racist." You have to actively teach them, not just with words, but with your choices, your actions, and most important your sacrifice, what that means.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

There is no vaccine for this.

I had the flu this month, in spite of having had a flu shot. It was miserable, and I was a little bit resentful at my flu shot for not working. But I had so many hours to lie about, listen and read to the unfolding political drama, and contemplate my over-arching question, that in some respects, it was helpful to be sidelined.

I thought a great deal, as I always do, about how far removed I am from the dangers and threats faced by the people who are directly affected right now. Yes, cuts to health care and medicare would surely affect me and people around me. But I am white, I live in a nearly crime-free rural area, I can grow and raise my own food, and I don't face deportation or homelessness.

Nonetheless, I am filled with anxiety and dread because the people of the world and the world itself, that is, the earth itself, are my community.

I am shocked every day when I wake up, to realize that a significant portion of the people I know, or thought I knew, and love or thought I loved, are actually heartless, racist, biased, and cruelly indifferent to the plight of their fellow beings.

Here's why I make such a harsh statement: Because, even if they didn't vote for or support Trump, even if they disapprove of the racist and discriminatory agenda that he has unleashed, they are, it appears, going about their daily lives unperturbed, or, if they are perturbed, it's about some personal inconvenience. My symbol for this is the suburban white woman who is so obsessed with getting her bathtub replaced until she finds a company that can put a liner in and make it like new... it's as if all of her troubles have been washed away! Imagine being a person of color today, or an immigrant, documented or not, and this is how you see most white people.

I'm not suggesting that we spend all day, every day wringing our hands over the travesty that has been racism for centuries, but is now being brought clearly to the surface. But I do think, if we call ourselves Christians, people of faith, people of conscience, or even human beings with hearts, we must, each day, be learning, listening, and witnessing, to our participation in white privilege and white supremacy.

I can hardly believe that Trump and his "Kremlin Klan," as I love to hear Maxine Waters call them, are being permitted to get away with this desecration of our systems of education, environmental protection, energy, health care, and so much more. Nothing is as painful to me as the heartless and brusque way they rolled into office and signed off on the Dakota pipeline, then crowed and bragged about it as a big accomplishment, with nary an acknowledgment that we literally stole this land by virtue of genocide from the native people, and this was one time that they had all come together to ask to be honored.

But as James Baldwin says, in the important documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, we cannot change what we will not face. In Buddhist practice this is known as sustaining the gaze. I believe that our schools must take the lead in educating young people for anti-racism, and go far beyond the niceties of MLK holiday and Black History month, to a more nuanced understanding of the history of racism. They (and churches) have a moral obligation to augment what parents are evidently not doing at home. Children aren't born racist. They have to learn it, and I'm afraid they are learning it from their own parents and relatives.

The thing that heartens and delights me day after day is the courage of those who are taking risks to protest and fight, to organize, call and rally, for others who are marginalized or who may be facing threats of deportation or other discrimination. It seems that apathy and silence has finally come to an end. The immunity to the sickness may not have worked. A virus too hateful, too horrible, came along. So we, the people, had to raise our own defenses, and we've found that we have, collectively, a heart and a will.

In the strangest way imaginable, Trump really has brought us together. To fight for our country. And to stand for those who, even though we acknowledge we have sinned against them, we have not truthfully and without fear acknowledged our own privilege over them, we still finally do care, we do love them, our hearts can be broken open by their suffering and their pain. We will fight for our brothers and sisters of color and of all statuses that render them marginalized. I can feel that this is true.

Next: Reparations.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Truth, Lies, and Consequences

Since I last shared my thoughts here, we’ve had a tsunami of outrage, protests, travel bans, court orders, tweets, press conferences, and anxious new reports, topped off by a moment of relief in a Saturday Night Live parody.

Facebook, Twitter, and other internet venues have become organizational tools for what is being called the resistance. Resistance is not just a political term. It’s a spiritual battle between the forces of decency and truth, and the forces of deceit and hypocrisy. It’s essential to keep clarity about what is true, what is real, and what is deception. This alone is a gargantuan spiritual task.

When I was a young child, I went to the Statue of Liberty. We actually went several times, since I grew up in New Jersey, and this was a typical school field trip. But this particular time, we visited the parents of our then-new stepmother, who’d married my dad a few years after my own mother died when I was five. These step grandparents lived on the tiny island because my “grandfather” (I am now going to call him my so-called grandfather for reasons I will get to) was an engineer who worked on the design of the museum at the base of the statue. I was about eight, and I remember walking around the few streets of small bungalow-type housing, playing on the steps of the museum, and climbing up into the statue. Early on, it was possible to climb into the torch. Later, that was changed, and only the crown could be accessed. The one thing I don’t remember was hearing or seeing anything about what that statue meant to refugees coming to America. It would be years before I would begin to comprehend that awesome and moving symbolism.

It was while I was in Ireland, 5  years ago, that I saw this photograph in a restroom. Until then, I'd heard the words "a gift from the people of France," but had never been aware of what creating this masterpiece had meant.

But even then, I was at the beginning of a family dynamic that would rest upon a foundation of deception and cognitive dissonance, and that would impact the lives of many people in future generations. The oldest of the four sons that my stepmother brought into the marriage was (and probably still is) a pedophile who victimized my siblings and me, to different degrees. We lived with this untold truth for decades, until finally at the end of her life, my sister was able to convey this to my step mother.

Living with a lie is stressful, anxiety-inducing, unhealthy, and insane.

So much so that the simple act of facing and telling the truth takes enormous courage.

When an entire family system colludes in a lie or deception, anyone who names the lie and speaks truth can be dismissed, demonized, or even expelled.

This is the nature of an addictive system, except that the lies and the layers of deception and mistrust are compounded, layers upon layers. And this is very much what is happening at a macro level in our country right now. If Trump is the identified patient, or the addict, and his staff are the enablers, Bannon is his dealer.

It’s no wonder people feel traumatized and immobilized. Other are motivated, angry, and are seeking out community to work together against oppressive orders, unacceptable appointees, and policies based upon untruths.

Most important is that we learn for ourselves how to discern truth, and how to differentiate truth from lies.

We also must have the courage to call a lie a lie, even if it means offending someone we love or whose feelings we care about.  It doesn’t need to be a fight. “Everything I have read confirms that there was never any massacre in Bowling Green, Kentucky, so we will have to agree to disagree.”
We are surrounded by people who live with cognitive dissonance. Our school system teaches children to believe things that aren’t true. It's not that our schools teach only lies. But they elevate mistruths through selective teaching of "facts" and by ignoring entire swaths of human history deemed too un-patriotic or controversial to be taught. People attend churches and believe literally things that are given as metaphor, as stories. People believe advertisements, gossip magazines, horoscopes, and all sorts of quackery. Simply being still, and trusting your own senses, and speaking your own truth, is an act of resistance.

From this Universalism was born, when our fore bears would not advance the falsehood that those who were not Christian would go to hell. Teaching, at first, that all God’s children would be saved, Universalists ultimately did away with the whole fable of “Hell,” acknowledging that it was a tactic used to scare people into being faithful, and reasoning a loving God would never send his creations to such punishment. Theology has continued to evolve, but this early Universalism was based upon reason, and truth.

We are all living with some distortions of truth. But how many, and how sick is it making us? Knowing what our bodies tell us about when we are allowing ourselves to be enablers or even perpetrators of a dishonest system, and finally refusing to continue, is a spiritual victory.

You will not be popular.

You will not be adored.

You may, however, be respected. At the very least, you will gain self-respect.

But you will be at peace when you go into prayer, meditation, or quiet contemplation, because you and God as you understand God, will see one another in the light of love and the certainty of truth.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


I’m keeping my subscription to the New York Times.

We’re on a tight budget now, and I’ve thought more than once of canceling my digital subscription. But the NYT is the one mainstream press that has actually used the word “lie” in its reporting on Trump, both before and since the Inauguration. Other media outlets have opted for “falsehood” or “fabrication,” or at best have said that he “repeated a lie.” They insist that using the word “lie” means that they have to know that he intended to deceive people by saying what he did: in this case, that his Inauguration was the best attended ever, and (this is even more dangerous and delusional) that 3-5 million people voted illegally, calling into question the fact  that his popular vote was far lower than Clinton’s.

Now Trump plans to use taxpayer dollars to launch an investigation into this outright lie. As Rep. Elijah Cummings said on MSNBC last night, “This is chilling.” When we hear people use the word, chilling…  what are we hearing? We ourselves feel this. We are more than angry. We are far more than fearful. We are way more than upset. We are seeing a horrendous nightmare, the stuff of dystopian novels, play out in real time, and we pass every day, in the marketplace and workplace, people who facilitated this or allowed it to happen. Chilling  is our visceral reaction to that. It is the body’s way of saying,  No, this is not be okay.

Maybe you don’t feel that way.

Maybe you feel numb, or paralyzed, or deeply depressed. Those, too, would be expected reactions. Evidently, some people are delighted. They want to see happening the policy changes that Trump is bringing about. Rounding up of immigrants, splitting up families, huge amounts of taxpayer money spent on walls with Mexico, creation of bad will with NATO and other countries, a sure-to-be deadly pipeline through native lands, exploiting our natural resources to make the few rich, while providing a relatively small number of temporary jobs, for what? Fossil fuels, when all indicators show that renewable sources of energy are where our money needs to go. Silencing of national agencies that protect and preserve our climate and resources. Anyone who is happy about this, or excuses these things because it will “help the economy’ or “bring back jobs” is enabling the machinations of a madman who has been given the reins of power. They believe these orders and bills are so great they can excuse the lies, the abuses of power and the outrageous behavior of Donald Trump.

Cuba. I'll be talking more about propaganda. Later.

So. It’s interesting that Trump doesn’t drink, or use drugs. Often, people who do not drink come from a family in which there was alcoholism or another severe addiction. They repress that addiction in themselves, only to have the genetic tendency come out elsewhere: food, religion, or, in this case money and power. In my years of counseling, I saw this again and again.

I think Donald Trump, like many addicts, is starved for love and affection. No matter his wealth and power, he will always suspect that everyone around him, his sycophants, his wife, even his children, are loyal because they fear/ need him for his money and power.

His behavior is like that of someone in the downward spiral of addiction. It can only get worse.
Everyone (and this includes NPR, all the news channels who’ve decided to normalize his presidency, and, sadly, most of the Democratic congress so far) who does not actively resist in some way is enabling him.

Those of us who grew up with addiction of any kind are suffering a bit more than others. We see playing out on a national/world stage the shame-filled and destructive scenes of our past. The rants, the outbursts, the enablers, the excuse-makers, the tap-dancing, and the lies.

In AA the saying goes, “How can you tell an alcoholic/addict is lying? A: Their lips are moving.”

Addicts lie for no reason. They believe their own lies. They live in a world of self-delusion, and we, their families, are faced with the painful choice of listening (which they will take as acquiescence) or confrontation (which they will turn around on you and blame you for as an attack.)

This is one of the reasons people in recovery strive to be scrupulously honest. I'll go into that a little further on.

So take a moment each day to separate truth from lies. Make sure you speak truth always. I know sometimes I tell the little lies, saying I like something that I don’t, that things are okay when they’re not…that sort of thing. Today I will endeavor to be honest in all my speaking and writing.

By the way, it’s in the Bible, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” And lying is condemned in about 10 other places in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. How do all the Christians who voted for Trump feel about that?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Down in the Swamp, Looking Up. A Spiritual Guide for the Resistance.

It’s been awhile. After I left the active ministry.. for now… I started a memoir, wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, and dealt with some health problems, all the while adjusting to being a semi-retired farm wife caring for our son with autism. I’ve been able to spend some time with my grown children. My son Colin and I traveled to Cuba in December. I’ve found something beautiful and blessed in every day, be it a sunrise, or a flock of wild turkeys, a doe and fawn darting into the woods, the staff and teachers who treat my son so well, a fresh egg for breakfast.

And then there’s… the election.

 The day of election!

A few weeks later, (actually I tripped and hit my face but I did feel like I'd been smacked in the head!)

Up until November 8th, I believed that of course Clinton would win, and we’d have heard the last of Trump, his horrific treatment of women, his racism, his hate-filled tirades, and seen the last of the bared teeth of his followers. I dressed in white to honor the suffragettes on the day I believed our first woman President would be elected. Sure, Clinton wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I felt confident she’d be a competent, reasonable, and capable executive.

That night, my daughter and I watched together as the terrible truth became clear. Seeing her grief was almost worse than feeling my own. How could this have happened?

I’ll admit that I wasn’t shocked. I’d been to New Jersey a few weeks earlier and, driving around the Southern part of the state, I saw sign after sign for Trump… and none for Clinton. And that was in a blue state!

In the weeks that followed, I believe that those of us who were alarmed by the coming regime of this egomaniacal, self-absorbed, and completely uninformed person responded each in our own way. Many of us celebrated the holidays with a sense that this might be our last joyful chance. Some of us went into denial and stopped watching TV or listening to news. Hundreds of thousands of women (and men) began preparations to resist his agenda, beginning with the magnificent, peaceful show of unity that happened Saturday all over the world.

And, blessedly, my daughter went to that march. I’m so delighted that she was able to be a part of that. What a feeling it must have been! This day will be such a part of history, and in my mind, those who went will see their activism based in their presence that day.
Since then, the insanity and bizarre behavior of Trump and his minions has continued on a daily basis to the horror of any thinking or reasonable person.

So this begins my ministry.

I believe that many of us are traumatized by what is happening in our world right now. And one of the things I’ve tried to do over these months of the campaign and the transition, and will be doing as long as this continues (and, for the record, I don’t expect it to last for four years) has been to contemplate and to bring my spiritual tools to gain some understanding of what is going on. Certainly, it’s a time unlike any other in our history. There have been times of fear and anxiety and grief. But usually these fears have been focused upon outside forces. Now we fear our own government, our own President.

To me, his behavior is like that of a dry drunk.

Much of what he does can be understood if we look at him as a person with a sickness and a personality disorder.

The real question is why so many citizens listened to him and believed him in spite of his lies, delusions, and horrible behavior? I have some ideas about that.

So what I plan to write about are some of the ways I have found to keep my spiritual house from falling apart while this all unfolds. I have some experience. Yes, I have actual credentials: twenty plus years in parish ministry, a certificate in Spritual Direction (Jungian and Dreamwork centered), and lots of time spent in meditation, primarily Buddhist-centered. I've also studied Family Systems, 12 Step programs, and "Appreciative Inquiry" styles of leadership. But my true wisdom comes from sixty years of lived experience: For almost all of my life, I’ve lived with an immediate family member who was actively alcoholic (sometimes more than one.) I know how to keep myself alive spiritually .

There’s a lot out there about resistance. Probably one of the best is the Indivisible movement. Doing just one thing a day can keep us from feeling helpless.

But this is a place where I’ll talk about spiritual tools. When Huston Smith died, I read that he prayed many times a day, God , you are so good to me. That’s been a great help to me. It always helps me to focus upon something: my great kids, the beautiful countryside, the good friends I have been blessed to have. I know my many atheist and humanist friends may find that notion unhelpful, but what I want to communicate is this: good happens, as often as bad. And it happens without your will. You and I may have different meanings for “god,” but the idea is to pause for gratitude.

It works for me.