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Moving to Front Royal: The Reign of the Stink Bug

Our not so trusty Honda Pilot

The kids and I moved five days after they started in their new schools on August 15, 2015. The move itself was crazy, and done in small and large parts. I began house hunting in a town called Linden, a suburb of Front Royal. A wonderful realtor named Sue Laurence from Re/Max helped us through the entire process. A word about Sue: she was the first person I met in Front Royal, and she’s a special lady. I’ve known and worked with a few realtors. Jim Souvagis was great–he helped us in Northern Virginia. Another lady helped us sell our last home, but she wasn’t like Sue from Front Royal. Sue is one of those genuinely kind humans who treat you well no matter your situation. She was kind to my kids, all of whom are quite outspoken, and who together form a tight triumvirate of friendly yet boisterous noisiness.

Anyway, Sue met us with a smile and treated me as well as a woman could ask to be treated. We viewed several cabin-style homes and eventually settled on a plan to build a new house. The lot I put an offer on had one of those crane-your-neck out the side of a back window views of a tiny lake. After putting down an offer and then talking more with my bank, I realized I wouldn’t qualify for a loan until our house in Northern Virginia sold. And it wasn’t selling, or would it sell for another three months. It looked like I could lose my entire deposit–but I was lucky. The sellers countered with a request that I increase the escrow amount, so this gave me a way out of the contract.

Nonetheless, I had nowhere to move the kids; I had no home, other than the old one that wouldn’t sell. I was in a fix here, and it seemed impassable. I had already signed the kids up for school in Front Royal. I was committed and obdurately set on getting them into their new schools by the start of the year. I didn’t want to put them through the hell of a midyear transition. But still “she persisted,” as the slogan on one of my t-shirts says. School was starting in a week. I had nowhere to live. I couldn’t buy a house, not yet. I’d have to rent.

Sue at this point worked an actual miracle. She knew a guy of Indian descent—an engineer who lived alone in a tiny chalet in the neighborhood I would later buy a house in, but I’ll leave out the name for the sake of my family’s privacy. Sue knew the engineer because she had represented him on his own house purchase. Anyway, this man was about to take a three-month sabbatical, and he would, Sue thought, be happy to rent the chalet out to me while he was pursuing his spiritual enlightenment.

Two days later, we viewed the chalet, and the kids and I fell in love with it. It’s almost impossible to describe the serenity and peace this chalet breathed with its every last molecule. The inside, mind you, was stripped down. The kitchen could’ve been out of a traveler’s mobile home. There was only 1200 square feet, with one bedroom downstairs and two more upstairs. But it didn’t matter. When you stood on the deck and looked outward, you saw over top ash and maples a stunning palette of mountain splendor. The house itself was near the top of the tallest peak in Front Royal, and at night, explained the engineer, the lights of the valley glittered like several thousand dots of brightly-colored candy. A breeze rushed through the wrap-around porch, and you could see for miles in all directions. We could be safe here, and like one of the characters in my book The Unlikely Prophet, when you scanned the horizon, you could spot danger before it got close enough to hurt you.

I found the money to pay the security deposit and the first month’s rent, which was modest. For a week, the kids attended school via a long commute from our old home, and I spent the days hiking Skyline drive and writing in the library while they got accustomed to their new teachers. I also dealt with another not small emergency. The SUV I had purchased nine days earlier collapsed in a loud, thunking unbearable clunk—which is the sound a vehicle makes when its transmission dies. I spent days trying to figure out a better option. The teachers at the elementary school thought I was of woman of substantial means, because I kept driving different cars, including a zippy but tiny blue Mini Cooper. But finally, with a steadfast friend at my side during the three hour negotiation process, I leased a Mazda CX-5. The credit manager took one look at my desperate face after he explained that divorce destroys everyone’s credit, including to my shock my own, and gave me a good interest rate. He “vouched” for me, which was a kindness I would encounter many more times in my journey as a single mom.

Speaking of kindness, the engineer left the chalet furnished, so we didn’t have to undergo an expensive and difficult move. Instead, we borrowed a dear neighbor’s minivan and moved some of our possessions into the chalet. The drive up the mountain to our new home took us on roads that twisted around steep hillsides, and I soon learned the intricacies of driving on nine-degrees grades that took you on S-curves. That first night, we stood on the porch and watched the sun glide down over the edge of our world and then disappear, and each one of us smiled.

Then we began to explore our mountain. I got settled into my writing routine, which consisted of typing on my iMac in the front living area while thirstily gazing out through wall-to-wall windows at the restive landscape that surrounded me. Patches of strawberries and blackberries weaved themselves into the ravine that collided with the back edge of our property. Ash trees and tall grasses, wildflowers and honeysuckle fanned out along the slope below. If you stood on the edge of the porch, especially when the fog rolled in, you felt like you were standing at the stern of a ship gazing out at edge of the world.

When I wasn’t writing or trying to figure out how to pay bills I couldn’t pay, I was wrapped up ever so tightly in the world of my children, just as they were tied to me. We grew closer and closer as the hot days of August gave way to the still steamy days of September. At night, the wind would blow in through our doors and windows, and when we slept, we dreamed to a chorus of crickets that hummed and blurted out ditties none of us understood. In the mornings, we stumbled out the front door, took a look at a sky that would never lose its hint of magic and fairy dust, and settled into the Mazda for a ride on streets that had names that evoked forests and mountain peaks.

In the afternoons, we walked and talked about life, about school, about all the tiny but telling matters that occupy a mother and her three children. The effect of moving to Front Royal was immediate. We saw good augurs everywhere. My daughter made friends the very first day—friends who remain close a few years later. My middle child not only wasn’t ostracized for his long hair but met two other long-haired boys on the first day. And my youngest drew the longest stick in the lottery of teachers: he was assigned to an energetic, positive, just completely wonderful male teacher. The kids, in other words, were flourishing, which was not something that could have been said about their experiences in what is lauded to be one of the best school systems in the country: Fairfax County. To this day, all three Phoenix children are happy here in Warren County.

Meanwhile, we got our first taste of mountain living. I quickly learned it takes strength, fortitude and courage to put down roots in a world where deer and bear and other critters truly own the land you live on. When you drive down the mountain, you had better go slow on the hairpin turns lest you run over wild turkey, a fox, or God help everyone, a skunk. Deer walk up to you and stare at you, which isn’t a bad thing, but bears come onto your porch and snatch apple pies out of your kitchen windows up here on our mountain. More troubling, however, are the creatures who co-inhabit your home with you.

It started with the stink bugs. Also known as the brown marmorated stink bug, these stinky buggers “invade homes in the fall. Thousands can invade a single home. In fact, in one home more than 26,000 stinkbugs were found.”

These beasts entered our chalet by fitting under the wood siding. And they came in through the windows. They trotted in under the doorframes. They fell from the very sky into our front room via the chimney. Any opening big enough to fit through brought in more of them, and our chalet was a holey thing. It lacked weather-stripping and other sophistications you get accustomed to when you live in a suburb. And we didn’t have A/C, so the windows were always open.

Some nights, we’d spend hours hunting the mottled grayish-brown monsters. My daughter retreated to her bedroom often in a panic—only to find a stink bug grinning at her from under her pillow. One night, we had our first and only fight while living in the chalet. It went like this.

“Madeline, you need to practice your clarinet.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“There’s stink bugs in my room, I’m not going.”

“Come on, you need to go practice,” I said.

“Hell no, I’m not going.”

“But you need to sleep tonight too.”

“Not going.”

“I’ll go with you,” I said.

“Not going,” she said.

“Come on, come upstairs with me,” I said.

“No way.”

“Come on, this won’t kill you.”

“Will too, they’re evil.”

“They’re ugly yes, but they don’t harm anyone.”

“Will too.”

“How?”

“Psychological torment,” she said.

This argument went on for quite some time. Like an hour. It grew heated. I yelled, she yelled. Finally I vanquished all stink bugs as well as any sign of any other bug, insect, beetle or living creature in her room. I got Jim to scan the hallway, Ben to survey the upstairs bathroom. Madeline entered her bedroom, and broke out her clarinet. But it wasn’t over. She never did get over the beastly brown monsters.

My sons were stalwart. And I remained brave—until one landed on my upper thigh in the dead of night. I jumped at least ten feet in the air in uncontained shock . . . and then I killed it. And we killed an entire dust buster in a misbegotten attempt to vacuum up the little serenity-robbers. After a month or two, I attained a new Zen state which admittedly resembled more a defeated resignation to our cohabitation.

And that’s when the ladybugs came.

Stay tuned for the next blog for more on life in Front Royal—and the menacing attack of the “Coccinellidae,” or the plural “Coccinellids,” which is the species more popularly known as the ladybug.

 




Front Royal: Why I Moved West

Two years ago and two months, I moved with my three children to Front Royal, Virginia. For you Jersey natives who go by exits, that’s exit 13 off Route 66, which runs from DC all the way to its end point thirteen miles west of Front Royal. If you’re looking at a map, this is also where I-66 intersects with I-81 North and South. I-81 also has a story of its own: it runs from its northern terminus at the tip of New York, just shy of the Canadian border, to its southern end point in Dandridge Tennessee. As Wikipedia explains, “Interstate 81 largely traces the paths created down the length of the Appalachian Mountains by migrating animals, American Indians, and early settlers. It also follows a major corridor for troop movements during the Civil War.”

I could have settled anywhere in Virginia, but something deep inside me told me to head due west. I picked Front Royal as our new home when my marriage was coming to a grinding end. That last year, when things got hairy at our home in Northern Virginia, my kids and I (especially the corner kids) would leave for an adventure. Sometimes we headed south to Fountainhead Park for a hike along the Occoquan River, but usually we went west. Like early settlers, we were searching for something akin to freedom, and when we went west, we took an exit that read: I-66 West—Front Royal. It might sound too simple, but I basically chose a new home based on a feeling it gave me when I drove in its direction.

While driving west, I felt safe inside. The kids and I would journey through Front Royal until we arrived at the northern tip of the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia. We’d drive along the twisting road called “Skyline Drive,” where the speed limit is 35, until we reached a good hiking spot. By the way, as an aside, Skyline Drive was built during the Depression, when the government initiated a working program called the Civilian Conservation Corps to put the unemployed to work. The CCC was a beautiful project in the sense that it gave the men working under it a means to maintain their own homes and families.

Anyway, we’d drive to the northern entrance of Skyline drive and stop at the gate to speak with a ranger. I bought an Interagency Annual pass for $80 that allows you to visit more than 2,000 federal parks an unlimited number of times over the year. We use the heck out of our Annual Pass(es). Anyway, I’d talk to the ranger for a couple minutes, and then we’d head north on Skyline Drive. I’ve always been a fast-lane kind of driver, but driving fast and driving on Skyline Drive don’t mesh. It’s one of those inconsistencies that life throws at you to teach you a lesson. In my case, the lesson is patience. Once we were inside the park, we’d drive at an impossibly slow speed because of the trailers and out-of-towners who meander along as if every drive were a Sunday drive.

You can hike almost anywhere you want in the Shenandoahs, but we have found some special spots. Our favorite hike back then was at mile 19.4, where several trails extend out on Hogback Mountain. As Hiking Upwards states, “The Hogback Mountain hike, with its spectacular views west towards the Massanutten ranges, is located in an area of the SNP that has several beautiful hikes including Piney Branch and Little Devil Stairs. With just over 1,200ft of vertical gain and 7.5 miles, this is a pleasant moderate day hike.”

If you wanted to look up the trail names (which include the beautifully titled “Little Devils Stair Trail”) you can go here. The parking lot for Hogback is full in the summer and fall, but pretty deserted in November and through the winter. Once you park, you can choose a direction or route. Instead of following a loop, I always go on down and backs because I have the tendency to get lost. Growing up, my children accepted my version of getting lost. I’d giggle and say, “we’re taking a ‘longcut’ kids.” That works great when you’re driving your SUV, but it’s not so great when your “childers” have to hike your longcut.

So I go with the safest way of hiking for me: a down and back. This term simply refers to a hike where you go aways and then turn and come back the other way. Hogback isn’t easy, but it’s deceptive, because you go down a big hill for an hour and you’re happy. Then you turn around and realize, “Oh man, we’re going uphill until we reach the car.” Or if you turn the phrase around you come up with: “we won’t reach the car unless we make it back up that hill.”

Back up the Hill

As we walked and talked down then back up Hogback, we’d plan for our future. I need to take a longcut right now around a hard subject. My divorce.

I’ve been almost spectral-quiet about the divorce. And I’ll probably remain that way. Like a lot of women who went through the sort of thing I did, I am still scared of getting in trouble. I also don’t think it’s fair to use my platform to say whatever I want to say about my ex-husband. This goes at odds with my usual way of speaking, which is to be honest and straightforward, and to speak about the most personal matters without fear. So I’ve been paralyzed a bit, at least on this blog, for over two years now. Yet I feel like I’ve worked it out in my writing. My characters are free to tell my story, sort of, but it’s fictional there and it feels safe. And I’ve finally came to a place where I realize my need to speak freely is more important than my need to speak freely about every aspect of my life, and that one aspect I need to keep private for my family’s sake is the saga of my divorce.

So (I hope) that’s all I’ll ever say directly about why I left.

All of that is a long aside, and I want to end on a happy note.

It’s been almost three years now, and these visits to Hogback took me to a place where I felt safe enough to figure out my next steps. It’s also where I found my new home—off exit 13, in the small town of Front Royal. In the upcoming days, I’m going to write about how we settled here. There will be stories about stinkbugs and ladybugs, mice invasions and mouse family holocausts. I’ll talk about adapting to a smaller, more modest lifestyle in a place where ironically enough the distance between my neighbors is much larger than it used to be. And I’ll talk about how people help one another feel at home in my new home: Front Royal.

Please grab a chair and make yourselves at home. With me. In my new home that’s far, far away from the old hell I used to write about when this blog was titled, “Running from Hell with El.” Because now, I’m walking Home, and I’m walking there with friends and family always at my side.

We all need a place we call home, and now, that place for us is Front Royal.




The Confusion of Charlottesville

We live in confusing times. I keep turning thoughts over as I peruse headlines and spot pictures of men carrying sticks, pipes and guns while supposedly enjoying their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. I get stuck in weird places. Like I’ll be mid-sentence saying, “White supremacists in Charlottesville weren’t looking to peacefully assemble. You aren’t looking for peace when you don shields and firearms,” and then I read or hear someone say, “Yeah, so you think it’s right for Black Lives Matter protestors to wield sticks and pipes, to shoot cops in Dallas, to break windows in DC?” And I stop what I’m doing and loudly reply or think to myself, “No, no, it’s never right to bring weapons to peaceful protests,” and then someone else says, “But what about at Second Amendment rallies? Is it wrong for these folks to lawfully carry firearms while demonstrating their ability to bear arms responsibly and peacefully?”

Right there—I’m stuck. Stuck. So I think about it some more. I dig through the text of the Second Amendment; whoa, I get whirled around by the exact language I see. I turn over words and phrases:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that it says Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peacefully to assemble. That means the federal government can’t make a law that prevents us from gathering peacefully in a public place. It doesn’t say a state can’t make such a law; nor does it say Congress can’t make a law that prohibits your ability to gather as a violent mob; indeed, when you march in D.C. or elsewhere, you must obtain the proper permits and follow limits the police and the authorities set on time, place and weapons. So when the Women’s March happened in D.C., we headed into town knowing we couldn’t bring sticks with our signs or weapons or much of anything other than our pretty pink hats and our walking shoes.

The Second Amendment talks about our right to bear arms. The text says:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

When I read this, I wonder if the First Amendment trumps the Second because it comes first. Yeah, that’s not the most analytical of thoughts, but what happens if you want to exercise your right to bear arms, but you also want to do so while exercising your right to peacefully assemble? Do we think we can gather as a crowd to protest a statue peacefully while also being armed to the teeth?

See, I get lost in the minutiae sometimes. It’s the curse of the time I spent in Professor Belz’s Constitutional History classes at University of Maryland; it’s the side effect of surviving Professor Devin’s Socratic lectures at William and Mary. I turn it over in my mind until I get turned upside down; and then I search for an open door that will guide me out of the chaos that is public discourse in Twenty-First Century America.

Then I eat a tuna sandwich and receive a text from my daughter: Mom, practice is over at 5, you can pick me up outside the band room . . . and I come back to reality. I’m a mother, and Charlottesville harbors the university I want and hope this daughter of mine can attend in four years. UVA, after all, is a good university—and it’s seventy miles away from me. I look up to education. I view the hallowed halls of its campuses as sacred places, and sacred places should be safe ones.

But it’s not just my child that should be safe. And it’s not just universities that should be safe. All our children should be able to walk up and down a town square in safety—just as all our young adults should be able to walk to class without being threatened by weapons-wielding men and women.

Which brings me back to the headlines I keep perusing, and the questions that keep interrupting thoughts. And I realize, as I finish feeding the cat leftovers from the tuna can, that all of this is a distraction from the larger issue. Don’t get me wrong. Let me be crystal clear: no one should ever bring a weapon to a peaceful protest. And all protests should be peaceful. There’s no ifs ands or buts here. I condemn all violent protest. Period. I particularly condemn those who march under the aegis of rhetoric that is in and of itself violent: white supremacy. But those who march for Black Lives Matter should not carry weapons on their marches either.

But this is all a distraction.

From the bigger things that bedevil all of us.

Some of these things seem small, but they’re not. Like today, I asked my son how his lunch was, and he said he forgot it.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I bought it.”

“You bought it?”

“Yeah, she said to bring in money tomorrow.” My son looked at me. He knew I was upset.

“That’s gonna cost me ten dollars,” I said. And I sighed and walked away. Because you can’t explain budgets in any manner that takes hold with an eleven year old. But any adult reading this, anyone who’s trying to raise a family in America knows what I speak of. What little we have doesn’t go far, does it?

A lot of us don’t have a lot. The top one percent of Americans now own more wealth than the bottom ninety percent. Which is to say: America is riven by inequality.

Desperation and separation act as the fuel for our violent civic dialogue. Families are saddled with debt, but during the 2008 Recession, and other times throughout our history, corporations, not individuals, were bailed out of financial ruin. Corporations poison the water we drink, the air we breathe; yet wealthy shareholders, rather than workers, reap the unholy profits sowed by these sometimes legal corporate endeavors.

Jobs are “outsourced” to laborers working in other countries under slave-like conditions; robots, not Americans, fill newly-created American jobs; and corporations are hired to run enemies down in countries near and far—all in the name of waging an endless war against terror. A war that has few boundaries and no stated parameters for ending is also a war that exhibits little sympathy for the lives of innocent bystanders.

Meanwhile, the oceans grow more acidic; the trees in our forests, more scarce. Our scientists warn that our use of natural resources is killing the very earth we live in and is threatening the future of our children and our children’s children. Our very way of living is a violent one that leaves destruction in its wake, and still we carry on and march for or against statues erected to honor men who died eight score and many more years ago.

And yet our elected leaders understand very little of this. After all, they serve with no term limits, nor do they observe any form of meaningful limitation on who can influence them. Corporations are not citizens, and yet they sprawl out across the political landscape like teenagers in a frat common area, grabbing what they can from those who represent us in Congress. Both parties are, in short, corrupt. Each of the two major parties serves the corporate lobby. Each keeps the War on Terror going; each feeds from the same vat that feeds the rich and powerful.

We, as individual humans, are better, more important, more precious, more beautiful, more meaningful—than any of our ruling institutions. We each have the light of God within us, and this light can and does shine no matter how dark our institutions turn. We must remember what unites us.

We are unified by love. We are unified by the blood that runs in our veins and by the light that flows like living waters through our souls. We must seek the light that each one of us, as sons and daughters of the One, possesses. And we must demand that our institutions serve us, as individual beings with light, rather than the non-human, inanimate monster that is the modern corporation. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by old statues, or by ignorant men touting Swastikas, or by angry but misguided minorities who bring weapons to the public meeting place.

We must wake up. And join together in love and in light. And once we do this, we must demand that our institutions follow us into the light and take a route that will lead us to live in peace and in harmony with ourselves and with the Mother that is our Earth.

We—and Earth—deserve no less.

 




Violent Protest is Not the Answer

Where are we and what are we doing?

I awoke to this question, inchoate, unformed, and after a brief moment of reflection, elucidated in the early morning fog of my dream world. I was stuck in a recurring dream I have been having. In last night’s version, I was traveling from one side of our country to the next, in search of my children. I was waiting by the ocean side for them to return to me. Fear engulfed me, and pain. Where were my children?

I spotted them, and the three of them ran towards me. My daughter cleaved to me. I held her to my breast and whispered, “I will protect you, I will keep you safe.”

“But why did you let me go?” Her blue-grey eyes reached into my own.

“I didn’t, I wouldn’t, but you had to go, you had to see, so I let you, and ever since you left, I’ve been looking for you, I’ve been following you everywhere, waiting, waiting . . .” I brushed the hair out of her eyes and added, “I always knew you’d return, and you did, and I was never gone.”

I woke up then. It was five-something, and I didn’t want to leave the lumpy, warm sheets, so I just lay there. I know why I keep having variations of the same theme in the space where my subconscious creates its own world. My world is rooted in love, and my children reside at these roots. Together, we’ve gotten where we need to go, but my mind remains unwilling to let go of its fears. That’s okay, I realize. As one of my friends said this morning in regards to opposition to Donald Trump:

What scares me the most is that I’ve been told I have no right to be afraid. That our president says that if a man has money or power, it’s okay to violate me…and that I’m told that is not supposed to scare me . . . and I’m just supposed to suck that up. That mentality is what scares me. Being told I have no right to fear when the leader of the free world has put his seal of approval on misogyny. That’s the difference. It’s never been okay, and no one has ever done much about it, but now the president says it’s okay. So if it was never okay before to be sexist, racist, violent, etc., what is it going to be like now that we’ve been given the go ahead to hate? That’s what scares me as a woman. So please, stop with this cut and paste thing I’ve been seeing for days all over the internet saying we have no right to be scared . . . At least we have the courage to stand up for ourselves, voice our fears out loud, and say NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY. –Summer Barnes Darvischi

This was the first thing I read this morning. My mind at this very moment was a fertile field for contemplating the state of affairs in America. I found myself thinking about FDR’s famous saying: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But FDR was exhorting us to act with courage despite our fears—he wasn’t telling us we did not have the right to feel fear.

Right now, we are sixteen years into the Twenty-First Century. Over the past one hundred years, we’ve experienced war and famine, revolution and reform. We’ve seen countries rise and fall; here in America, we’ve watched Presidents come and go. Women and minorities have experienced advances in their legal and social status . . . and yet racism and sexism still exist. The specter of violence hangs over all of us, and it doesn’t come from those who voted for Trump alone. Protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities turned violent since last week’s election. Call it rioting, call it anarchy . . . no matter. Looting, burning, and breaking is violent, and violence, like hatred, begets more violence.

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trumpís victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

I see the violence.

I for one acknowledge that it has happened, and I denounce it. Violence is never the right answer. Rioting is not an acceptable means to achieve social change. I always find myself quoting this, and then I stop and begin to think it through. Perhaps it’s my legal background that causes me to ask myself, at what point is rebellion justified? At what point could violence be justified in pursuit of said rebellion? Because I respect Thomas Jefferson so much, I often come back to his writings on the matter, and he has often been misquoted as saying that rebellion or revolution should occur every generation. I think it’s worth reading the full quotation, which I am providing in a footnote.[1]

There’s a lot in this quote, but to summarize, Jefferson in 1787 is arguing with a proposed provision in the Constitution. Drafted as a knee-jerk reaction to Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, this clause would have limited the people’s right to rebel. Jefferson argued that the rebellion occurred due to ignorance rather than wickedness. He also stated that it was worse for the people to remain quiet even when they were acting under misconceptions, for remaining quiet results in lethargy, which is the “forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

Jefferson did not advocate anarchy; indeed, Shay’s Rebellion was conducted in an orderly manner and it was suppressed by state militias. Jefferson advocated pardoning those who had rebelled. He did not support the rebellion; indeed, he recognized that rebellion, when it went astray, was like tyranny in that it led to the destruction of individual rights.

Shay’s Rebellion is a far cry from rioting in the streets, and rioting solves nothing. Riots are disorganized and destructive, and they cannot lead to peaceful overthrow of even a tyrannical government. At this point, no one is advocating overthrow of the government, peaceful or otherwise.

So what are we doing, when we protest? We need to ask ourselves, just as I did this morning when I awoke from my nightmare, “Where are we? And where are we going?” To riot against the sexist and misogynistic President Elect may somehow seem like a good idea to some people, who are, as Jefferson would have said, motivated by ignorance rather than wickedness. But rioting is anarchy, and it leads nowhere good.

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale  http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale
http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

I was asked this morning to denounce these riots by those who stand with me in opposing President-Elect Trump’s policies. I can do so. Indeed, I’m HAPPY to denounce rioting. I’m HAPPY to pronounce and follow a creed in which no one has the right to violate anyone else’s rights. Indeed, that’s exactly what peaceful protestors like me are fighting for: to live in an America where the government is here to secure the rights of ALL humans, of ALL Americans.

What we are asking as champions of human freedom and human liberty, nay, demanding, is that Trump and his supporters hew to the same course. We are concerned, and we have a right to be concerned, because it seems as if white supremacists have been emboldened by this election. We would like for Trump to denounce racism and sexism, and we would like for all acts of lawless and racist aggression to end. We don’t support it under any circumstances.

Where are we going? I am not sure. But I know where I’m going. In search of the best future I can secure for my children.

That’s where I’m going.

_________________________

[1] “I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: and very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a Chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: and what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion.[1] The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusets: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order. I hope in god this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, Paris, 13 Nov. 1787[2]

 




The Desperation that Feeds Trump Supporters and the Other America

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg

I’ve been thinking about how to address Donald Trump’s ascendancy, and it took me a few days to process the election and see it clearly for what it is. My starting place is one of love for my brothers and sisters, but I must admit this election is a little hard for me. After all, Trump has fed the sleeping lions of white-lashing racism with his rhetoric, and he has promised to ban Muslims, deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall to separate us from our southern neighbors. Moreover, at least eleven women have accused Trump of sexual assault, and Trump himself has admitted to believing that his celebrity status entitles him to grab women by the genitals. This is the man Americans elected. And the response of many Americans is one of anger, fear, and dismay.

Like I said, it took me a few days to process my own feelings and thoughts. I shared some of this outrage and dismay. But I am not, as so many people have suggested, a Clinton apologist. Indeed, I see, as many others have seen, the Obama presidency as representing a dramatic expansion of Executive powers, with a corresponding decrease in American freedoms. Poverty still haunts minority populations, and we still see Two Americas, as Martin Luther King pointed out: one is rich, the other is poor. One is entitled; the other is deprived. Under Obama, big banking grew larger and continued its criminal taking from the lower and middle classes; drone attacks accelerated on innocent populations; health care grew exponentially more expensive; real wages hardly changed (except to feed the deep pockets of the autocrats who run big corporations); surveillance of innocent Americans expanded beyond measure; police brutality and militarization spiraled upward; in other words, the rich got richer, and the poor ate canned soup for dinner. If you look critically at his actual record, Obama grew the government, fed the corporate coffers, and did very little to protect human rights.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1620972255/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1620972255/

At least, that’s my take on it. In coming to my conclusions, I was influenced by blogs written by Deb Bryan and R.R. Wolfgang, as well as articles that appeared in The Intercept, Democracy Now, The Guardian, and the website Brand New Congress. Finally, I was also impacted by a book review of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Hochschild spent five years traveling to Louisiana and getting to know some of Trump’s most ardent supporters, or those who live in the economically deprived and environmentally ravaged vicinity of the Bayou in southwestern Louisiana. Hochschild listened to these southerners and tried to comprehend them in full.

I need to emphasize this point: we need to listen to one another’s viewpoints in order to understand why people voted the way they did. Instead of jumping to the conclusion (which itself relies upon a logical fallacy) that all those who voted for a man who speaks in racist and sexist terms are also racist and sexist, we need to listen to Trump supporters and seek to understand their actual point of view. Those of us who voted for someone other than Trump may well feel horrified by the prospect of a fascist takeover of America, but to arrest the movement that supports Trump, we also must understand what fuels it. We need to understand our fellow Americans and offer them another alternative. And we also need to understand that many, many Americans viewed the Obama presidency in a negative light. In fact, many of the so-called “Deplorables” felt like they were drowning under Obama. Their piece of the American Dream had shrunk to a phantasmic sliver, like silvery fairy dust dispersed over a wind-blown range.

Russell Brand spoke of this in a recent video:

As often is the case, Russell Brand delivers a solid and comprehensible perspective on how to think about the Trump Presidency. The fact is we need to listen to those who feel like Trump gives them a voice. We need to understand the failures of Liberal Democracy in America if we are to achieve meaningful political change. Russell lists some of these failures:

Photo from http://flickr.com/photos/58820009@N05/5622506846

Photo by Eva Rinaldi from http://flickr.com/photos/58820009@N05/5622506846

  • Americans are seeking true change, and viewed Hillary Clinton as likely to continue Obama’s policies. Many of these policies failed to ameliorate the lives of the common people.
  • Over the last eight years, there has been terrible unrest in many populations, fed by poverty, racism, and a sense of despair. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, drones kill, and money from America feeds the killings, which in turn feeds the growth of terrorist organizations like Isis. Amid all this appears corporate bailouts without corresponding aid to the lower classes, who flounder at subsistence wages.
  • We still have the mindset that created the nuclear weapons; we haven’t achieved disarmament, and we keep ploughing more money into armaments and foreign entanglements.
  • Hillary Clinton would have continued Obama’s war on the Middle East and she would have continued to cozy up to American banks and corporations, all of which has led to the decline in how real Americans are treated. After all, real Americans fight in these wars, real Americans are struggling to live off of subsistence level wages, and real Americans are facing their Other America each and every day.
  • The conditions have occurred under which Trump could become President. He is merely taking advantage of a failure of American Liberalism, which did not offer a choice that made sense to the electorate.
  • The political system does not connect with people or give the disenfranchised Americans true power.
  • A true alternative was not provided by Hillary Clinton. The Democrats had the revolutionary Bernie Sanders and gave the people a recycled alternative instead: a politician beholden to banks and corporate cronies.

As Russell explains, we need to offer actual not superficial alternatives. Clinton would have continued policies begun under prior administrations that did not solve the issues faced by blue collar Americans. This election, argues Russell, was inevitable and it had to happen–we needed to reach some sort of crisis, so that we could not continue on as we were.

Now we know that politics cannot continue on as they have been. But we must seek change going forward by starting with our own inner reality. In order to change the world, we must change our mindset. And we need to love one another–absolutely we must love one another. We must find a way to see how our brothers and sisters reached a place where such a desperate vote for an individual like Trump felt necessary. We need to understand how they feel; we need to comprehend and care about the Other America. And all of us need to become involved in our country’s political and social future. We must work on true democratic reform. We must prepare for revolution. Peaceful revolution.

__________

As good of a closing paragraph as that felt to write, it lacks specifics, and thus felt a little hollow to me. I want to give you things you can actually do.

For starters, you can get involved in your local community.

I volunteer through my nonprofit, Strays Welcome Interfaith Ministries. We help the homeless and abused women in particular. For certain, there are shelters in your community who need your support, and there are also churches who are helping various people who are in need. Speaking of churches, one near me is adopting a Syrian refugee family, and I am thinking of asking if my own church, The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley, will do the same thing. I’m gonna offer to help run the program. If you wanted to help refugees, you could ask your church if you could get involved in a similar program or efforts.

Another way you can help is by getting involved in local politics. There is an organization built by Bernie Sanders supporters, called Brand New Congress, that is trying to recruit 400 individuals (non-politicians) to run for political office. For more information, please go here: https://brandnewcongress.org/home. To better reach politicans, here is a helpful article: “How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You“.

You could also dedicate your art to revolutionary politics. I, for one, am beginning a new novel which will be a political saga. The entire point of this novel will be to help awaken humanity to the need for change, and the intent will be to provide a moral and positive blueprint for change. If you’re not inclined to art, but wish to speak up, you could write letters to newspapers or media outlets, or you could call your senators–just don’t be silent. Silence is what got us here. Speaking up with love and commitment to achieving political change is necessary.

You could also work with environmental action groups. Many, many organizations are rising up in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. And keep in mind, Obama is taking a “wait and see” attitude, which means the pipeline is gonna get built unless enough citizens rise up in peaceful political protest against it. Here are some places to find Standing Rock protest information:

https://www.facebook.com/nodakotaaccess/

https://www.facebook.com/Standing-Rock-Rising-1131347910264898/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1749814981940531/

http://standwithstandingrock.net/take-action/

http://hugs.world/standingrock/

And here’s a link for a list of peaceful protests occurring around the nation’s capital: Assemble

There are also peaceful protest groups you can join, like:

Peace Alliance

Nonviolent Peaceforce

United for Peace and Justice

Roots of Peace

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

My point is, get involved. Get involved locally; get involved globally. But get involved. Use your special, God-given skills and abilities to make this world a better place. With love as your root, and courage as your foundation, please, get involved.

 

 

 




Intolerance and Modern Spirituality: Interfaith Outreach

Intolerance is the single greatest problem I think we face in religion. Intolerance rears its head when Christians preach that Jesus is the only way Home, and anyone whose follows a different path is condemned to hell. Intolerance rears up and screams its hateful hue and cry when secular Muslims misuse the words of Muhammad to preach violent jihad. Intolerance spreads like a cancer when fundamentalists of any cloth or wearing any frock picket and protest in denial of an individual s right to experience love when their sexual choices come in rainbow coloration.

Intolerance itself can be defined in the following manner:

  1. Lack of tolerance; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to one’s own.
  2. Unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect persons of a different social group, especially members of a minority group.[1]

Intolerance’s playgrounds, ironically enough, are vast and diverse, for intolerance is bred in any petri dish that separates humanity on religious, political, geographical, social, artistic, or historical grounds. The cause of intolerance is difficult to locate, because so many modalities of incoherence feed into it. Yet an evolution in the genus of intolerance can be found if one starts with identity, adds in the three sisters, fear, ignorance and irrationality, peppers in a false sense of separation or otherness, and ignores the divine spark that fuels individual human existence.

Where otherness blooms, hatred spreads. Combating this growth is akin to preventing the spread of invasive bamboo in a mid-American back yard. You can rip each instance of it out, but if you do not dig a canal around the bamboo, or dig an entrenchment before the bamboo reaches across your land, it will shoot across any other plant or bush or grass or flower in its path. In other words, it’s much easier to attack bamboo before it takes root than to pull up each weed as it appears. Bamboo, like intolerance, must be met at the outer gate, before it takes hold of the yard.

The key to fighting intolerance is prevention. It must be fought before the roots that feed it find home in your heart, or in the hearts of those surrounding you. The keys to overcoming intolerance, fortunately, are as varied as the causes of it are varied. After all, the antidote to an unwillingness to tolerate others lies in love and acceptance. The answer lies in unity.

How, though, do we sow unity? One of the best engines for achieving social change lies in our religious institutions. At first glance though, hope for using religion to instill such unity seems like a task brimming with difficulty. Each week, I talk to people about religion in America, and all too often, people express anger and disillusionment towards the church they were raised in, or deny God altogether. Raised by fear-based and shame-engendering teachings, Americans either embrace pulpits that brandish the weapons of disunity and intolerance, or they reject religion altogether. They call themselves spiritual, not religious, and many good souls (far too many good souls) give up on church altogether.

In some ways, I was one of those souls, except instead of rejecting religion, I started the difficult process of trying to form my own ministry. No matter how disappointed I’ve gotten with the actual practices of churches, I still like the concept of church. I have seen the importance and utility of combining with others to fuel social justice and to synergize interfaith growth and dialogue via the sort of collective action that occurs within the walls of a worship center.

Yet when I looked around, I saw nothing that seemed to match my own beliefs. Interfaith ministries, as far as I could tell, did not exist. So I figured I would build one, but I discovered early in the process that there is a tremendous difference between serving others and doing the structural work of church building. The mere process of starting a non-profit requires cutting a swath through an endless sea of paperwork and red tape, and the actuality of creating a sacred space for worship services includes outreach, salesmanship and organizational vigor. I found that I was somewhat grinding my gears.

chalice_2011_cropped

Photo Credit: http://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/chalice_2011_cropped.jpg

That’s when I discovered the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. One day, I was researching the dogma of the trinity. I realized that the opposite of trinity was unity, and I began to read more carefully about the Unitarian tradition. For some reason, I clicked on UU instead of Unitarian when I got to the search page on Google. That’s when I came to the main UU website.

I had to keep rereading what appeared there, because it was so unique and yet so familiar. Indeed, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I first read the seven Principles that guide UU practice, which focused on the worth of each individual, acceptance and compassion, the goal of community peace, and “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.[2] This, I said to myself, is exactly what I believe. And these principles, if applied by individuals when supported by a strong religious institution, would result in the propagation of love, unity and tolerance.

And it was about that time that I read a sermon that had been shared at a UU congregation. In the sermon, the preacher (a woman!) weaved Rumi and Buddha into a discourse on a problem of some sort . . . ironically I don’t even remember what the problem was—which is to say the problem itself seemed almost irrelevant. What impressed me was how the preacher tried to solve the problem, which was by searching for truth across cultural boundaries and within multiple sacred traditions. All I knew at that moment was that I had found a place where I could comfortably serve and contribute.

After all, it was Rumi that gave me the motto for my own religious approach:

Not Christian or Jew or

Muslim, not Hindu,

Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.

rumi_religionNot any religion

or cultural system. I am

not from the east

or the west, not

out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not

natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all.

I belong to the beloved,

have seen the two

worlds as one and

that one

call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner,

only that breath breathing

human being.

No matter where I serve, THIS is what I will teach. Because it captures the essence of what human institutions, particularly religious ones, should exalt: the oneness of humanity. We are not other. We are not different. We all bear a spark of the divine. And if we can teach one another to see this divinity in one another, we can all walk one another Home.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/intolerance.

[2] http://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles.




Shame is Not a Good Teacher

Shame is one of the worst emotions we can teach our children to feel. It’s difficult to wade through spirituality without finding shame, though. We see the hint of it, the strong suggestion of it, throughout Christian schooling as well as throughout the Bible. We see it in the story of David and Bathsheba, for example. We also see it embedded in the teachings of Paul in the New Testament. Far too many preachers and ministers take these stories or these scriptures and use the stories to make us feel terrible, and this isn’t a proper or the best use of the Bible.

The great Christian writer and teacher, C.S. Lewis, wrote about this in a 1952 letter. He wrote:

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our ancestors too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and read without attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.” Letter November 8th 1952

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7049156

By Scan of photograph by Arthur Strong, 1947 Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7049156

We need more love-based, gentle teachings like those espoused by C.S. Lewis. We need to guide our children to the best path without using the weapons of shame and fear as our artillery against their spirit. When we focus on sinning and the blood of Jesus, we often cause pain and suffering in the exact people we’re trying to help. Basically, we are taught to feel shame when we “sin,” and then we are taught that Jesus died for or sins, and that in turn makes us feel even more ashamed for the mistakes we make as young men and women. Instead of feeling relieved, we feel sad and ashamed, and we carry that sadness and shame out of church into our daily lives. But aside from pain, what does feeling shame really give us?

It’s true that Jesus was crucified. It’s true that David made a big mistake by sleeping with Bathsheba. It’s also true we all make mistakes, both as children and as adults. Taking responsibility for our errors, for the hurts we cause others, can help us make better decisions in the future. But shame mires us in pain—and when we heap the death of Jesus on top of this pain, we end up suffering.

When we hold the image of a suffering man on the cross in our minds while we think about our actions, we end up replaying all our mistakes in a dread-inducing atmosphere. We get mired in sacrificial blood so to speak, rather than moving on to the real task of becoming the best people we can be. Carrying the cross is really not our job, but in effect that’s what we do when we obsess over concepts like sinning and sacrifice.

If we hold onto our mistakes and to the notion that every mistake we’ve made dirties us, we create a sort of hell on earth for ourselves. When we fear dying because we are afraid of what we will face after death because of the mistakes we make when we’re down here in our human shells, we end up afraid of living; we end up afraid of life. Priests and preachers should help guide us, but too many of them use fear as their cudgel.

For example, my children once attended a traditional Methodist church without me. And the kids listened to a lecture from the minister about how your sins down here on earth caused you to suffer judgment back Home. The minister gave a sermon in which he asked the members of the congregation to picture a stack of index cards laid out on a table. Imagine that you’ve died and have gone Home. You go up and even before you visit with your family and your friends, you go before a board or a council and you undergo a life review—all of which is accurate. We do go before a board and go over the good and the bad decisions we made throughout our lifetime, but in reality, the focus is much more positive than negative.

But the minister wanted the focus to be about sinning, so he said, “Jesus is waiting for you, and he will point out all your sins, and then he will show you all the same cards, but with blood smeared all over them. HIS blood. See, he gave up his blood so that all the awful things you do on earth won’t keep you from getting to heaven, but if you don’t atone now, you will have to explain yourselves to Jesus.”

When my kids told me this part of the sermon, I exclaimed, “No! This is fear-based, shame-engendering nonsense. Sure you’re not supposed to hurt others while you’re down here. You’re not allowed to rape or murder, you shouldn’t steal or tell lies to hurt others . . . but no one is waiting for you with blood-crusted index cards. The teaching back Home is much more positive. The aim isn’t to scare you or make you miserable; the goal is to emphasize areas where you did well, where you helped and served others, and to teach you places where you could have done better—all with the intent of helping you learn to do better, to become the best souls you can become.”

My children were a little confused, so we talked about it some more. They asked me what sort of mistakes could result in your getting punished after death, and of course I mentioned that killing, raping or sexually abusing others could get you punished, and as soon as I said that, my eldest asked about sex. About whether having sex could get you in trouble.

I shook my head and said, “Sex is not something to fear. Overall, it’s a positive and lovely thing that brings us joy, particularly when we experience it with someone we’re in love with and who we respect. We live in physical bodies. When religion emphasizes fear of our physicality, of what it causes us to do or to be or to enjoy, this is not good for us. Our bodies are built for certain things, and among those is sexual pleasure. It’s part of our human nature.”

the_kiss

By own photo of the sculpture of Rodin – own photo in the Rodin Museum, Paris, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4145510

“So should priests not be celibate?” My daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Celibacy has been touted as a virtuous accomplishment. In fact, it can also be a perversion of nature. Even though we are animals, and sex is one of the single most important instincts nature has given us, and perhaps the strongest of all of our instincts. It’s impossible to be human without embracing our sexuality, and true happiness and contentment are the rewards of a strong, loving relationship; this includes a sexual relationship.”

“So are you saying we shouldn’t be celibate? That it’s wrong for us to be deprived of sex? I thought you also taught that it’s okay to fast sometimes, Mom,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s good to fast, yeah,” I agreed. “But that’s not the point of celibacy. The point of celibacy is to find purity through deprivation, and fasting is another type of deprivation, but it reminds us that we are able to overcome our instincts, at least for a little while. No one can exist forever without eating, and I don’t know that it’s good to try to exist without satisfying our physical needs.”

“Might make it easier,” my son chipped in, “ Not to have to eat. Then you wouldn’t have to cook, and we wouldn’t be led by our donkey souls into eating so much junk food.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Well, that brings up an interesting point. Hunger is easy for us to understand. When people are starving, their morals quickly evaporate, and they take to stealing, fighting, and rioting to get food. Our bodies tell our brains that we’re in trouble, that we’ll die if we don’t get food soon, and the primitive part of our brains turn loose our most primitive emotions.”

“So are you saying we go crazy if we try not to have sex once we’re adults?” My daughter was trying not to smile.

“Not exactly, no. Maybe celibacy is fine for some people, I dunno. But in general, sex is perhaps our strongest instinct, because it represents how we express our love physically. We need to be able to express our love. We really need it, at least once we’re grown up and mature enough to handle all the emotions that come with it. So sexuality is a very strong instinct, and it’s tied into love. The way it’s taught though is like it’s a bad instinct. Sex is perhaps our strongest instinct, and yet it is to be ignored, restrained from or used as a weapon against us?”

How have you been taught about sexuality?

How would you teach your children differently?


David by Michelangelo; Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna (Own Source, Wikipedia)

David by Michelangelo; Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna (Own Source, Wikipedia).

When I say that we should use gentle, love-based teachings to guide our children and help them make good choices about their sexuality, I’m not saying anything goes. I don’t think we should teach our kids to simply do whatever they wish to do. We should teach our kids to value their bodies. We should teach our kids how to say no, either to other kids, or to adults who don’t respect proper boundaries. We should teach our children how to stay safe, and how to respect the safety and well-being of others.

Indeed, we have a duty to teach our sons in particular that “No” means “No,” and that a women’s body is hers alone to assert control and dominion over. We should teach our children that experiencing sexuality without love and commitment is something that will often leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled. We should teach them that sex is an adult act with adult consequences, such as pregnancy and disease. And we should help guide our children on a path that emphasizes discernment and the other side of free will: consequences.

Everything we do, after all, has consequences. But making the best choices occurs when we are unafraid and not laden with shame or dread. We should accept ourselves as well as seek responsibility for our actions, but we should not fear judgment or carry our mistakes as burdens. We should not feel ashamed, because shame is not a kind or a good teacher.




Paul is No Friend of Women: Head Coverings

I read a passage in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 the other day that got me scratching my head. In it, Paul argues that in an orderly church, a woman who prophesies must have her head covered, or else get her hair cut off or shaved off. In Paul’s mind, it was a dishonor for women to speak out without their heads being covered, and this reflects Paul’s extremely negative views towards women.

The fact is that Jesus most certainly did not object to women speaking out in church as prophets or otherwise while their hair was uncovered. Perhaps the most dramatic proof of this is the anointing scene attested to in John 12:3 (and also mentioned in Mark 14:1-9 and Matthew 26:6-13). According to these accounts, while Jesus was reclining or laying back in either a chair or perhaps even a sofa beside a table, Mary anointed Jesus by pouring expensive oil on his head . . . but also according to the account in John 12:3, she went even further. She anointed his feet . . . and wiped the nard off his feet with her hair. Explains John:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was served in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume. John 12:1-3.

From the standpoint of answering Paul’s views on women speaking out at church, should this occasion (where Mary anointed Jesus in front of his disciples and family members) be considered a church meeting? Church can simply be defined as the coming together of more than one people to worship God. Any time Jesus met with his disciples, he taught them about God. Jesus was speaking about godly matters during Mary’s famous anointing of him for burial. Therefore, such a meeting should most certainly be considered a church gathering.

Paul said no woman should speak at church, nor should a women prophesize with her head uncovered, or else she should have her head shaved. Jesus obviously disagreed. Jesus considered Mary’s act a beautiful thing. Her anointing was a highly symbolic act, for she was anointing him to prepare him for his death. And the family and apostles present did not object to the way she touched him or the way she acted as a prophet or priestess during the anointing process; instead, Judas objected to the wasting of the expensive nard, which could have been sold and used to feed the poor.

Jesus replied,

Leave her alone . . . She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:6-9.

Two things are very clear from this statement:

By Autore sconosciuto (images.vogue.it/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Autore sconosciuto (images.vogue.it/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Jesus approves of a woman acting in a symbolic and highly prophetic manner. After all, the anointing of him by Mary foretold or indicated that Jesus was about to die. Like many symbolic acts by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, John the Baptist and Jesus, Mary’s anointing represented a godly sign of what was to come.
  • Jesus honors Mary’s anointing act, and treats Mary as an equal and beloved member of his church.

Moreover, Mary’s head most certainly was not covered, nor was that of the other woman who oiled and then dried the Savior’s feet with her hair during an earlier church meeting involving Jesus. Luke 7:36-50. This woman, who was “a sinful woman,” wept over Jesus and wet his feet with her tears.

Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:38.

When the Pharisee who was hosting Jesus objected, Jesus told a parable about a moneylender who forgave the debts of two people, one of whom owed more. The man who owed more was forgiven more, and thus he would love the lender more; just so, Jesus explained, would the woman love more if she were forgiven more.

Therefore, I tell you, how many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. Luke 7:47.

In other words, Jesus not only refuses to rebuke a woman who kisses his feet and rubs away the tears she has shed on his feet with her hair—he uses the opportunity she gives him to teach yet again about his main commandment, which is to love. Jesus does not care about the rules of the surrounding institutions. He does not respect the orthodoxies of the rabbis or other Jewish authorities.

Unfortunately, Paul does respect these orthodoxies and he does apply the preexisting and prevailing institutional bias to how churches created by him treated (and often still treat) women. Unlike Jesus, Paul is no friend of women:

And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.

By Olympe de Gouges (Originally from [1].) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Olympe de Gouges (Originally from [1].) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Paul contradicts Jesus here. And by contradicting Jesus, Paul departs from the true teachings that Jesus brought with him. And if Paul wrongfully taught that women should not speak in church (or prophesy with their heads uncovered), then Paul could be wrong about other things as well (such as the submissive role a wife must take in marriage). Paul is not equal to the Savior, and his teachings on inequality often reflect this.

Jesus brought a new set of teachings, with new laws, when he brought his new covenant. Paul spoke in derogation of these new laws many times, particularly regarding women. If anything, Paul was enforcing the old Jewish laws that Jesus disregarded. The old laws that Paul is enforcing were in fact abrogated by the Savior’s life and Crucifixion. Hebrews 8:7-8, 13. Paul never walked and talked with Jesus; in fact, he only visited with Jesus a couple of times, and not in physical form (and this, after Paul persecuted the early church, which Paul himself freely admits to doing). Paul himself states that he should not be considered an apostle:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Corinthians 15:9.

Perhaps Paul should be taken at his word.

And yet Paul’s teachings are accepted widely and have been used for thousands of years to repress women. It’s ridiculous that the one Apostle who never walked and talked with Jesus is accepted as readily as the other apostles, such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Phillip and Thomas (among others). All of these apostles worked hard to spread the words of the Savior—and they kept true to his word. When Paul strays from the letter and spirit of the Savior (such as on matters of women’s equality in the church), his teachings should be considered moot and obsolete.

Should a woman speak in church? Of course. Mary spoke and acted symbolically in the church that Jesus created, as did Martha and other women, like the Samaritan in John 4. See Luke 10:38-42. If the Savior allowed women to have a role and spoke to them as equals, why should we listen to Paul when he treats women as less?

 

 

 

 

 

 




Don’t Pick Sides When You Pray

Yesterday I wrote about division. I wrote about the Blue Lives and Black Lives, and how both must matter. Both should be loved and supported, in prayer and in action.

I favor unity in all cases. I don’t think a sense of unity is created when we choose to pray for only police officers. We can support both the men in blue as well as the black men in hoodies, perhaps with a different set of prayers, but with loving intent all the same.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday . . .


 I saw a sign in a local church today:

Pray for the Men in Blue

And certainly I’ll pray for them. I’ll pray that they use discernment when they see black men in hoodies. I’ll pray that they receive the support and training they need when they try to sort out their threat matrix. I’ll pray that they enforce the peace with love and tolerance in their hearts. I’ll pray that they, as well as the black men in hoodies, make it home safe to their families tonight.

Of course I’ll pray. But I’ll pray my ass off for the black men in hoodies too. I’ll pray for all humanity as we try to forge a straight path in these dark days; I’ll pray that we walk with love and in the light no matter how difficult the two may be to grasp hold of and live with; I’ll pray for all sinners that they may live more like saints. Always, I’ll pray—for all of us.


Someone very close to me read this and asked me to clarify my thoughts on cops. “Don’t you think most cops are good?” he asked.Pray_meninblue

And of course I think most cops are good. Most cops wake up every morning and put on their blue or brown uniform and go out with the intention to “protect and serve.” Most cops have good intention throughout their day . . . and the same principle applies to most civilians. When a black student at a university, say a football player, grabs his collegiate sweats and takes a walk, he’s just trying to live his life. He doesn’t deserve to get stopped and frisked at gunpoint just because a black man (bearing a completely different physical description aside from skin color) in the same city has robbed a bank. Or when a black father gets into his car and drives through town to get an errand done, he’s just trying to take care of his family. He doesn’t deserve to be harassed and treated as if he’s a criminal during a routine traffic stop.

In other words, the vast majority of black Americans and the vast majority of cops begin their day, they don’t wish to hurt anyone. They are doing their jobs and living their lives. They are not looking to hurt the innocent or commit a crime.

But at times things go awry. The black American who shot the cops in Dallas was motivated not so much by a misguided desire to achieve reform, so much as hatred. What that man (and I won’t say his name because I think this encourages those who seek fame through their bad acts) did was wrong. It was evil.

We should all be motivated by love. Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

Hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law. Dhammapada 1:5.

Jesus said something similar:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 28-31.

No matter what we do for a living, we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves and we should be motivated by love rather than hatred.

When police officers go out in the field, or in the line of duty, they should not merely be looking to serve and protect. They should be looking to love, serve and protect. If love is at the fount of their service, then the police officers will be able to better see and understand the people they are serving. They will be motivated less by fear and more by a willingness to disregard triggers that lead to undisciplined and paranoid reactions to innocent black Americans.

I have watched videos of cops killing civilians, and in the worst of the videos, I’ve seen malfeasance and hateful intent, but with the help of a retired military cop, I have learned to watch these videos with greater discernment. For example, I have watched the killing of a Navajo woman by a cop in Winslow, Arizona (which is shared below).

As I watched the video, the retired military cop explained to me all the mistakes the frightened cop was making (that led to what was later ruled a justified shooting). “He’s too close to her right here. He’s not approaching her with sufficient distance, he’s not giving her clear voice commands. He’s escalating the situation. He should have waited for backup. He should not have laid a hand on her here, he should have used a baton, not his hands here . . . and now, he should not have pointed his gun in the same direction as his partner. He’s not controlling the situation . . . and now she’s got a weapon in her hand. He has no choice now. It’s kill or be killed, but all of this could’ve been avoided if he had approached the situation better,” explained the retired military cop. “Approach determines response,” he concluded. “And his approach was all wrong.”

I have also discussed the issue of cop training with a gun instructor. As this instructor explained to me, “Too few cops are training properly on the use of firearms. They are going to the shooting range, but they’re not training with live people, they’re not training on close combat, they’re not learning how to handle the very difficult scenarios that cops may or may not have to face. But when a difficult situation does arise, you must have trained on it in order to be able to handle it correctly,” the instructor said to me.

With all of those caveats in mind, when I pray for the men in blue, I pray that they get the training that they need to handle difficult situations. I also pray that they approach all civilians in a manner that is fair and just. I pray that cops treat a black child wearing a hoodie or a black dad driving in his SUV with the same love and protectiveness as the cops treat any white child or white dad.

When love informs how we see the world, we’re better able to see that every soul is precious. When love provides the filler for the fuzzy spaces within our hearts, we are better able to identify the innocent as not posing a threat. When love alone is what motivates us, we’re not as likely to think that someone is a threat to us just because their skin is darker than ours. Indeed, if we view all other humans as being our brothers and sisters, part of the same Body of Christ or as descendants from the same Maker (the Father), then we treat all the people we encounter as deserving of our love.

Division arises from a bad choice. We choose to see others as different, and as a threat to our way or to our identity or to our sense of comfort. Cops fall into the same bad habits as the rest of us do. We identify ourselves by our colors, whether they’re drawn on the uniforms of sports teams we follow or patched onto the sleeves of uniforms we don when we go to work or dabbed onto our very skin.

We choose our colors and we choose to think that one color makes us superior . . . and yet beneath the skin we wear, we are all the same color. Our souls all shine white, lit by a brilliant light. The lamp that is our soul looks the same as any one else’s soul, for it emerged from the same One Light that created us all.

I pray that we all remember that One Light guides us all. I pray that love wins, and love alone rules us all.

 




Martin Luther King, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

I’ve been studying the life of Martin Luther King this summer. I discovered that at the end of his life, King was moving more in the direction of seeking revolutionary change. Or more to the left, if you will. A few days before he died, he was planning a major march on DC to protest poverty. A federal judge issued an injunction that forbade King from conducting or leading the protest. King retorted, “That’s unconstitutional,” and he stated that he was going to go to DC despite the judge’s order. A day or so after announcing his determination to disregard the judge, King was assassinated.

King said something else of note just before he died:

Violence or nonviolence is not the issue . . . the issue is poverty and neglect.

To be clear, King was not advocating violence or anything tantamount to clear political rebellion with this remark, nor he was a member of or supporter of the revolutionary Black Panther Party. He was, however, observing that the civil rights movement had fallen short of ensuring equality and freedom to black Americans. King was concerned that the legal revolution overturning the Jim Crow laws in the south had not resulted in revolutionary or even meaningful political or social change in either the south or the north. Black America still lived in “the Other America,” to coin a King phrase. This Other America was an impoverished one, where families suffered from neglect and lacked true opportunity in the economic sphere.

As I studied King’s final days, I also was watching the current political conventions. And I kept thinking that the promise of American democracy is belied by the nomination of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively, for the Democratic and Republican parties. The nomination of these two individuals suggests that true and meaningful democratic choice is dead.

By Minnesota Historical Society - http://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotahistoricalsociety/5355384180/sizes/o/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19183908

How? The political system promises to guarantee individual rights, protect American liberties, and provide for the common good, but the electoral process has instead become a corrupt vehicle for the wealthy and the influential. In the absence of strict enforcement of campaign contribution and lobbying laws, only politicians with wealth and influence can court the voters via a system that resembles a gravy train of graft, corruption and undue influence.

As it stands, we’re left with two wealthy and influential candidates, and neither possesses the moral character requisite to lead our beautiful nation. Trump, the billionaire, lacks sincere desire to take a stand that would protect our economic freedoms. While he blusters about making America “great again,” he flip-flops on economic and social policy, and when asked to elucidate his positions, he resorts to ad hominem attacks on his real or imagined detractors. Trump would sooner hand American jobs to countries with horrific civil rights records than he would actually follow through on his racist and lowly threats to deport all believers in the Muslim faith from our nation. Trump will work for the institutional behemoth that empowers his corporations while feeding hate candy to the uninformed.

By Chad J. McNeeley - http://www.defense.gov/PhotoEssays/PhotoEssayImage.aspx?id=3093&name=Mullen,%20Cartwright%20Confirmation%20Hearing, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3408496

Clinton at least espouses a traditional and seemingly compassionate creed, which, if followed, would hopefully result in a better outcome for at least some minorities and embattled members of the lower classes. And as several friends of mine have pointed out, Clinton does preach acceptance of gays and a commitment to protecting social liberties. And while I distrust her veracity, I don’t find it impossible to believe that Clinton will follow through on some of her campaign promises. But I cannot stand by and support a candidate who so clearly lacks moral probity, a willingness to follow the laws that other citizens are bound by, and who so obviously is the choice of the rich and influential.

Clinton, after all, garnered lavish fees for speaking to corporations and took money from any and all corporate donors. She chased down the nomination through whatever means necessary. She undoubtedly leaned on investigators and somehow dodged indictment for national security breaches that would have resulted in the indictment of almost any other American citizen. Clinton seems to wear an invisible coat of Teflon when it comes to criminal activity. She gets help from powerful actors in institutional as well as corporate spheres.DWSPortrait

It is obvious from the latest Wikileaks that leaders of the Democratic party did everything in their power to undermine the campaign of her main opponent, Bernie Sanders. And immediately after the Chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned in ignominy after said actions were detailed, Clinton appointed Schultz to a position within the Clinton campaign. Clinton released the following statement:

“There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie–which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Schultz, mind you, was supposed to have been an unbiased leader within the DNC. Now her lack of impartiality is being rewarded.

As best I can see, Clinton has been nominated undemocratically. Trump, while nominated somewhat more democratically would, if elected, pass measures that would undermine the best of American democracy. Our American democracy is founded on securing the individual’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg

Trump does not concern himself with such ideals. He rarely speaks of free markets or economic liberties or lowering taxes or reducing the size of the federal government, or any of the central ideals that prior Republicans have made part and parcel of the party’s narrative. Why, after all, did so few Republican leaders attend the RNC Convention? In part because Trump does not preach traditional Republican values, and in part because Trump’s pronouncements are filled with vitriolic appeals to divisive populism.

Despite his version of his own rise to greatness, Trump is no Horatio Algers. He’s a spoiled rich kid who inherited and then mismanaged a great deal of wealth. Trump is no individualist, nor does he possess a consistent set of ideals whatsoever. He doesn’t speak of any principles beyond his own questionable excellence. Most importantly he does not speak to matters of liberty. He speaks in bromides about making America great again, but appears to be willing to sacrifice the rights of unpopular minorities to that pursuit of greatness. There is no American greatness absent the securing of each individual’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Indeed, the best feature of American democracy is its protection of individual rights. All Americans should be equally protected by the American government. And all Americans should possess an equal role in governance and in the electoral process. Under the current system, corporate interests have much more power than the lowly individual citizen. Until this changes, we will be left with candidates who represent corporate interests (in the case of Clinton) or with populist candidates with demagogic appeal (in the case of Trump).

By Unknown - USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4344206

Rosa Parks with King in the background.

It is said that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote cast into the wind. It is said that failing to vote for the better of two evils is a failure to vote, period. While I understand this position, I view my choice as somewhat different.

I am exercising my American choice to protest the current two party system. I refuse to be a slave to a system that is broken. I refuse to waste my precious vote on a candidate I feel lacks the proper values to represent my liberties and defend my freedoms.

More than fifty years ago, black Americans protested the political system they found themselves chained by, and surely their small refusals, their tiny whispers made at the twilight of a long workday, seemed of little value. But when enough black Americans refused to move to the back of the bus, or when enough black Americans refused to frequent a certain store, or when enough black Americans marched to the beat of their own dreams, a movement was begun.

Each small step taken in furtherance of individual liberty matters. Refusing to cast a vote in favor of Trump or Clinton for moral reasons is not a wasted gesture. I will vote my conscience, and I will not regret it. I will unfurl my vote into the breeze that flies with the wave of every flag our hearts and minds hold dear.

 

  1. Photo credits: Martin Luther King. By Minnesota Historical Society – http://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotahistoricalsociety/5355384180/sizes/o/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19183908
  2. Hillary Clinton By Chad J. McNeeley – http://www.defense.gov/PhotoEssays/PhotoEssayImage.aspx?id=3093&name=Mullen,%20Cartwright%20Confirmation%20Hearing, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3408496
  3. Debbie Wasserman Schultz By U.S. Congress – Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Congressional Website, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36700236
  4. Donald Trump https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg
  5. Rosa Parks with King By Unknown – USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4344206



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