Sunday, September 23, 2018

Faith and Sexual Misconduct

Women are raging.

And women who've been abused sexually are feeling traumatized all over again, not merely by the description of the alleged assault against Dr. Ford, but by the behavior of the GOP, the President and some of their apologists. To say "boys will be boys" or to say "all guys do this" is to open wounds so deep that it seems as if blood is flowing throughout our society.

The rage spills over into social media. Women (and some men, because men are victims too) report that they feel physically ill, and have had exacerbation of chronic conditions.

It's important to remember that so often the initial trauma is bad, but that it could have been far less had there been a vehicle for healing available. Instead, most victims face shame, repression, silence, denial, and disbelief if they do tell. Those who report are scorned by the perpetrator's allies and humiliated by attorneys and sometimes law enforcement. I believe that most perpetrators of sexual violence get away with their crimes, usually for their entire lives. Hence the hashtag #whyididntreport

This column by Maureen Dowd covers the extent of the fury. Read the column.

In my own family, this has happened.

My mother died when I was 5. Soon after, my father remarried, a woman with 4 sons, the oldest of whom sexually abused my sister, my brother and me. In my case, he backed off. I think he knew my father and stepmother would believe me if I told. But the others suffered severely, and their trauma has destroyed our family, our relationships, and taken a toll on several generations. So much of my own life has been devastated by the actions of this person that I am keenly aware of not only the first hand but second, third, and fourth hand effects of sexual trauma. A few years ago, I went back to my home place to live and work, and made an effort to unmask the perpetrator, now in his sixties, who has two young sons in his care. It was more out of concern for their safety than for revenge that I went to extreme measures to alert authorities to his crimes. Although I was listened to (probably because I am a minister), and I had a chance to meet with individuals in law enforcement up to the County Judge Executive, and there was a home visit made by Child Protective Services, nothing could be done. The person involved, Roger Tees of Atlantic County, NJ, was not yet 18 at the time the actions took place in our home. There's no statute of limitations, but he wasn't an adult. So.

Soon after, he and his wife and their young children came to the church I was serving as an interim. They only stayed for about 20 minutes, then got up and left. I suspect they came in an attempt to intimidate me. They did not. I tell you this not to claim a victim stance or a moral high ground but to say that I speak with knowledge of someone whose life was permanently altered by sexual assault and who has yet had a productive life, who refuses to stop trusting men, or people in general.

Roger Tees and his sons

The faith tradition I serve, Unitarian Universalism, is historically Christian but has evolved to embrace many paths to God and truth. We do agree on a number of tenets, not a creed. Topmost among them is The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

There have been times when I've questioned that. Times when I've felt that, although every person is born with innocence and free of sin (where Universalists fall away from Calvinists), there are those who immerse themselves so egregiously in evil that they eliminate any trace of worth and dignity. Nonetheless, my Christian foundation cautions me, as do my experiences, that there is always hope, that salvation is possible, and that even the most unrepentant may yet do good.

This stepbrother claims to be Christian and wears a big cross. To me, if he were even slightly serious, he would have made amends to those he hurt, and he'd be attempting to right his wrongs. He'd have gotten treatment for what was a classic example of pedophilia. If not, his "Christianity" is a cover for what I fear may be continued abuse that I can do nothing about, and what no one else, neither family, friends, nor the state, will do. You only hear these stories in retrospect, and by then the next round of abusers has already been created. 

Back to my own faith.

I'm disconcerted by the number of Unitarians and especially of Unitarian ministers who are making statements that, if I were a male, would make me feel as if I'd somehow been in the room with Kavanaugh and Ford. If you say #notallmen, you're toast, yet some posts I've seen look an awful lot like it's okay to say #allmen and that just doesn't go along with my personal beliefs. How can you believe in the inherent worth and dignity  of every human, yet somehow deny that to 50% of humanity? It's one of many problems I have with my own faith tradition right now.

Brett Kavanaugh is a conservative and a person with whom I likely disagree on many things. He's not a monster. What he allegedly did at 16 sounds pretty bad. I don't know what he's done to repent or repair the damage. He didn't apologize to the victim. Nor did he go on to a life of sexual assault (both conjecture). Nonetheless, even though, as a liberal, I don't want to see him on the Supreme Court, I think he has inherent worth and dignity.  I think he probably did it. It's going to outweigh all good he's done since, in many minds. What if he'd gone to her then, begged forgiveness, stopped drinking? I am assuming he was and is Catholic. Did he tell his Priest? I agree with one wise commentator this week: He should step down. That would be the ethical, moral, and even politically correct thing for him to do. It's what appears to be his lying about it now, as well as his lying and dissembling about numerous other issues, that to me is completely disqualifying.

For the rest of us? I'm not telling anyone else what to do right now. I'm going to go on believing that most people are basically good. It's worked for me so far. And it's what my faith tells me.

Kids. Innocent & Safe.
Inherently Good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pointing Fingers & the Kavanaugh Debate

Every man is some woman's son.

Although he may not have been raised by his mother, someone raised him, and how boys were raised has a bearing on what sort of men they become.

As I contemplate the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, and especially as I read the extensive discussions on my social media (most of them among liberal and progressive "friends"), it's impossible to do so without the knowledge of a mother of adult sons, a sister, and a wife. When I hear colleagues ask: Where are the men? Why aren't they speaking up? I think, what can they say right now? When I read words like this is male privilege. This is what men do... I know I can't say anything along the lines of "Not all men," because that is verboten. I write this because I think the divisive rhetoric will get us nowhere and I want us to be able to get somewhere.

I pray that my sons, my husband, my brothers never did anything like this. I will probably never know. I know that raising boys has been a challenge over the past 36 years. I have felt that my own influence has been offset by the lyrics in the music they listen to (at times incessantly), the TV shows and movies they've watched, and the general culture: books like Fifty Shades of Gray, video games like Grand Theft Auto. I remember being overjoyed when it became clear they'd not join the military, when I realized they would never pledge a fraternity, when the women they had relationships with were clearly treated with respect. But there is much I don't know. Because they suffered from years of addiction, I was not always a part of their lives. Men don't usually tell their mothers the intimate details about their liaisons. And, since their father and I divorced when they were young, my influence was supplemented by his. What I know is that I expected to be treated with respect. I didn't tolerate sexist and misogynist behavior and comments. I hoped that by seeing me leave a demeaning and verbally abusive relationship, they'd understand the worth of women. But was that enough?

Since I have a young son, my sister's grandchild, I get to spend time around people with children his age. I can observe current day mothering as well as I could observe mothers and sons thirty years ago. Here's what I see that troubles me: women routinely allowing boys to boss them around. Women condoning and permitting behavior from boys they wouldn't tolerate from girls. Women letting men dominate conversations, make subtly aggressive remarks, and shuffle all the child-related responsibilities onto them. Boys learn from what they see.

And so do girls. I have a daughter, too. From the beginning, I felt the importance of teaching her that she must never allow herself to be objectified or demeaned by men. And it was clear to me that the best way I could teach her was not to tell her but to show her by my own life. But things are complex. This did not succeed in every regard. Most of the interpersonal negativity in her experiences have been caused by women... as they have in mine. Raising girls not to trust men is not the answer.

I'm convinced that growing up with misogyny unaddressed is how boys become entitled, arrogant, and dismissive of women's needs. If what boys observe is that women routinely set aside their own passions, health, creativity, and even their opinions in order to please the men around them, why would boys expect the world to be different when they become men? Why wouldn't they expect women to be available and even eager to please them sexually?

Men, here's a query you can reply to! Your HS experience?

I can see how this might sound as if it may be an attempt to excuse the behavior of men who do things like Kavanaugh is accused of doing. It is not! Nor do I have any patience for those who say women that are assaulted asked for it, or are somehow to blame. My point is that as bad as things seem to be today, as egregious as this type of behavior is, there are a multitude of things that need to change:

* How boys are raised by men and women
* The influence of culture: music, literature, and film/TV
* Sex education
* Fraternity culture and the culture of violence

Those of us who are mothers of sons can take an unflinching look at how we influenced our sons' attitudes. For me, there were things I did well, and things I could have done better. Rather than pointing fingers at the men on my Facebook timeline (the vast majority of whom are decent, respectful, and beyond laudable in how they treat women), it feels more productive to do some self-examination. Even now, with sons in their thirties and a boy in his teens, I can look at ways I allow people to treat me. I can demand respect and decency. I can believe that I deserve to be treated well. Those are things I can influence, and they matter.

Monday, September 17, 2018



I haven't been blogging as much lately.

Unless I have something to say that is likely to add to the general conversation, I think it makes more sense to wait and listen. When I feel compelled to speak/write, I will. I have so many projects underway, both writing projects and gardening ones, that my blog doesn't call to me quite as often. I've turned off comments for a very specific reason, but if we are connected through other social media, I welcome your feedback.

So, the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. I can't imagine that this isn't raising some issues for every woman (and probably many men), no matter their age. Did that happen to me, ever? Did I do something like that? For not a few, the answer will be yes. How much should that "yes" continue to impact the rest of our lives, if it happens as early as this was alleged to have happened.. high school?

I went to plenty of parties in high school where there were no parents, and there was drinking. I remember going into bedrooms. I'm pretty sure that boys laid either on top of or next to me, but there the comparison ends. Although they (and sometimes I) were drinking, and probably drunk, I wasn't forced into a bedroom, pushed onto a bed, held down, nearly suffocated, nor were my clothes nearly torn off. I didn't have to flee to a bathroom and wait, terrified, until the offender left. And there was never  a second boy in the room. That's just so upsetting, for a number of reasons.

I didn't feel then, and I don't feel now, that I was ever forced to do anything against my will. I'm a good ten years older than the accuser and the accused here, so I bring my own experience to the conversation, because it may be more relevant than someone who is that age today, or was that age ten years ago. As a girl, I felt more powerful than powerless, because I knew that I had something (even if I was insecure about it) boys liked, and I could either give or withhold my affection. The boys with whom I spent this kind of time were inexperienced, usually awkward, and endearing. So I write this not to say #notallmen because that has become anathema, but to say that what is alleged to have happened was not normal, not okay, and not just a case of "boys will be boys".


I was also sexually abused. This happened at a much younger age, around nine or ten, when the oldest stepbrother of four moved into our home after our mother died when I was five. Because I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, he backed off after making numerous attempts to groom and grope me, and I spent the next year or two, until he moved away, hiding from him. Tragically, he did succeed with my brother and sister, and their trauma has been far worse than mine. But even with what happened to me, I've been affected in ways that continue to have repercussions decades later. So, it's easy for me to believe that the accuser is still affected, as well as to believe she did not tell many people. Neither did I.


Here's why I think what happened to her happened, and why so many women signed a letter supporting her attacker:

His actions were those of an entitled, pampered, male from the upper classes of American society. Much like Trump, he believed that if he wanted something, he could just take it. Of course, he kept that sort of behavior in check over the remainder of his adult life, because what he wanted would be undermined by allegations like the one that has arisen. There is a class of people who are making decisions for us, who are running our institutions, and who are taking our money, who have never experienced the day-to-day life of American people. This is epitomized as much by Brett Kavanaugh throwing a 15 year old girl on a bed at a party as it is by Donald Trump throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria.

Strangest of all is that those who are enabling this triumph of entitled imposters are the poor and uneducated who have never seen the inside of a prep school, and who might think what Kavanaugh did is no big deal, yet sit back and ignore the rape of the environment, the stifling of peace accords, the undressing of trade economies. Who are being assaulted themselves, and don't even know when they're getting groomed.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Leaving Home

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~John O' Donohue~

Seth asked me, Mom, do you know the 5 stages of grief?

And as he rattled them off: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, I blurted out, Of course I do! It was my job. Remember? But how do you know them? 

Seth regularly astonishes me with the nuggets of wisdom and information he gleans from his "studies" on YouTube and the Internet (yes, we have restricted mode one & locked. Do you?) Still, since we were driving to a big going-away celebration (maybe that's the wrong word) for my middle son, who is headed off to work on his PhD in New Mexico, a 4-5 year venture, and who, if he stays on trajectory and decides to teach, may not move back to Kentucky... it was a timely topic. My son's friends are legion, and loyal. He makes friends easily everywhere he goes. They all know how gregarious he is, and how he's the one with ideas and inspiration, who calls people up, makes plans and makes stuff happen. He's also pretty much always upbeat, and he's generous of time and spirit. He's as loyal to them as they are to him. Sometimes, when I'm being introduced as his mom, I feel as if I'm a celebrity of sorts. He's that beloved.

The rest of us in the family are introverts. We have friends, but for me, I'd rather have 2 or 3 genuine friends that I can trust and who are authentic and with whom I share basic outlooks and interests. I need to leave my time together feeling better about myself and the world, not sucked dry or wondering, what did that mean?

I'd rather read a book. Or be on my farm. And I think my other kids and my husband are pretty much the same. So at this party, I had some time to see many of my son's friends I'd not seen for months or years, and to meet some I'd never met. A common theme was how sad we'd all be without him. There really was an undercurrent of grief. I have to say that I haven't been feeling that way. I am so happy for my son; I know he'll stay in touch and visit, wherever he lives; I know that we can't plan or control the future; and I know how lucky I am to have had him around for 33 years (except for a year and a half when I was studying for ministry and he was staying with his dad). He didn't even go away to college!

But... there's something else. I've been musing about it. Wondering: am I just in denial? For sure, I'm slow to recognize and feel the impact of major losses. Because there was no acknowledgement of the pain associated with losing my mother when I was five (we were expected to soldier on), I developed a sort of frozen first response around sadness. It actually came in handy in ministry, when I had to be strong for families who'd lost someone, especially tragically. I can go numb for days or years, and then something will trigger my well of sorrow and deep melancholy. I'm sure this has been at the root of many or perhaps most of my bouts with depression.

But as I looked at the group picture I took right before leaving the party, I felt this sense of unmitigated joy. Some (not all) of the people are in recovery. A few have been sponsored or been sponsors to one of my sons. Many are friends from 5Ks, biking, coffee drinking, and other loves.

It kept reminding me of this other, precious photograph I have of my grandfather Patton, about 80 years ago, in one of the early AA groups in Philadelphia. I was reminded that evening that while addiction and alcoholism is still rampant, there is a path to sanity. Through God and the 12 Steps of AA millions of people have restored their lives and gained success and happiness they never dreamed of. In my own family, people have died from alcohol and drug abuse, at least three in the past two generations. However, people have also found recovery and led others to recovery and better lives.

The Patton Family

Sometimes people say, I can't believe how much he's changed!  about my son's recovery. But what I think is that actually, he just returned to the self he always was. He changed when he was under the influence of and imprisoned by substances. No one who has not gone through this can imagine how excruciating it is to stand by while the child you loved and nurtured from infancy leaves you and virtually disappears.

I've described it as a grief that never ends, because you are burying the person over and over. You just keep running through those five stages again and again and again.

You go for years, unable to look at a baby picture or album, unable to laugh at a memory, terrified someone will ask you how your kid is doing, feeling their judgment in their "well meaning" questions (I still feel this 7 and 4 years on) and not even daring to imagine a future.The feeling of shame you have when others talk about their kids' proms, college exams, marriages, and visits is profound. At some point, they stop even asking. And you absolutely feel alone. Yes, there is Al Anon. And sometimes, it helps.

And maybe you are one of the lucky ones. Because so many  do not find recovery before death finds them, and while we do not comprehend this mystery, it seems manifest that those who do must live even more gratefully, and more fully, for those who do not.
My saddest thought was not that my sons would die young; it was that they would live a life of ever-increasing dissolution, never going anywhere, always in debt, spiraling from disaster to disaster, a life that slowly destroyed not only them but all who loved them.

So here's my answer: No, I'm not sad/angry/worried or in denial because my son is moving away (for now). I'm quietly joyful. I'm joyful because I actually did lose him before. He left for years and I came to believe I would never see him again. I was wrong. I am so grateful for his freedom that I could never feel remorse about anything he chooses to do with it. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Dismantling Racism Part 3: Pray Don't Prey

I'm pretty sure this was not meant to happen, because when I stopped to take the pictures, there was a place behind the skeleton of the barn where some new construction had begun. Later, I saw some men there, but I was in a hurry, so next time, I will ask them'

Either way, it fell.

I'd been standing inside it a week earlier taking pictures and wondering about what it meant to "dismantle" racism. 

You can see in the picture below the new lumber to the left..again, maybe that was part of the process of deconstruction, and perhaps they were harvesting all the wood they could harvest before pulling it down. It reminded me of stories I'd always heard growing up of "the old barn" that was on our property and which my dad, with some other men and a few tractors, pulled down so that we, his three kids, wouldn't be endangered playing in it.

He used the good barn wood to make a desk, tables, and some other beautiful things that remain in our family. They are treasures today.

So, dismantling racism. As we pass the 50th anniversary of MLK's death, I think it's fair to say that no one has the answer, or we would not be in the place we are in today. There are all kinds of people who think they have the answer(s) and who are very loud, boisterous, and insistent about them.

Last week, the denomination I've served for 23 years published a report written by a Commission appointed to look into what they call the "Hiring Practices Controversy". Feel free to read if you like dirty laundry, but long story short, our President resigned, our Moderator died, and two or three white male staff members also quit after accusations of unfairness and white supremacy in hiring of a regional staff member. 

Our denomination is in turmoil. People are talking past each other, accusations are flying, and, worst of all, there seems to be no safe space to discuss anything without being shamed or shouted down. There is, it seems, an "official" position which shall not be questioned. So why even have a commission? The Commission has been funded at almost $500,000.  More on all of that here.I hope for and expect some great results.

I struggle with this, not because I mistrust the sincerity and good will of the Commission members, but because I do not understand how to explain half a million dollars allocated to this study when I was turned away by every UUA official I requested help from in my work with a local rural African American woman whose husband has been incarcerated for almost a year waiting to be deported to Mexico. (Their story is in the fundraiser on this blog). I didn't ask for money; only for help sharing the plea. How do I face this family when my denomination claims to support undocumented immigrants and poor Black families and tell her they could do nothing? (By the way, the UUSC did provide resources and connections for us). This is exactly what conservatives talk about when they criticize liberal hypocrisy. This is why Black communities trust white liberals the least of all! 

I may be wrong, since I've been disconnected from denominational activities for the past year or so, but I know how we do things. If I weren't already a Unitarian Universalist, I would run, not walk, away from them as quickly as I could. They sound and look like a group of people trying to use will, intellect and ego to force results. Rather than going out into the world with prayerful reflection and open hearts, we've chosen to look inward and point fingers at one another with accusations of white supremacy.

This all brings to mind the Serenity Prayer, which might be a good start. (God) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that it might be helpful for us to do more praying and less preying (on one another).

And, as Carl Jung brilliantly told the founder of AA, lasting sobriety would never be possible without a spiritual conversion. And I think this is the true problem that my denomination is not addressing. Racism is not just a structural problem, it is a soul sickness that requires a deep spiritual reckoning and repentance, something many liberal religionists have no language nor ritual for.

This week I heard some talk about how what's missing from the movement against racism is a "leader like MLK." I disagree with that. One has only to look at the success of the gay marriage lobby or what appears to be the burgeoning movement by young people for sensible gun legislation to see that movements today can be spontaneous, organic and can reach a point of saturation and success without charismatic leaders.

This is the science of Appreciative Inquiry.

I don't understand why we (UUs) aren't using AI (Appreciative Inquiry)in this process.It involves raising up what is best, innovation and creativity which evolve based upon the positive core value. It has its scientific basis in quantum theory. I know it is hard to sustain in organizations, because I have tried it with one church, that reverted back continually to Newtonian thinking*. But at another congregation, which grasped AI, change and innovation were welcomed.

When I think of places where oppression and discrimination have been effectively addressed, I can see that it happened because diligent, positive, dedicated and creative work came to a tipping point. It's how things like recycling, smoke-free buildings, breastfeeding, and so many more major developments and shifts in cultural awareness have come about.

Racism has a grip on our culture, and white privilege is real. It's endemic. We have to relearn everything we thought we knew. We can do it! We've done things as hard as this before. We have poets, teachers, brilliant writers, and so many good people who can unlearn white privilege. It may happen slowly at first, but just like we saw with the Stoneman Douglas rallies, there may come a sudden cataclysmic moment when the last vestiges of it crash to the ground. I believe this can happen. Not by shaming or blaming one another, but by loving and believing in the goodness of each other, the God-ness in one another.

And from the remnants, some thing beautiful and precious may be created.

Newtonian World View
  • Universe as Great Machine
  • Focus on Parts
  • One Right Answer
  • Predictable
  • Linear
  • Duality (This or That)
  • Objective
  • Value Things
  • Competition
  • Doing Creates
  • Single Reality
  • Material Focus
  • Separation
  • Autonomy
  • Make It Happen
  • Resist Change
  • Matter is made up of “Things”
  • Scientific World View
  • Study of Physical Matter
  • Control
  • Particles of Atoms
  • Finite

Quantum World View
  • Universe as Great Thought
  • Focus on Whole
  • Many Paths
  • Random
  • Non-Linear
  • Wholism (This and That)
  • Subjective
  • Value Relationships
  • Cooperation
  • Consciousness Creates
  • Multiple Realities
  • Spiritual Focus
  • Interconnection
  • Synergy
  • Allow It to Happen
  • Embrace Change
  • Matter is “Bundles of Energy in Relationship”
  • Consciousness World View
  • Study of Consciousness
  • Participation
  • Fields of Energy
  • Infinite


Monday, April 09, 2018

Sympathy for the Devil

Am I crazy? I can't believe I'm away from network and cable TV, and I'm going to watch a four-part series on Netflix called Trump: An American Dream. I'll just give it a try, I think, as I download the first part. But I end up watching all four, bizarrely intrigued. I'll be the first to admit that my husband and I are among those who start our day with Morning Joe and end it with Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes, watching what Trump calls "fake news" and what we call a link to sanity.

But unlike lots of my liberal and progressive friends (and even my own husband), I have a hard time hating Donald Trump as a human being, or believing that if we just get rid of him, all will be well. I sometimes feel sorry for Trump, in a weird way. He seems so unbelievably angry and sad, for someone who has everything that anyone could possibly dream of.

The documentary helps explain this. Born into a wealthy family, with demanding parents and all sorts of childhood issues that would predispose anyone to neurosis, Trump also channels what became a fatal addiction issue with his brother into a lust for power, sex, and fame, since, although he doesn't drink and disparages drugs, he has to fill the deep inner emptiness with something.

One line in the documentary rings more true than any other: Donald Trump is deeply insecure. 

With that in mind, it's easy to see through his bluster, his destructive demands and decisions, his tiresome tirades, and the callous way he has dangled our democracy over the cliff for more than a year. He's not just a sociopath; he's actually an over-indulged, petulant, self-aggrandizing infantile being. He is who he is. It is we, the voters who did and didn't vote, the citizens who coasted along while our democracy languished, who allowed him to have control of western civilization.

We don't want to acknowledge this, our laziness, our indifference, how little we've done to maintain our freedom, our environment, how little we've done to reach out to conservatives and Republicans and people who are economically or educationally disparate from us, so we project all of it onto Donald Trump.

In the past few weeks, a story has come to prominence about a family who were killed when their van went off a cliff in Northern California. As the facts rolled out, (and much remains unknown), two things happened. It became clear that the parents, a white married female couple, had been investigated more than once for child abuse and neglect of the six children, all of whom were Black. It also appeared that the crash seems likely to have been deliberate, a murder/suicide, not an accident. An article published by the Washington Post pointed out numerous questions and complexities raised by this set of facts. Article:  Can't ignore race

Just as it is easy for Democrats and liberals to project all of our frustrations with the current situation on to one person, it might be easy for folks to look at this family and blame the mothers, since they were gay, or liberal, or adopted too many kids, or were white women adopting Black kids, or because they home schooled. That is projection, too.

Likewise, it's projection to make heroes out of people who adopt kids, who take on kids with special needs, who adopt cross-racially. Because this happens, people like these women, who clearly were not ready to parent at this level and intensity (if at all) may have masked their problems, taken on more kids, or adopted in the first place, or adopted because of their own needs for affirmation or love, the worst reason of all to adopt. I know something about this, since I took on a special needs child  nine years ago, and I still startle when I tell people and they express sympathy, or express how wonderful they think we are.

But, in this situation, there are some actual fingers to be pointed. Our Family and Child Services systems are broken. This horrendous story is one of probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of examples where the cries of kids and the reports of adults go unmet. I have experience with this too. My eldest stepbrother, who repeatedly raped two of my siblings, has custody of his two young sons, and despite everything I have done to alert and beg the State of NJ to intervene, they have done nothing after the one cursory visit.

As a minister, I look back, and wonder about some of the families I observed at my church. Do we always ask, listen, and pay attention to children? Besides teaching kids to tell someone about abuse, it might be good to teach all adults what to look for and what to do when they see and hear certain signals. They are common: kids who don't go out, too skinny, under-developed, don't do normal "kid" things, seem scared or anxious, act perfect or too good to be true.

Finally, I've seen lots of online conversation about the Hart family, because one of my Facebook contacts knew them, and wrote about her shock, but mentioned her empathy for the mothers. She was skewered. From every possible direction, (white) women let her know in no uncertain terms how full of white supremacy her remarks were, since she was mentioning the women (white, murderers) and hadn't named the children (Black, victims). Their comments to her were vicious. Whenever I see anyone react with such vitriol (including myself), I think "projection". White supremacy and white privilege are deeply embedded in the psyches of white people. We hate them and want to push them away. Hence,  many (usually young) progressives, seeing these anywhere, become valiantly self-righteous in what they see as defense of  all People of Color.

Sometimes, it is good to turn the projector off, to look within, and see what is there that we might improve. I know that is certainly true for me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

When are we all Stormy Daniels???

our daffodils!

Of course we'd never be a porn star or have sex with Donald Trump. PTL!

Nor am I planning to share any further photos here, at least none of Stormy with or without Donald. Maybe some kittens or puppies or flowers.

But one can not escape her unless you avoid all TV and radio and print news. What is it really all about? Some, maybe most are intrigued by the cheating, the salacious details, the weird little comments such as, "you remind me of my daughter," when she was around the same age (!) but there has to be more. 

The commentators (and her lawyer) insist that the real significance is the evidence this whole thing affords that Trump lies (we knew that), cheats (knew that decades ago), bullies (REALLY?!), and most important, has committed criminal acts of campaign finance fraud. Fine.

coming soon!

It's the age-old tale of a dozen people looking at an elephant, each seeing a very different thing. Here's mine. In the interview (Yes, I watched it!) I saw a woman who was moderately attractive, who looked very tired, stressed, and careworn for someone who is only thirty-eight. I saw someone who, legal or no, made a decision along the way to use her body as a tool to get the things she wants and needs. Talk about her being "intelligent and well spoken" aside, I saw a woman. By the way, who's to say that lots of porn stars and strippers aren't intelligent or well-spoken? Not me!

The extent to which we, as women, have traded our dignity, our bodies, our looks, and our lives, the only lives we have, to get security, money, adulation, or what we mistook for "love" is only a matter of degree but not of kind. The day we give our power and our integrity away, we begin to be a victim. And this culture mediates against women and leads them down this path in a multitude of ways. It's aided and abetted by women, who will take their sisters down, and mothers who raise daughters to play this role and  raise sons who perpetuate this whole scenario.

So, there's that.

But, maybe even more pointed: I also saw in this woman's face and posture and demeanor, and heard in her voice, someone who has been disbelieved, threatened, controlled, bamboozled, attacked, and gas-lighted, now and perhaps every time she has stood up for herself. Is she strong and tough? no doubt. Is she scrappy and maybe even mendacious? Possibly. Is she scheming and possibly dissembling? Could very well be! And.. all of these things are defense mechanisms employed by women who are discounted and disbelieved.

Here's what I want to say: I have been disbelieved and discounted. I have a chronic illness. I have migraine headaches about 25 days per month I can tell  people think I am exaggerating or making them up! I have had people in my own family, denominational "officials," and people in close relationships look at me and take a few steps back as if they think I am "crazy" or maybe too loud or too angry, because they don't want to hear the truth, and never apologize when the truth comes out weeks, month, or years, later. That's gas-lighting. Pure and simple. It happens to women. All the time. It happens because we know things. We're intuitive. Like witches.

It happens to victims of sexual assault. It happens to people of color, and marginalized people everywhere. It happens to children. 

That's what I'd imagine is happening to Stormy aka Stephanie right now. That's what I felt as I watched her in that interview. The one image that I can't un-see is the photo of her slumped in the chair, strapped up to the lie detector, her ample breasts still the most notable feature. I feel like women, and disenfranchised people of all stripes, and men too, often, go around like this, strapped up to a lie detector, always feeling like we have to haul a briefcase of proof around or produce witnesses to validate what we say or that what we assert is true.

But some of us (of all genders as well) but I can only speak for myself, keep coming back with the truth. We are like the daffodils in Kentucky. Damn things won't die! They've popped back up after three (or four?) big snowstorms, many overnight freezes, and wind and heavy rain. Resilient and determined, our mantra is "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."

That's why we are all (maybe not all, but most, at some time) Stormy Daniels. Some of us aren't. If you keep your mouth shut, let "them" have their way, go by the script, you'll get by. But the truth will still be true.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Dismantling Racism. Part 2

After writing about Dismantling Racism  and continuing to think about the topic, all the while driving by this barn, which has been slowly deteriorating over the ten years I've owned my farm, but which took a sudden lean after some tornadoes came through, I realized I had more to say.

The word dismantle  implies linguistically that there was a mantle in the first place. A mantle is a cloak, a covering, a veil or shawl, but it can also be protective covering. We all recall learning about the earth's mantle. And it can be a symbol of responsibility and power.

When I saw that almost all the siding had been stripped away from the skeleton of the barn, I began to wonder whether it was going to be rebuilt. I stopped on a morning when I thought I might catch the sunlight, to take some pictures and snoop around. I was intrigued by the seeming fragility of the structure's frame. It wasn't even made with lumber, just trees.

Some of the vertical beams had rotted, I assume, and been sawed off and propped up with other very precariously propped logs. You can see some of this detail in the large picture below. I almost felt as if it might fall on me if I touched anything. 
Racism is like this,  because it's built on such an intricately interwoven and yet fallible set of assumptions, myths and stereotypes. Its mantle, its power and its veneer are what keep (most white) people feeling safe and invulnerable. It hides their flimsy and worthless skeleton. I think our job, as anti-racists, is to strip away that veneer.

When I do the work of anti-racism I can do it with love and genuine empathy if I see how it is a protection and a vestige of power or worth for some white people.

I saw a Facebook post lately that stated that Unitarian Universalists who are dismantling racism must "sit back, be quiet, and take direction from people of color, listen to their stories, and follow their lead." I disagree. I don't think there is any one way to dismantle racism. There are people of color who would agree with that and also POC who would say, "I need your help. I need your voice. I welcome your leadership." I think white people must have a spiritual practice and be spiritually mature enough to trust themselves to discern when it is time to speak and when it is time to be quiet.

I had an idea. But then, I'm always having ideas, and some of them do not turn out as planned! I went home from looking at the barn, and I was still puzzling about how I will ever get started building our home out on our farm so we can move from the small double wide we live in. (It's fine, but we want to have a passive solar home and I do think the chemicals in this place contribute to my migraines.) We just can't afford it as long as we own the B&B in town. It hit me that we could dismantle our almost -finished (by the former owner) log cabin and reconstruct it out on the ridge where we want to live! My husband hated the idea, probably because the cabin is filled with his troves of hoarded stuff, but I've not given up!

That may be TMI for you, but this is why I tell it. There are so many thorny and seemingly insoluble problems in our world. Each of us has one we are called to (well, some people just want to get manicures and watch Zombies and eat fast food, but they probably aren't reading this!) may be environment, or women's rights, or addiction, or cancer, or, like me, racism. And there are probably more ways into and around that issue than we may even have dreamed. Just sitting back and being quiet is not  an option for me. I am listening, learning, praying, waiting, and studying the people and the history of one small community, and as long as they welcome me, I will use the skills I have, writing, speaking, and motivating, to dismantle racism, even a little. 

Silence is not an option.

Silent Spring 2018 snow on the lettuce ...... 

Silence Innisfree first day of Spring


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Own Private Oregon

Crazy Guru or gifted Saint?

I just finished watching Wild Wild West on Netflix. It's probably not what you'd think. It's a documentary about the Rajneesh Bhagwan aka OSHO who had a commune or community in Oregon for four years, and all of the mayhem, legal and interpersonal, that went along with it. This all happened on a tract of land that was adjacent to a small town in Oregon called Antelope. How these people coped with the influx of thousands of international migrants, formerly homeless individuals (whom the Rajneeshis dumped out when they no longer needed them) and the outside invasions I wonder... but it absolutely fits the definition of a cult. And, it still exists (back in India)and still has adherents almost thirty years after the Bhagwan died. I've been fascinated with cults for as long as I can recall. Just lately, I watched the entire Patty Hearst saga. I've preached and read about them throughout my ministry. I think the fact that humans can be so willingly misled and so easily convinced to follow an evil leader is theologically very significant. Short version here

Surely, we see this now in our own national political mess.

Map shows town of Antelope & John Day Fossil Beds

But I also thought: Darn, I didn't know about this when I went through Oregon. I could have checked it out.

But, it's too late now. The former Rajneeshpuram has been made in a Christian Camp for Young Life, a campus evangelical organization with a world-wide following who, as a townsperson says (Really, I've never seen anyone as mellow as these townspeople!) " a kind of sect, too, but at least they're not running around naked and poisoning people and carrying AK-47s"

some of the ten restaurants where over 750 people were poisoned in an attempt to suppress to vote and sway the county election by the Rajneeshis

I have a fuzzy memory of my original yoga teacher in NJ talking about this guru with all these fancy cars (Bhagwan had ninety Rolls Royces) but I don't think he was someone she had admired or followed. From 1980-84 I had three pregnancies and two children, so I have almost no recollection of these events.

Bill & Louise Shellabarger

I heard about Oregon from the time I was young. Oregon was the place one of my aunts, my mother's sister Louise, the "baby" in the family of seven children, had gone off to after she'd married a soldier. They met either during or after WWII (Aunt Louise was in the WACS, an acronym no one bothered to explain to me, and which, like so many things, I didn't feel emboldened to ask about).When she was spoken of, quite often, it was with a sense of awe and reverence, as one might speak of the departed.

This because in those days, few people could afford to fly across country, and the one or two road trips people made in their life times became legendary. In fact, my own parents had made such a trip with my mother's parents (and Louise's) and there were photos to prove it, my granny and Pop-Pop standing side by side in front of an old roadster, arms at their sides, my grandfather in a suit and felt hat, Granny in her go-to flowered shirtwaist and clunky oxford shoes. It may have been my parents' honeymoon, in-laws included.
Louise, front right. Back row: Marjorie (my mother), Mary Ruth (Aunt Ruthie), Mora (died young), Aunt Adele (wife of Uncle Wade who died of alcoholism), Front: Joyce, (died of alcoholism).

I'm told the Shellabargers came east and saw us as infants, but after that, the only visits were made by my Aunt Ruthie, who survived all her brothers and sisters, and lived to be 86. Louise died suddenly of a heart attack (as did my mother, my uncle J.D., and those others who did not die of alcoholism or die tragically young.)

Shortly after my divorce, I did what almost everyone thought was a foolhardy thing, and took my two young and very active sons on a road trip. We traveled in a great arc around the country, hitting 21 states and a multitude of National Parks. After that trip, I entered seminary, to pursue my (also deemed foolhardy)  notion of becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister, and turmoil ensued: a custody battle, which most of all damaged my sons, years of upheaval, and later, challenges they would both take years to resolve. I am so glad we had that summer, that trip, that foolhardy journey.

Casey, me, Colin, Buckaroo

Naturally, Oregon was a goal. (I also recall that we all said AH-regahn, just like we said FLAH-rida, and AH-range. A NJ thing.) Sometimes, you hear certain family myths all your life, and you start to think they aren't true... they're just stories, completely false or partly made up. I recall that Aunt Ruthie did fly out to see Louise several times during my childhood, and it wasn't Ruthie but maybe my dad or uncle who I can remember saying about Bill and Louise that they let the cat walk around on the table and eat the butter. Clearly they were appalled by this. And they, in turn, must have left an inverse impression on them (which got passed along) because when I finally met my cousin Nelson, she said she always imagined us living in a city where there was no grass, only concrete (we lived in South Jersey on 4 acres, very rural) and that we drank our coffee with our pinkies in the air.

But I am getting ahead of myself! What intrigued me the most about stopping in Oregon to meet these people (it was 1991 and Louise had died by then some years earlier) were their names. I'd always been fascinated with the name "Nelson" for a girl, but Aunt Ruthie had been telling me that Nelson now had a son named Buckaroo. How could that be? And this of course intrigued my sons, ages 6 and 9, as well. Who would saddle (pun intended) their kid with a name like Buckaroo?

John Day Fossil Beds NM

The first stop we made in Oregon was at John Day Fossil Beds. What a cool place! First, let me say this trip was pretty much un-planned. We stuck a big map on the wall of our living room for several months before we went and charted out a route based upon things people suggested or things we really wanted to see. But about three days in, near Johnstown, PA, we (or really I) made a decision that we would 1) stick to National Parks and monuments because I suddenly realized they were virtually free, tons better than anything you could pay for, and unique hidden treasures. (Back then, there were fully-funded Ranger Talks and programs.) Now, over 35 years later, I have my Senior Pass.... and 2) take as many random suggestions and invitations as we realistically could along the way. Yes, I now realize this sound extremely dangerous. I still think I'd do it again. But, I digress. I've written an entire book about that trip. 

For what ever reason (I know mine, just not his) Colin and I agreed we would come back to live in the Ranch House at John Day when he grew up. Like, somehow, just he and I were going to get the house from the National Parks and live in it with nobody else. That never happened.

Ranch House, John Day, Oregon

 But guess what did happen? Colin lived in Oregon this winter, near the coast, where he worked on a crabbing boat. Nelson and her family aren't in Oregon anymore. Or he'd have visited them. He gets his wanderlust and spontaneity from me, I'd say.

Colin (left) with crab haul

We then went to see Crater Lake, also a National Park, but a much more well-known one, because so many people had recommended it. I was pretty determined to get to the places I wanted to get to throughout the trip, so I just forged ahead, but I recall seeing more and more and more snow as we ascended, and the road was pretty treacherous. We set up our tent after dark, in the snow, but ended up sleeping in the car. It was pretty, but we headed back to the Visitor Center by noon.

From there I called my cousin. I didn't bring a phone number with me. I called information. The only reason I was able to find her is that Shellabarger is an uncommon name. If I'm not mistaken, I reached my cousin Bill, her brother, and he gave me her number. She was delighted to hear from us, and told us where to meet her, at a bar up the road from the ranch they live and worked on, so that was that. We had a great visit. The kids went fishing, and Buckaroo was everything his name could have made you dream of. He swaggered out in boots and a big ten gallon hat, and they ended up trading the hat and boots to the kids for tapes and Patagonia shorts.She had a box of old pictures in her mobile home, and we poured over them. What family does. At a certain point she looked down and said, look. We have the same hands. I wish I'd taken a picture.

What amazes me most about that trip through Oregon, finding my cousin, and having my kids meet their cousins Buckaroo and John how easy it all seemed, with no GPS, just maps, no cell phones, just phone booths, and no way to even know if where we were going or staying along the way was safe. I was truly indomitable at that point on my life. I was 36.

I returned to Oregon  (Portland) a few years ago, as a minister, when our denomination held its annual assembly there. My full-time professional ministry was winding down, and I was half way through a two-year interim ministry in NJ. It was a joy to attend the sessions and the workshops this time. I could treasure the things I knew I'd not see but perhaps a time or two again. I stayed at an Airbnb some distance from the convention center, and took a bus to the gatherings. It was in a funky, eclectic neighborhood, and I enjoyed checking out the cafes and bistros and one day, accepted the gift of a bicycle tour from my airbnb host (who was also a tour guide). It's a hilly city, but I was riding a brand-new electric bike, and we were offered legal marijuana at stops along the way. I didn't partake, since I didn't own the bike.. but the views and company were fabulous, even un-enhanced.

That was an entirely different Oregon. So was the Japanese garden and tea house I found nestled right in the middle of a busy city block, walled off, peaceful, elegant, utterly restful and serene. At that particular General Assembly, we'd just heard about the Charleston shootings, and I recall sitting with a dear colleague, watching as President Obama broke in to "Amazing Grace" at the Reverend's funeral. I needed space and time to process this, and so much more. It seemed fitting that the ministry I was about to launch on my first visit was ending there in Oregon. So much heartbreak. loss, and disappointment had come between those two visits and yet there I was. I had enormous gratitude for what remained.

As I became more engaged in anti-racism writing and reading, it came across my radar that Oregon had been intended as an all-white state. So, this same place, of majestic and serene beauty, of kooks and ranchers and hippies, tree-huggers and foresters and tea houses and crabbing boats, is all one place. It's the same place where the Bundy brothers took over the bird sanctuary. It's the place where my daughter's best friend from Smith College comes from, even though I imagined she'd have have some upper crust friends from the Cape, you know, it was Prina, whose parents had emigrated from India, and owned a hotel/motel in the small community of Redmond, with whom she bonded. Oregon!

In that same way, each of us is at once one and yet many different persons.Whitman: I am large. I contain multitudes. It's so hard for me to remember this when I look at others... so hard! But it's also hard to remember about myself. I'm not the person everyone wants me to be or expects me to be or that even I expect myself to be. I have hidden tea houses in me and I also have crimes against humanity. Don't you? Sometimes, I can see Mt. Olympia and sometimes I am trying to call someone, and I am calling, but they aren't there, and no one is there, and who I need to call is gone forever. The best lesson for me is that if I had never traveled with my sons, or taken the chance to meet my cousin, or find that tea house, if Colin hadn't jumped onto that crab boat, we wouldn't know a thing. That's what Oregon's taught me. So far.