There seems to be a pattern or movement in living these days At least there is for me. Up and down, as if riding waves, rising up, then crashing or splashing or less dramatically floating back down for awhile, then up again we go. Soaring high and sinking low, I find myself often in the company of friends, family, and neighbors who also are resisting Trump.
The pressure is intense right now to normalize our national crisis. But no. With Charles Blow of the New York Times as eloquent as a human can be, and with millions of sisters and brothers, I refuse to accept anything about this presidency not only because I cherish who we are at our best as a nation but moreover, and more basically, because the Spirit of Justice-Love demands that we persist, regardless.
There are opportunities for activism everywhere. Much of it is not only angry and impassioned; it is also creative, good humored, and hopeful. I’m personally up to my eyeballs in the NAACP and Democratic Party, both primarily at the local level. In each, I’m pretty far left and quite feminist, relative to many of my compatriots, especially here in the South. In both organizations, my primary commitment and assignment is to help figure out ways of connecting across historic and current divides — especially right now, divisions on the basis of religion, class, race, and age.
I believe strongly in the value of such outreach to people who don’t share my, or our, assumptions about God or the world, though I don’t expect (or even want) to reach Trump die-hard extremists, the white supremacists, the gun nuts, the women and gay haters, the Steve Bannons and Steve Millers of the hateful movement .
My interest is in touching base with people who really do want a just and loving world, people who really do value inclusivity and diversity, people who are kind and intelligent. I want to communicate with people who do not agree with most liberals or radicals, Democrats or socialists, about how we might re-structure our political economy, or about the requirements for women’s reproductive health and freedom, or about what “religious freedom” means in relation to marriage equality, or about the Second Amendment’s hold on the imagination of so many gun-lovers, especially boys and men, in our society, or about how we humans really might interweave environmental and economic justice, wherever we are on planet earth.
There are so many issues and questions that could be fruitfully explored by people with different stories to tell and various perspectives to share. This kind of coming together may hold a key to our ability as a nation to heal and move on beyond the trauma in this present crisis.
Right now it seems to me that riding these waves, day in and day out, is in some way preparing me to reach out. I don’t know how, but I’m inclined to trust what is happening to me in the midst of this terrible crisis we share. I believe that the riding of the waves, emotionally and intellectually and physically, in my waking and my sleeping, reflects a spiritual challenge and opportunity — not to tense up but rather to roll into the rhythm — up and over and down, up and over and down — trusting myself and the energy animating me, propelling me to rise, and fall, and rise again.
I am confident that this sacred energy is securing our resistance and shaping our persistence, and I believe that this same energy is none other than the One who brings down principalities and powers, and so it will be.
No surprise here. With the fall of Michael Flynn and reports that campaign aides in the Trump camp did indeed have contact with Russian intelligence during the campaign, it seems increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton’s loss was less to Trump than to Putin. I don’t know what to call it — “criminal” sounds about right; so too does “treasonous.”
So here we are — living with what we may someday, perhaps sooner than we might imagine, know for sure was from the beginning an illegitimate presidency, ripped out of the peoples’ hands. So, please, enough of the assurance by Democrats as well as Republicans that no one intends to “re-litigate” the election. Why on earth not? If we’re living in the midst of a scam, under the authority of a man who not only stole the election but is, certifiably I am quite sure, mentally ill, why not hold another election and try to do better next time? Complicated? unprecedented? embarrassing? For sure. But less catastrophic than a psychopath presiding over the demise of American democracy.
Let’s see if our legislators have the guts and will to take this challenge seriously. Let’s see if GOP congressmen and women put country above party, the well-being of their constituents above their constituents’ votes. Let’s see if judges and Supreme Court justices have the courage to stand up to the Executive branch, and say — not in this nation, you don’t!
In the meantime, our resistance grows. Hundreds of people in our little county in western NC are participating in public conversations on justice matters of all kinds. Many thousands are marching for justice in Raleigh. People in droves are piling into legislators’ offices. Savvy, committed young people are wrestling with the possibility of running for office. Teachers, environmentalists, immigrants, civil rights stalwarts, feminists and womanists, scientists, health care providers, musicians, writers, religious leaders, bakers, restaurant owners, hairdressers, truck drivers, lawyers, police chiefs, older and younger people, kids as young as 10 who are becoming organizers, women and men, gay and straight and bi and trans… are all showing up, speaking up, saying — not here, not in our town, not in this state, not in this nation, you don’t!
If folks wonder what “liberation theology” is, this is it — understandings of the Spirit that are rooted in our struggles for justice-love for all people and creatures. “God” by whatever names is not “out there.” She is right here, in the midst of our lives, compelling us to show up to stand with the most vulnerable, speak up on behalf of those without voice, and declare on behalf of us all — not in this nation, you don’t!
Several days ago, I posted a piece about fear and my riding teacher Linda telling me, in response to my fear of my own horse, “As long as you’re afraid of that horse, she’ll scare you.” I want to elaborate on on this matter of fear and on two other lessons I’ve learned from horses and the people who love them, lessons that help me live each day in relation to the terror that Trump is generating.
LESSON ONE: FEAR. What Linda meant was that, when our fear is irrational, when it is a learned response without any real basis, we do well to find a way through it — to take heart, to tap our courage — so that we can move on without the fear. Linda did not mean that we shouldn’t fear dangerous horses, people, creatures, guns, bombs, violence, any thing that threatens to hurt us or others. Fear is a vital emotion that can alert us to very real danger — like the presidency of Donald Trump. We should fear Trump, Bannon, Pence, Sessions, DeVos, Price, et al because they are threatening the well-being of our nation and world, especially the most vulnerable people and creatures. But we should not fear those whom the Trumpites want us to fear: refugees and immigrants, people of different colors, cultures, customs, religions, genders, sexualities, and languages, people who are “different” from us. Indeed, as long as we are afraid of Syrian immigrants, they will scare us. As long as we fear Muslims, they will terrify us.
But there is more. As long as we progressives, feminists, radicals, socialists, and others associated with the “left,” fear our more conservative and conventional neighbors, they will scare us. Of course their homophobia, racism, sexism, or xenophobia should scare us — because it alerts us to very real danger. But many of these more conservative women and men do not wish or intend to harm us — they do not realize the impact of their attitudes, their religious beliefs, or their votes. They often don’t realize the significant difference between their honest intent and its harmful impact upon us or others. If we can hold our fear lightly enough of these people’s attitudes and, for example, the impact of their votes — lightly enough to connect with them in a spirit of mutuality — we and they can, perhaps, learn something about the other’s perspective and the other’s life. Is this learning, if it’s mutual, a way of beginning to heal a wound? I don’t know for sure, but I believe it can be a small step on the way of personal and social transformation.
I think of my friend whom I’ll call Sarah, a caring, creative, compassionate and very conservative woman. She and I have something splendid in common — our passion for therapeutic horseback riding and its impact on kids and adults with special needs. But Sarah’s a Southern Baptist, and I’m an Episcopalian who’s more of a universalist Christian, about as far removed from the Southern Baptist Church as a Christian could possibly be. I don’t know for sure if Sarah and I could try teaming up to talk candidly about how our lives and our faith assumptions bump against, scare, and maybe even hurt each other. But I do know for sure that as long as I’m afraid of Sarah, she’ll scare me.
LESSON TWO: BALANCE. Something else I’ve learned from riding horses, an adventure I undertook about fifteen years ago, in my mid-50s, is that you tend to be more balanced if you sit gently on the horse, holding lightly not tightly with your legs, and steadily not harshly on the reins. The more balanced you are, the less likely you are to fall, and if you do fall, the more likely the fall is to be easy, the impact less brittle.
What, you may ask, does this horseback riding lesson have to do with resisting Trump? We need to be balanced in order to persist, in order not to burn out, and in order not to break apart physically or mentally or spiritually as we struggle for justice-love over the long haul. We don’t yet know what will be involved in this struggle. We have no idea how long it will be. We can’t well imagine the difficulties we, and others, may encounter in the context of a presidency and a congress which, after just three weeks, are already lambasting us with lies and more lies to mask incompetence, mistakes, madness, cruel policies and, I suspect, some terrible truths.
For example, I imagine that Trump and his campaign conspired with the Russians and Wikileaks and possibly even James Comey to darken public perceptions of Hillary Clinton so that Trump would more likely win the election. Simply imagining this turns my stomach and causes me to tremble. The very thought of such a plot, together with the evident ineptitude of our government to stop it, makes me feel like I’m falling…. If I were holding on tightly to my various needs and desires — for somebody, Obama, the CIA, the military, the courts, somebody to do something to stop this terrible coup that has happened — I would surely fall from my sanity. I would break apart. I would shatter.
As it is, I try to sit lightly and stay balanced — to take myself, my experiences of what is going on and my perceptions seriously, but not in ways that are final or fixed, tight or rigid. I sit lightly by staying informed but not dwelling upon the news 24/7. I stay balanced by praying/meditating, especially walking in the woods with my dogs, working and playing with my horses, listening to and playing music, going to movies and concerts, reading mysteries, eating sensibly most of the time, and yes working with friends and colleagues in whatever ways we can to generate kindness and justice, healing and hope, through organizations and movements committed to resisting everything that Trump stands for.
LESSON THREE: COMMUNICATION IN SILENCE. One day, as I was struggling in vain to get my horse Red to obey me, Linda yelled across the arena to me, “Communicate with your horse, Carter!” So seminary teacher that I was at the time, I began to talk to Red: “Stop it! Quit that! Come on, girl!” Linda heard me and yelled again, “Carter, I said, ‘communicate with your horse,’ not talk to her!” Ah, I realized at once, and laughed. So I shut up, I quit using words, and I began to signal to Red with my hands and legs, my seat and the posture of my body. Within seconds, Red and I were communicating back and forth and were totally in synch.
This is the most radical lesson I have ever learned about anything, including the Spirit I often call “God.” While words are useful, necessary, and can be beautiful, we use them too much. We talk too much. We listen too little; therefore, we often fail to communicate with each other what is most important, because it seldom can be spoken. Mystics have always known that God can seldom be spoken, and never spoken adequately. That’s why music and art play such major roles in much religion.
But what, again, does this have to do with Trump — how we resist and how we survive this damaged and damaging man and his reign of terror? I believe, my friends, that we need to be able to listen — listen not only to those people we trust, some good journalists (and there are quite a few), our friends and mentors, and people who are “different” from us in so many ways, but also listen in and through silence. There is so much chaos and noise coming from so many places right now. We need to get outside the noise and listen to the silence.
So much of the noise is lies and “alternative facts”. Could it be that in silence we will hear the truth and come to understand what, in fact, is happening? We will hear the spirits of earth and universe, of our fellow creatures? And we will hear the voices of those humans who’ve gone on, those whose spirits are here to guide us? those who come bearing the Sophia/Wisdom to show us what we can do and to empower us to do it?
Over the coming weekend, I hope to write a bit more about the lessons I’m learning from my horses, because I truly believe the rest of creation has a great deal to teach us humans — more than we have to teach them.
Today, however, I want to share my politically fired up response to current events in the United States Senate. I share this message, which I sent NC Senators (Richard Burr and Thom Tillis) today:
Well, Senator, if you get tired of hearing from folks like me, just imagine how we feel about waking up each day to yet another report of how feckless you and your GOP colleagues are in relation to the well-being of the people of the United States and especially the people of N.C.
The silencing of Elizabeth Warren — and not her male colleagues (who, even as I write, are reading the aloud the important letter from Coretta Scott King) — will stand out as a low point in the history of the U.S. Senate. What on earth could possibly have motivated your behavior, Thom Tillis, and that of Sen. Warren’s other colleagues last night?
Sen Warren had, and has, every right to read a statement from one of the great moral voices of our time. There is no “rule” that should ever take precedence over a Senator’s efforts to take seriously her or his responsibility for moral leadership, which is exactly what Elizabeth Warren was doing, and does again and again, in the U.S. Senate.
Although I live and vote in N.C., I consider Elizabeth Warren to be MY Senator, because in terms of moral authority, she most certainly is. Shame, shame on you, shame on Mitch McConnell and shame on the rest of the GOP.
As for Jeff Sessions, if he’s confirmed, many of us will spend a great deal of time, money, and energy opposing the Attorney General’s well-documented racism, sexism, homophobia, contempt for immigrants, and all ’round bigotry. Thanks to Sen. Warren’s efforts — and your hostile and hateful response — the larger world now knows what a bigoted man Sen Sessions is to his bones. His nomination is yet another abomination from our sadly crazed president who, in the words of Jesus, referring to those who crucified him, does not know what he’s doing.
You will hear from me, and thousands more like me, repeatedly, until you do something to safeguard the well being of all the people, not just the rich white Christian men who applaud you.
About 15 years ago, I was learning to ride my own horse, who was something of a handful — a kind but willful mare. I loved Red; in fact I adored her but, as a novice rider in my mid-50s, I couldn’t seem to relax enough to enjoy riding her. Red’s stubbornness and her size — a big quarter horse — were overwhelming to me.
My teacher Linda, a wise woman, had ridden Red a number of times and knew her well to be a kind and willing horse, with the right rider. For several months, Linda had watched me struggle with Red, and with myself, lesson after lesson. One day, I found myself scared to mount Red. I stood beside her and shook my head. “I just can’t do it today.”
To this day I remember Linda’s response, which has provided a psychospiritual foundation for my life. “Carter,” she said, “as long as you’re afraid of that horse, she’ll scare you.” I was instantly riveted by what I knew in my bones to be true. Linda knew that I could ride Red; that Red and I were right for each other; and that I was stuck in an irrational fear that was preventing me from building a mutually empowering relationship with my horse. As long as I stayed stuck in my irrational fear, I’d be scared of my own horse.
In that moment something, I’d say it was the Spirit, moved in me: I took a deep breath and made a commitment to Red and to myself to allow her — Red, the object of my fear — to en-courage me, help me, grow beyond my irrational fear of her. In months and years to come, I would learn that Red was also needing to move through her fear of me in my strange humaness! I would learn that together she and I would be able to overcome our mutual mistrust of the “Other.”
And as a human sister lover friend priest teacher, and certainly as a Christian, I would realize that this is always the way it works. We can move through our fear of the Other — other species, other races, other religions, other cultures, other genders, other abilities, other politics, together, and only together. It’s the way we come to our best selves, the way we call each other forth, the way we touch the Sacred, together.
On that spring day in suburban Boston, I got a glimpse of what I’d been teaching for 30 years — that only together can we “god” (verb) and that our fear of Otherness blocks us, diminishing our capacity to love one another. On that day, with Linda’s mentoring, I began to cultivate the courage not only to ride my horse — but to live the rest of my life as fully as I can.
I return to this lesson almost daily as I wrestle with the great fear that threatens to overwhelm us in this particular historical moment. In the next few days, I’ll continue reflecting on a few lessons for life — including life with Trump — that I continue to learn with my horses. These include lessons about communication across species (and other?) barriers, lessons about keeping our balance, and lessons about our basic common survival needs for care and for protection from harm.
I’ve been musing about where to leap into our streams of reflection in this historical moment. Many friends have asked me to say something about “christo-fascism,” a term coined by Dorothee Soelle in 1981 at the dawn of Reagan’s presidency. Other friends say, no, “fascism” is too broad, too imprecise, and turns too many folks off. As a Christian citizen of the United States in 2017, I have some responsibility to say something about what being Christian means to me and how outrageously the Jesus tradition is being manipulated today, as so often in Christian history, by those who prop up a fake-news “God” to promote, protect, and defend their own wealth, power, and privilege. But that reflection is for later; unfortunately, it will always be timely.
Right now I want to share a poem by a Lebanese-American whose name and work many of my generation, and generations past, know well and fondly: Khalil Gibran. Remember The Prophet, how we loved it and carried it around, many of us, in and beyond high school? Remember hearing Gibran’s reflections on “love” read at weddings? Did it ever occur to you, those who knew this work, that Gibran was from a Syrian immigrant family, most likely Muslim?
Keep that in mind as you read this letter from Gibran to his young fellow Syrian immigrants. At the time, in 1926, Syria included what today is Syria, Lebanon, and part of Palestine:
I believe in you, and I believe in your destiny.
I believe that you are contributors to this new civilization.
I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient
dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of
gratitude upon the lap of America.
I believe that you can say to the founders of this great nation, “Here
I am, a youth… a young tree whose roots were plucked from the hills
of Syria, but now, I am deeply rooted here, and I would be fruitful.”
And I believe that you can say to Abraham Lincoln, the blessed, “Jesus
of Nazareth touched your lips when you spoke, and guided your hand
when you wrote; and I shall uphold all that you have said and all that
you have written.”
I believe that even as your fathers came to this land to produce
riches, you were born to produce riches by intelligence and labor.
I believe that it is in you to be good American citizens.
And what is it to be a good citizen?
It is to acknowledge the other person’s rights before asserting your
own, but always to be conscious of your own.
It is to be free in word and deed, but it is also to know that your
freedom is subject to the other person’s freedom.
It is to produce by labor and only by labor, and to spend less than
you have produced that your children may not be dependent upon the
state for support when you are no more.
It is to stand before the towers of New York and Washington, Chicago
and San Francisco saying in your hearts, “I am the descendent of a
people builded Damascus and Byblos, and Tyre and Sidon and Antioch,
and I am here to build with you, and with a will.”
It is to be proud of being an American, but it is also to be proud
that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God laid His
gracious hand and raised His messengers.
Young Americans of Syrian origin, I believe in you.