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.