~ 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/ >
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