Do Not Be Afraid: Are You F***ing Kidding Me

 

Someone once told me that the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” is in the Bible 365 times. Once for each day of the year, I guess.  I don’t know if the count is correct but it does seem to be a biblical theme of some importance.

In my life I’ve been afraid (and often overcome the fear) of:
dying
giving birth
coming out
sharks
mad cow disease
being in a wreck
having a terminal illness
losing someone I love
flying
failing
… the list goes on, but you get the gist.

These days I’m afraid in ways I’ve never been before. The constants in our lives are no longer certainties. Not longer can I assume that:
-our governing bodies ultimately put the nation over self-interest
-our president is not the pawn of a foreign and hostile nation
-our structure as a nation of laws will survive
-our people stand on common ground amidst disagreements
-our nation is bending the arc of history toward justice.

Those are things I believed, that grounded my way of being in the world. Yes, I know there was much evidence to the contrary, but my experience was that our deeper values of freedom and justice would prevail because I have seen and been a part of years of radical change – albeit slow – of civil rights for African-Americans, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights… We are not there yet but our trajectory was on course.

Now I am deathly afraid of this slow-motion dive. If our nation was a jumbo jet I feel like I’m watching it break apart in v-e-r-y slow motion while diving at the speed of sound. We see it. It’s happening. Solutions are sluggish when  we need immediate and desperate measures. Many of our leaders appear to be wearing blinders at best or are colluding with a hostile power at worst. It is not a paranoid statement when  I’m referring to Senators and Representatives who are funded by Russian money siphoned through the NRA.

So how the hell do we not be afraid? Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods or could it be inviting us into a way of living when fear overwhelms us?  Maybe it’s an invitation to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Do what, you might well ask.

So far this is what I can imagine doing  while terrified:
-fighting for the ideals on which this nation was founded
-speaking out, speaking up, making noise,
-living as if we will emerge from this horror.

When my daughter was in high school I took her to see Richard Harris in Camelot. The closing scene is of Arthur telling a young squire to remember what Camelot was: a place where majestic dreaming commenced. He sings this song in the midst of the smoky ruins of battle. Before the curtain dropped I began to cry. I cried all the way to the parking lot and sat in our car with my head pressed against the steering wheel until my wrenching sobs quieted. The loss of hope, of a time of justice, of seeking the good, was too much for me to bear. I’m feeling like that now but I and we cannot afford the luxury of letting our fears and grief overwhelm us.

I believe a pastor’s most important task is to see and offer hope. Here is what I can offer today:
– when others count on our fear to paralyze us, we discover our courage
-when the plane is plunging into destruction, we pull up
-when fear isolates us, we come together to make change

Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods when it repeatedly encourages us not to be afraid? I think not, though sometimes I feel like it is. ‘Don’t be afraid’ means to me that we live into our truths, that we don’t allow fear to control us. It means we can pull up. As afraid as I am, I have another vision of our crashing plane and it’s this:

We can make it through these times if we hang together.
Hold me up and I will hold you up.
I am less afraid when you are with me.

 

Healing the Divide

I’m not alone in thinking about the horrific divide in our nation. The chasm seems so great that we cannot imagine reaching across – or that if we try we would tumble into the abyss.

I have several thoughts I’d like to share that may be a way back to one another. Let’s start with the premise that we need one another. Stretch with me. Even if you have to say ‘I need the Trump supporter who manufactures washing machines’ or ‘I need the liberal who produces my favorite TV show.’ Let’s start here.

Now let’s take what we know from science: different people are wired differently. We can see that in things as simple as cilantro tasting like soap to some and like heavenly elixir to others. Science has also shown us that there are differing ways brains are wired and differing motivations. Conservatives tend to be motivated more by fear and liberals more by compassion. Here’s a great link to an NPR segment from Hidden Brain entitled Red Brain/Blue Brain:

https://www.npr.org/2018/10/03/654127241/nature-nurture-and-your-politics

Then I think about the great American historian, Joseph Ellis, who wrote the ground-breaking work, Founding Brothers. His research is stellar and his premise (and I’m boiling it down with impunity) is that the reason our political revolution was a success is  because, though the political arguments then were nearly identical to the political arguments today, it is the  relationships between our fore brothers  that made for a third way. They respected one another and though they disagreed profoundly were able to create a third way making use of the strengths of each.

As a liberal or progressive raised as a military brat I have a bird’s eye view to both sides. What I have discovered is that neither side is absolutely right nor is either side absolutely wrong. I was a pacifist at an early age. No war. No way. No how.
Then I was exposed to the Nazi history of the holocaust and to KKK lynchings in the South.
Like Bonhoeffer, my absolutes were challenged. Not by another absolute but by the idea that maybe absolutes are chilling and unwieldy in themselves.

So where does that leave us? I have lots of thoughts about this. First, we have to stop fear-mongering and call out those who do. Our president is the worst in this category. He whips conservative fears into a frenzy then offers solutions that cannot be met. Then we have to listen to the concerns born of fear and find reasonable ways of responding to real concerns. Next, let those of us motivated by compassion acknowledge that some fears are reasonable. Then let the same compassion work to find ways forward that are respectful of the fears: reasonable vetting, for one.

The elephant in the room that must be addressed is truth. Or more important: lying. We must accept factual information backed by science, research, observation, and data. Lying and the rise of ‘alternative facts’ is the slimy slope that both demeans and abuses our conservative neighbors. I’m not sure how to address this but I am sure I will write about it again. We must be able as a nation, a world, and family members to distinguish between fact and opinion.

Finally, and most important, we have to start seeing and treating one another as important team-mates. When we propose policies let us be informed by one another and stop seeking absolutes. The foundation of this nation is based on finding a third way. Period. So, my friends, this is an invitation to complex thinking, to nuanced thinking, and to the possibility that we are all wrong sometimes.

 

Begin Again

The new year invites us to start over.
Start to diet again.
Start to organize your papers, office, closet
… life
Start to exercise more
pray more
study more
meditate more…
It is the time of year that invites us
to do it different this time.
To be different
do better.

St. Benedict’s wisdom beckons through the ages,
reminding us that always we can begin again.

Remember that we can begin again
not only each year
but each day
each hour, if we need to…

May our guiding star,
be the one that hangs over a manger,
blazes into our imaginations
scorches our spirits
Let it be the one that turns us
again and again,
orienting us each time
toward  the Light
that is both map
and path.

 

Christmas is Not About Facts

Frankly, I don’t care if Jesus was born in April or December.
Whether it was a stable or guest room.
I don’t care if Mary was a virgin or not.
I don’t care whether Christians enfolded the celebration of winter solstice or any other spiritual celebration into the celebration of Christmas.

They all point to the same star, comet, or whatever.
They all point
to hope
to Godde’s intervention
to the lesson that
Godde is with us
and in us.

Our stories are stories
to mark time
to mark shifts in understanding
and new openness
to unimagined possibilites
and outrageous dreaming.

Our stories try to
wrap the gift of Love
in beautiful words
and extraordinary pictures
in characters that resonate
across time.

Is it true? I have been asked.
And I wonder what the questioner means
am I being asked,
are the facts of the matter true?
We will never know by scientific method
or any other method
so I must believe the ‘facts’ have no meaning.

What has meaning is
that we experience Godde-with-us
that we stand in awe of the vulnerability of the Sacred
that we bear the Light of hope
that we see visions of Godde’s dream for humanity
that we are utterly undone by the miracles
we experience every day:
birth
and life
and connection
and the Mystery
and Miracle
that moves among us
every time we see Godde
in unexpected places.
Every time Godde calls us
to bear witness to something
both wonderful
and beyond our ability to
comprehend.

The Trouble With Needing People to Be Perfect

I ‘m on a tear today. First, because I was woken up by my car mechanic with bad news about the OUTRAGEOUS cost of a car repair that is absolutely necessary. It wasn’t the start of my mood, but it didn’t help.

This whole week, since the death of President George H. Walker Bush, I’ve listen to remembrances, eulogies, and critiques of the man. Depending on the opiner, he was either  a saint or a demon. Not much of what I have heard is nuanced. So here’s my two cents worth.

I didn’t like his domestic policies, by and large. But then, I often disagree with Republicans over domestic policy. His were no worse than other Republican presidents and better than some  others. But it never occurred to me that he didn’t have the interests of the nation at heart, no matter how misguided or tone-deaf he was. I didn’t always agree with him about international policies but, in retrospect, I see how important the way he handled the collapse of the Soviet Union contributed to world peace. It takes a decent man not to gloat.

As a man, and not a political figure, I admire his love for his wife and children, his kindness to people with whom he disagreed, his love of baseball, and his genuine humanity. He was not perfect. He was a good man who could make bad decisions that affected millions of people – even the entire world. But I get that his desire was to do good, to work for the betterment of the country.

I can’t be bothered to hate a man who tried to live an ethical life; who, like my own father, lived a life in service to the nation. I can’t hate a man because we disagreed or because he wasn’t perfect.

What I do hate is the judgment and intolerance of others. I hate it with a passion. To those who are intent on a harsh and final judgment of George H. W. Bush,  I would like to say, you are going to hate it when someone holds you to an impossible standard. You may hate yourself right now. I humbly suggest that we critique ourselves and others by a standard other than perfection, one that allows for our humanity.

We live in a time where our current president can be distinguished by his lack of humanity. Let’s save our judgment for that.

 

Scrappy and Spiritual

Mentors, friends – even heroes and heroines – challenge me to nurture spiritual discipline by their example. They have deep spiritual practices. Their prayers, unlike mine, are not spewed while driving in rush hour traffic  on I-285.  Nor is their language coarse and ribald.

Like my mom, many rise in the morning and spend time with scripture and in prayer. They journal. They draw on and into a deep peace. They center.

Well, I center, too but somehow it looks really messy. Today I unleashed a barrage of foul language and beat my steering wheel in frustration while merging onto the highway. The driver’s utter disregard for the rules of traffic as she passed me in the merge lane flew all over me.  It was only after I lost my cookies that I told myself to take a breath and center. And then these thoughts occurred to me:
– I couldn’t be that angry with her, what was I really mad about? (I figured out it was reflexive and I needed to chill)
– What was happening in her life that gave her that sense of urgency?
– What if I just let go and loved her?

I ended up being my best self. By Godde. Sometimes I wonder what would it be like if I weren’t a scrappy, earthy, unleashed woman. I don’t mind that I cuss like a sailor (though it drove my mom nuts). I agonize that I am undisciplined.  I sometimes wonder if I am spiritual enough. I always ask if I could do better.

The truth is I can do better. That’s the thing about being spiritually engaged. We don’t really arrive anywhere, we just ‘be’ more deeply ourselves and ‘be’ more deeply with Godde. At the same time I am enough. And you are enough. It’s okay to be imperfect. Any relationship, even – or especially – our relationship with Godde takes time and attention. It  can look different for different people. And while I remain deeply grateful for those who pray, meditate, and center on Godde in a more disciplined way, while I will always  learn from them, be inspired, and even convicted by them,  in my better times I know that how I pray and meditate and center is good, too. It only takes doing.

Find your way.
Embrace it.
Practice it
Keep getting better at it.
Be intentional.
Be yourself.
Be enough.

 

We Are Herod

 

I woke up to images of children being tear gassed.
Babies in agony.
Mother’s with no power to protect.
Men in protective gear at war
with the most vulnerable among us.

Is it only two thousand eighteen years ago
that a baby threatened an empire?
That children were slaughtered in the name of fear?
Are we really going to do this again?
and again?
and again?
and again?

This is who we are:
We are Herod
We are Rome
We are  empire perpetrating itself
on the backs of the powerless
whose only sin is hope.

We are no longer a shining city on a hill.
We are soldiers following orders
marching again to Nuremberg

If there is any redemption
we will find it in the tent cities
where children have no place to lay their heads
we will find it in the desert
where families are fleeing violence and oppression
we will only find it where others refuse to look.

And if we do not find the Sacred in
the weary travelers at our border
may we, like Herod
be overthrown by our arrogance.

Loping Toward Advent

 

As we lope toward Advent the days get shorter and nights are longer. Cold seeps in under doors and around windows. We begin to hunker down and turn inward. The gift of the dark is gestation. We turn toward the work of the soul. We wait for a new thing. We wait for light to return. This is what we do each year as we linger in creative hope during  in the Advent season.

These past two years I’ve needed Advent more than ever before. I’ve needed to know that it is okay to sit in the dark. It is important to hope against hope. It is necessary to to do the gestational work that will bring about the birth of change.

This year it would be easy to drown in hopelessness as I see the president’s disregard for the lives of many who sacrificed on behalf of my country. Or to see how he shows no compassion for fellow citizens killed in raging fires in a state that ‘voted against him’. It would be easy to become inured to his hate speech in the name of the United States…

But then the unexpected happened. The creative work of coalition building, of connecting neighbor to neighbor,  of incubating strategies, of growing a movement, birthed in the fullness of its time. And we changed the face of our nation. Women, people of color, people of differing sexualities and faiths, Native Americans and immigrants were lifted up by people in every state.

Our representative body is beginning to look a little more representative: 

We are still living in dark times. There is still work to do. But the light will come again when we do the creative, difficult, exciting, hopeful work of the dark.
But the light is coming, friends. The light is coming.

The Struggle: Updated


I don’t know what to tell my sister when she feels isolated from friends that in the past she  would have disagreed with yet remained friendly. I’ve known my sister all my life and she has always had friends on both sides of the isle. But things have changed. The isle is now a wall built with ‘alternative facts.’ What can she do, she asked me, when the disagreement isn’t over opinions, but over facts?

As a therapist I have said more than once, “Feelings are not facts.” By the same token, I want to say, “Opinions are not facts.” Even more than that I am reminded of what a professor at Agnes Scott once said to me, “You have to earn the right to an opinion by doing the work that lays the groundwork for your opinion.” At the time I was gob-smacked but a life of learning has proven him correct. Now days I hear opinions propounded by those who haven’t done the work.

I don’t know what to tell my sister when someone tells her that President Obama isn’t a U. S. citizen. It is a fact that he is. One – he was born to an American mom. Our laws state that a child of a citizen is a citizen. For example, Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Junior were born to Ivana who, at the time, was not a U.S. citizen but they are citizens because of their Dad. (Ivana became a citizen in 1988). Two- President Obama was born in Hawaii at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children and his birth certificate is registered with the state.

Here is what is absolutely important to remember:
– a fact is a statement that can be proven true or false, based on objective evidence.
– an opinion cannot be proven true or false because it is just what someone thinks or believes – it is subjective.

The difficult thing is that those who believe President Obama is not a United States citizen cite unreliable sources. They disregard the fact of state certified documents and the fact that his mom was a U.S. citizen. Instead, they fall prey to conspiracy theorists, who for all the world, sound absolutely sure of themselves without substantive data. Either these purveyors of falsehoods believe what they are saying or they want us to believe them. And once an opinion is accepted as fact they build a house of ‘alternative facts,’ one on top of the other. Just because someone believes what they think is a fact, it is only a truly a fact when it can be objectively proven.

Here’s the problem: if we remove one card the entire structure collapses. So the Limbaugh’s and the O’Reilly’s are going to hold onto that card with a ferocity that borders on fanaticism. Like gossip, the untruths spread wildfire. And, for goodness sake, something isn’t true just because you want it to be true. None of this really addresses my sister’s concern because opinions can be discussed and argued but facts cannot.

A horrible wrong has been perpetrated on our nation in the name of conservatism. It isn’t the conservatism we have known in the past. The extremist right has stealthily overtaken the Republican Party (beginning with Gingrich and escalating to the Tea Party and beyond)and Republicans has given extremism legitimacy that creates and feeds a chasm between the American people.

So, Sherry (that’s my sister’s name) I don’t know what to tell you. I wish I did.

I know that if we have any chance at all to overcome the divide that was created with both intention and malice, we must be willing to have difficult conversations about objective facts.
I know we can’t be complicit with falsehoods, no matter how well intended.
I know we can’t be complicit with ‘false equivalencies’. A false equivalency, for example, is presenting two sides of an issue as if they are balanced when in fact one side is an extreme point of view. Say one presents a scientific theory as being contentious when more than 99% of scientists studying the topic accept it as being true (climate change, for example) and only a distant and non-authoritative few dispute it. That’s false equivalency.
I know most of this is not about rational thought but about ideas that reinforce emotions, most often fear and hate.

Your friends and neighbors are not, for the most part, evil. They love their children and obey the law of the land, they work and pay taxes. They may be homophobic or racist or sexist or anti-Semitic or anti- immigrant but they not beyond redemption nor do they lack the capacity to change. I must confess that there are times I just want them all to go away. Sometimes the greater part of me. But, as Dr. King reminds us, only light can drive out darkness.

We must overcome sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigration sentiments if we are to find our way back to one another. We have to help one another get to the place of acceptance, inclusion, and celebration of our differences if we are ever to be a great nation again.

I just don’t know how to do it but we can’t give up. Keep shining the light, Sherry, keep shining the light.

UPDATE:  When first posted this I failed to mention that my sister identifies as an agnostic/atheist and my response was to her from that perspective. For Christians and people of faith I would add that we must also be informed by the vows of our baptism.  Those vows include the promise  to see the face of God in everyone and to resist evil.

Does it make conversations easier? I think not. Many do not share the sense of urgency I feel about creeping authoritarianism, white nationalism, children housed in cages –  the list of evil perpetrated in our name goes on.  I vowed to resist those evils on the day of my baptism. I also vowed to see God in people who support those stances. It is a challenge. For me, the hope and the work ahead is to encourage the oppressor to see God in the oppressed. Christ was an immigrant, a person of color, and a person oppressed by the empire. He taught love from that perspective, not from the perspective of privilege. We still have much to learn.

Those of us who stand with the hurting ones, who stand on the side of the ‘least of these’, who refuse to demonize those who are not like us must answer the call to love one another, even our enemies, in ways that are transformative for everyone. Keep shining the Light!

 

 

 

 

 

Worship at the Ballot Box

When I was younger  I heard, as most of us have, that “money is the root of all evil”.  Later, my mom clarified it for me that it was the love of money that was the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) So I set out to not care about money. To be honest, it has led to some problems for me as I enter my theoretical retirement years but the idea stayed with me.
Greed is bad. Loving money looks like this: your time is spent getting money, hoarding money, and protecting your right to both get it  and keep it (by almost any means necessary).

To be perfectly clear, I am referring to Trump, the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVoss, and other self-made oligarchs in the United States but I’m really talking about something bigger than that. I’m talking about the love of money being at the root of many of our current laws and social programs. The White House, Senate,  House, and  Supreme Court have made both policy and law based on how best to accumulate and keep wealth. If those decisions aren’t based in the ethos of the love of money I can’t begin to imagine what would be.
Corporate capitalism has many flaws and when we allow those flaws to go unregulated evil flourishes. The rampant greed on Wall Street and in the boardrooms of major companies is the worship of evil. There, I said it. We are in a world of trouble when our concerns are more for protecting the wealthy than for the welfare of the general population. It trickles down: we don’t fund infrastructure because unless it aids in the trade of goods and services, we don’t fund healthcare because the wealthy will always be able to afford good healthcare, we don’t worry about climate change because the wealthy believe they will have the means and technology to live with its effects.

There is some irony that the 9-11 attack on this nation was on the World Trade Center. The heart of the current values of our nation were metaphorically as well as physically attached. It was a horrific event and a tragic loss of life. It was also a condemnation of what our enemies rightly believe we hold dear.
Sadly, even the poorest among us worship wealth with as much vigor as the richest. Perhaps in the belief that if they worship well enough, right enough, enthusiastically enough,  the God of Greed will reward them. Greed has become so much a state religion that those among us who do not share the belief that money is God are considered heretical. We are hated and feared with all the passion that a fundamentalist of any religion feels for those who do not share their world view.

What we forget, what I was reminded of after Trump’s election, at a worship service at Ebenezer Baptist, is that there are more of us than there are of them. There are more of us for whom issues of money and greed are nuanced. More of us than there are of them who worship at the temple of justice. More of us than there are of them who care for the least of these, who are the least of these, who care for the stranger, the immigrant, the ‘other’.

Right now we need to worship in one voice -Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, Pagans and Spiritual but Not Religious – at the ballot box this coming election.