~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Friday, January 15, 2016

Roots, Vines, and Religious Liberty

As I settle into our new home in the southwestern Missouri Ozarks, I’m embraced by trees and vines and roots, by bloodlines and history, by two hundred years of cellular community. Do the trees protect or isolate? Do the vines support or choke? Do the roots nourish or taint? How does any of this help me become stronger and more compassionate? 
I turn to the wisdom of nature and the beauty of landscape for messages of growth and healing. I step into new communities and listen with my heart. I invite the past to share its journey through story. 

I’m reading like mad, as usual, and one of my absolute favorite books has been Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty by Steven Waldman.* Founding Faith is a gorgeous distillation of America’s process toward religious freedom, and a good reminder for all of us right now not to persecute a religion because of extremists within it. Founding Faith is one of those books that, if I were one to highlight pivotal phrases or “ah-ha!” moments, would be a text of almost exclusive yellow markings. This means I find it nearly impossible to narrow my focus and provide only a few quotes, so the blurb from the back of the book will have to suffice in wetting your appetite: 
“The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” Many on the left contend that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state. Neither of these claims is true, argues Beliefnet.com editor in chief Steven Waldman. With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real story of how our nation’s Founders forged a new approach to religious liberty. 
Founding Faith vividly describes the religious development of five Founders. Benjamin Franklin melded the Puritan theology of his youth and the Enlightenment philosophy of his adulthood. John Adams’s pungent views on religion stoked his revolutionary fervor and shaped his political strategy. George Washington came to view religious tolerance as a military necessity. Thomas Jefferson pursued a dramatic quest to “rescue” Jesus, in part by editing the Bible. Finally, it was James Madison who crafted an integrated vision of how to prevent tyranny while encouraging religious vibrancy.”
 This book is one that I wish everyone would read; with excellent information (massive amounts of footnotes and extensive bibliography to follow up on any details) and beautiful flow to the writing and layout (resulting in a fast read), it also provides common ground for people to meet each other in conversation. 
An acquaintance on Facebook recently told me, after a brief chat clearly showed our political differences of opinion, that we needed to stop before the dialogue could damage our friendship. A few years ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with that comment. But now, I find myself wondering if that’s where our political system has gone haywire? Is that part of what has led to such tremendous polarization? If friends and family cannot participate in civil conversation, and respect each other across and through our differences, how can we expect politicians to do so?

The seasons change, the wheel of life turns, and new visions emerge within and without … below are two photos from nearly the same angle and location on our deck, yet the view is so different. Time and awareness can change everything.
August 2015

January 2016


*I bought Founding Faith after listening to “Liberating the Founders,” an interview with Waldman by On Being with Krista Tippett. If you don’t have time to listen to the hour-long podcast, even just skimming the transcript is a delight. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Oil Spill of Our Words

This morning I woke up feeling such compassion and peace that I nearly cried. Why? Because I am blessed to live in America where we are gifted with the absolute splendor of the natural world plus cultural opportunities and freedom. 
Sadly, I nearly cried again in the next few hours as I read the words of so many people, people I know and had hoped to form community with, who seem to have vitriol spilling out of them. They are awash in a constant turmoil of religious fervor and what they believe patriotism to exclusively be. And this zeal too often emerges as acerbic ridicule of people or enclaves or cultures, as the bitter criticism that heaps blame upon the other, upon someone who doesn’t think like they do. 
I understand the fear and anger, I'm intimately familiar with them, but scathing or derogatory remarks incite vitriol rather than invite tolerance or mercy toward our common need for safety and peace. How do we use our words to respond with healing intention to this acidic oil spill spreading throughout our families and communities? How do we mend the cracked and broken channels of emotion erupting from within that are in direct reaction to the eruptions of threat and violence we see coming toward us? 
I know my reflection upon this arises partially out of an audio interview I listened to a while back wherein naturalist and author Terry Tempest Williams said at one point that: 

“And I was thinking, what is vitriol? What does it mean? And I actually looked it up and it was fascinating because it means an allusion to the corrosive properties of vitriol, which is a strong corrosive acid linked to sulfuric acid, clear, colorless, oily, water-soluble liquid that is produced from sulfur dioxide. Which I thought was interesting, which is the toxic waste that comes from burning coal, used chiefly in the manufacturing of fertilizer, chemicals, drugs, explosives, and petroleum refining. And I thought, well, this is really interesting. Because I think that the conversations that we so often have, and I have to tell you, you know, I don't have to go anywhere but my own family dinner table to find the seed bed of this, both the highest use of language and the lowest use of language with real vitriol, because the people around our dinner table and our extended family do not all think the same. So I have no illusion that we all have this common ground. You know, we have to really fight for that around our household. And we always have.”*

Williams talked about her journey to see the residual effects of the Gulf oil spill (she wrote a piece on that called “The Gulf Between Us”**) and also relates this to the feeling of being caught in the middle because we need something, such as oil, but also are diminished and shamed by what our own desire and need has done to the planet and myriad diverse cultures. 
So, how do we create balance? How do we embrace the other while holding our own center point of integrity and faith? How do we return with awareness, repeatedly, to our own culpability in the current chaos and crises? How do we not blame the other…the other person, the other side, the other country? Not easy questions, I know. 
One thing I can do, to begin within, is try to carefully watch my words, because they can’t be taken back, and because vitriolic words taint, tarnish, and can even potentially destroy all that we hold dear when they escalate actions toward violence. Thankfully, by grace, words can also heal and hearten the weary or fearful or angry, leading to compassion and the ability to embrace the other and to peaceful resolutions or, as Parker Palmer said recently, to revolutions, in "Five New Year's Revolutions." 
And this gives me hope...
Happy New Year and May We Know Peace on Earth.


*Terry Tempest Williams. “TheVitality of the Struggle.” On Being with Krista Tippett. July 19, 2012. < http://www.onbeing.org/program/vitality-struggle/233 >

** Terry Tempest Williams. “The Gulf Between Us.” Orion Magazine. < https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-gulf-between-us/ >

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


In the movie Serenity, one of my favorites, River Tam as a child says: “We meddle. People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think. Don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome.”

I rarely talk or blog on politics. I’m making an exception, one that might continue. 
Why do people condemn anyone who seeks to understand “why” terrorism happens or empathizes with the plight of another culture or even tries to point out our (not an individual but us, all of us) part in the problem, our responsibility. After all: WE MEDDLE. America and Great Britain and other European countries have long meddled in the Middle East, we’ve repeatedly stuck our noses into a tribal culture about which we comprehend so very little. And though we do need to defend ourselves against terrorism, we also need to step up and take responsibility for our part in the current mess. We meddle. Maybe for good reasons, or what we erringly believe are “good,” but often purely out of fear disguised as morality or righteousness. We try to impose, even force, our ideals, society, and/or morals upon another culture. 
With consumerism having gobbled up most of the world, is it any wonder that some cultures may not want it and/or may have a hard time keeping up and become angry? Maybe they haven’t had time to assimilate or grow naturally into the market at a pace that is acceptable to their religion and society. How many times has colonial arrogance viewed the other as savage?
Most people, including me, have only a gossamer grasp of history yet in our conversations we are eager to blame others from this limited perspective of what it means to be human in various cultures and we try to dictate how long it takes for change to happen. Even many history teachers or scholars focus upon a narrow time period—just as other professionals like doctors become specialists—rarely venturing into a broad spectrum of history. In our time, the vastness of global history is overwhelming, and yet we must make an effort to see beyond our personal narrow vision when we speak and act but, most of all, in the first framing, when we listen. 
Reading books is an excellent form of deep listening. Not just reading blips in articles or newspapers, which are far too limited or skewed to allow a substantive perspective on an issue, but reading books from various “sides” and immersing oneself in a subject dear to one’s heart but from an opposite shore. Usually we choose to read confirmatory books that reinforce our already existing beliefs and that result in a greater polarization. We feel good when we read that others agree with us, it confirms our sense of place in the world and affirms our sense of identity and belonging that feed our instincts for survival. But this kind of one-sided reading also can contribute to rigidity and radical judgmentalism: they’re wrong and I’m right. And, yes, I admit that it can sometimes be uncomfortable reading — and thus “listening” — to the “other side.” But if there is even the slightest chance that we can live together peacefully, respectfully, with dignity, then I’m willing to be uncomfortable once in a while.
Now, of course, someone might say that all of this psychology, philosophy, sociology, and trying to understand the other is moot because if we don’t control/kill “them,” then they will do it to us. All I can say to that is again…look at history. War leads to more war. Every great nation falls. We no longer have the option of “discovering” another continent upon which to expand and build a new nation. Our planet is finite and unless we find a way to all get along, it’s very possible that humans will become extinct. I don’t want that for my nieces and nephew; I want them to enjoy a beautiful, abundant, and safe world. 
Humans have the ability to change. We can choose to do so.
So the question remains: How do we help without meddling, without forcing ourselves?

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Other

As I continue softening into understanding the Other, I have been comforted to know that there are other women also moving through this process of non-judgment and compassionate presence. Today's article, At the Intersection of Other & Friend, by Kate Brunner at Feminism and Religion, was one of those helpful connections that elicit a feeling of community, even though it is through cyberspace.

A book that I recently finished reading has been good for helping me understand the polarization between mindsets, between people who lean with intensity toward either a liberal or conservative view. One aspect of this is understanding that our beliefs "lean" first through intuition and are then followed by rational thought, and our human tendency is to find supporting evidence for what we already believe or are leaning towards. As Jonathan Haidt says in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion:

"If thinking is confirmatory rather than exploratory in these dry and easy cases [via various referenced studies], then what chance is there that people will think in an open-minded, exploratory way when self-interest, social identity, and strong emotions make them want or even need to reach a preordained conclusion?"

I think that the first step into open-minded views is by simply knowing ourselves better and being more aware of our own tendencies prior to judging the Other.

Then, imagine ourselves sitting on a porch swing with the Other and really, truly listening to where they have come from and where they are now. Where can we meet?
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