What I'm Thinking
The Undoing of U.S. Prestige, June, 2022
In 2017, David Tillotson and were at a week-long, mainly-silent retreat on Scotland's Holy Isle. The last night of the retreat, I was sitting in a small group beside the fireplace when Michael, an Anglican priest, asked with dismay, what has happened to America, "Here in Britain, we've always seen the United States as 'a shining city on the hill.'" Neither he nor I foresaw how much worse things would get.
Pilgrims on Holy Isle, Scotland, September, 2017. Michael is on the top row in a white shirt. David is also on the top row, and I am on the bottom one. Our retreat focused on Christian mystics John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.
This week, attempting to work with Europe to end Russia’s war on Ukraine, President Biden is in Austria, trying to restore America’s reputation. However, instead of being seen by world leaders as a bulwark of democracy, the U.S. is being seen, rightfully so, as a backward nation. What is clear is that my country is no longer a model of democracy. It can no longer honestly call out other countries for anti-democratic actions. Polls vary, but according to recent polls, 70% of Americans want stricter gun laws, and early this June only 28% of Americans believed that Roe v Wade should be overturned. In any case, a majority of Americans are pro-choice and want stricter gun control. Yet the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise, and Congress refuses to pass laws in accordance with the yearnings of the nation’s people. So much for democracy.
A number of world leaders spoke out this week in dismay. Boris Johnson called the Supreme Court’s decision “A big step backward.” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote, “My heart cries for girls and women in the United States. A huge setback. The right to free abortion is one of the most fundamental rights that exists.” And get this from the Chinese Foreign Ministry: “Can’t understand US way of protecting human rights—think it necessary to protect the rights of the unborn child, but quite OK to tolerate the shooting of children in schools.”
I am terribly distressed about the positions taken this week by the Supreme Court on guns and female bodily autonomy. The US is becoming a backward nation in the eyes of the world. The moral authority, the model of democracy that my Episcopal priest friend Michael once believed in, has dissolved; and with it any chance of spreading democracy around the world. And because of the way Justice Thomas worded things in his decision, things are about to get worse. Contraception and LGTBQ+ rights are not possibly but likely next on the chopping block. This is Trump’s legacy. So much for making American great again, but most of us have known that to be a cock and bull story for a long time.
Click on the link below for the article that inspired my thoughts.
The Well-Made Play: An Alternative View, June, 2022
Patriarchal culture since the time of the Greeks defines the well-made play following a male sexual model. In this video, I challenge that view. Is that the only model? Isn't it time to explore more possibilities for live theatre? Why deprive ourselves of the creative juices offered by the sexual pattern of the other half of the human population?
What Cause, This Loneliness? July, 2021
A pervasive disease that troubled the lives of people during the pandemic, especially those who live alone, was loneliness—the loss of physical touch, of not being around the faces and voices of other human beings, of not having the chance to share a cup of coffee, a beer, or a glass of wine with a friend or relative. For people who live alone, the pain was sometimes excruciating.
Even so, for many people in industrial nations loneliness didn’t start in 2020. It was here before the pandemic and is with us still. Matthew Fox and other spiritual thinkers propose that this loneliness is here because as humans we have dissociated ourselves from the community of creation. As we experience wildfires, drought, massive flooding and sea rise, we see that creation is not happy with how she is being treated. The effect of our dissociation with nature on nature is pretty obvious. But there’s something else: its effect on us.
Episcopal priest and writer Matthew Fox, in his meditations [June 20, 2021, Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox] tells of Swahili translators in Africa trying to translate a speech by an Australian theologian. The theologian had said that the number one spiritual problem in Sydney was loneliness. The Swahili translators huddled, then came back to the speaker explaining that they couldn’t translate that sentence. In their language there is no word for loneliness. The concept doesn't appear there. Apparently, it appears to be a problem only in industrialized nations.
What has happened to us? Why do we often feel such loneliness? “Humans,” says Oglala Sioux holy man Black Elk, “need connection with creation to feel peace.” Matthew Fox submits the following. It’s not just connection to creation we need (camping, hiking, gazing at a sunset), but a true understanding of and respect for our relationship to creation. It’s not just a pretty idea. If we don’t see that we are a part of creation in the same way that dragonflies and ponderosa pines and antelopes and sea stars are a part of it, then we will experience a deepening sense of loneliness. If everything is judged as to how it affects humans—our happiness, our bottom line, the economy, our nuclear family—then we are, indeed, alone. We are—inside ourselves—and creation is out there. If everything is human-centered, then we are companionless.
Referring to his youth, an old Omaha elder put it this way. “When I walked abroad, I could see many forms of life, beautiful living creatures which [the Creator] had placed here; and these were, after their manner, walking, flying, leaping, running playing all about.” Then he adds, “Now the face of all the land is changed and sad. The living creatures are gone. I see the land desolate and I suffer an unspeakable sadness. Sometimes I wake in the night and I feel as though I should suffocate from the pressure of this awful feeling of loneliness.” [July 1, 2021, Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox]
The elder’s words touch me as I think about my own sense of loss. When the weather is mild, I sleep with my windows open. When I first bought my home in Prescott, Arizona in 2001, I went to sleep with the crickets and awoke to the sound of bird songs. Many different bird songs. In 2021, I seldom hear either. Since that time only one house has gone in beside mine. My physical neighborhood has changed very little. Nature has. I feel lonely without the sound of the creatures who used to keep me company.
As we are coming out of pandemic-related isolation, it is good to see the faces of other humans, to feel their presence, maybe hug. But if we truly want to lose this sense of loneliness, this despondency, we need to experience our presence within the whole of creation. We are no less, yet no more a part of creation than that of the sea slug creeping along the ocean floor, no more a part of creation than the red-tailed hawk monitoring the forest floor. Nothing more. Nothing less. A part of a whole. And if we want to dispense with this sense of loneliness, if we want to restore ourselves to ease instead of dis-ease, there is only one solution. It’s not to get one more hug from a friend or relative or meet up one more time for a cup of coffee, a beer, or a glass of wine--though those are pleasing. The way to healing is to recognize that we are all a part of one all-embracing family of creation. Look outside. Gaze at the clouds. Sit on a boulder and thank it. Thank a tree for its shade, a flower for its scent, the wind for its breeze. Spend time in the garden. We are one.
Meditation from the Haudenosaunee people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWKac3o7isk&t=7s
The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “arrival” or “coming.” To Christians, Advent is a time to symbolically celebrate the coming of the Christ Child. Theologian Matthew Fox says, “a waiting time like Advent is a gestation time, a waiting for something new to be born”; and, for Christians, a time for “Christ to be born in us.”
As I open the doors of my Advent calendar this year, I recognize that I’m also living through another kind of advent—waiting for sanity, a modicum of competence, justice, dignity, truth, and decency to arrive in the White House.
To be clear, I don’t interpret this other advent as a religious or spiritual ritual. I’m not implying (by any stretch of the imagination) that I see Biden as a savior. Even if he were, separation of church and state is not only a founding feature of our form of government, but is of vital importance—not only to the state, but to allow for the authentic experience of any faith path. Mingle church and state and you will inevitably see the demands of the state take precedence over the aspirations of faith. Watch “Medici” on Netflix if you doubt this; or heck, examine the actions of the Religious Right [sic] in this country in our day and age.
A fellow reader of Matthew Fox’s daily meditations humorously compared waiting for the Christ Child to waiting for January 20th; and that’s what made me realize that that’s what I’m doing. Generally, I avoid reading anything about the shenanigans of the man still holding out in the White House. I’ve given this charlatan enough of my attention for four years and I refuse to give him any more of my time or attention. He’s the lamest duck I’ve ever seen and he’s acting quakers. Even so, I can’t avoid following a few of his desperate attempts to grab back his hold on the people’s government. Mostly, I’ve come to believe that his touting of a “fraudulent election” [sic] is all just a fund-raising effort; and boy has it been successful in that regard!
I do find myself reading reports of what Biden is doing to prepare for his administration when I can find them. One would think the attention of the American people and the news media would be focused on the incoming administration. Unfortunately, every day as I look for articles to read in the New York Times or on Apple News, I see about 90% of the articles about the orange menace’s tommyrot and 10% actual news about Biden’s plans.
But I am adopting the viewpoint that this time of waiting is, like Advent itself, pregnant with possibility. We cannot rush it. We must quietly and patiently wait until January 20th, to see a change in the White House. Meanwhile, we must ignore the malarkey and, as if lighting advent candles, look toward with faith, hope, love, and peace.
What might this period of waiting, of advent, be like? Might we learn patience? Can we let go of immediate gratification? Already I see people second-guessing the president-elect’s choices for this or that, and he isn’t even in office yet. I have to ask: Have we become incapable of trust and composure? If I might extend the metaphor a bit further, I’m not sure we ought to be questioning what’s going on inside Mary’s womb. We’ve had an exhausting four years. Let’s stand aside. Let’s not engage. Let’s allow the process to run a natural course. That’s all we need to be doing right now. Something good will come if we wait with hope and anticipation. Why not light candles and anticipate that good. Once the baby is born, we can use our actions to nurture the new child as best each of us can.
Election Day, November 4, 2020
Whether Joe Biden wins the presidency or not [He did], I am stunned this morning by the sheer number of people who voted for Trump. Largely, I believe it is because for decades this country has done a horrible job of educating its people. It’s not the teachers’ fault. It’s not the textbook writers’ fault. It is the fault of the elected officials who set education policy.
Significantly, education in this country has failed teaching critical thinking, history, science, and American government. I believe this is largely on purpose because our country, especially our retired people, do not value education and do not value children. I don’t think it is primarily racism that led so many people to vote for Trump, I think it is ignorance, stupidity (which are two different things), and for a large segment of the population, an actual aversion to education—maybe a hatred of it. They consider education elitist. This is not true in other countries.
Hundreds of people and scores of professional groups in a position who know what it takes to be president endorsed Biden prior to the election. Republicans endorsing Biden include John McCain’s widow Cindy, former GOP governor John Kasich, Colin Powell, Carly Fiorina, former AZ Senator Jeff Flake, and nearly two dozen former George W. Bush staffers. Flake said a Trump second term was "a real danger.”
More than 200 retired generals and admirals endorsed Joe Biden for president in a letter published in September. Then there is the Time Magazine article from September (titled "More of Trump's Former Officials Are Speaking Out Against Him") that listed scores of former officials speaking out against their boss. Among them were Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second National Security Adviser, and John Bolton, Trump’s third National Security Adviser. Bolton called Trump “a danger to the Republic.” Also in September, a group of nearly 500 former national security leaders, including three senior officers who served under Trump, signed a letter backing Biden.
And then there are the Christian evangelical leaders who jumped ship this year and endorsed Biden. Over 2000 people signed-on to the website “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden.” Those 2000 people included Richard Mouw, President emeritus of the conservative Fuller Theological Seminary; John Huffman, Board Chair emeritus of Christianity Today; Jerushah Duford, Billy graham’s granddaughter; and Ron Sider, President emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action. Of course other Christian leaders had always spoken out against our current president. Those include theologian and writer Matthew Fox; Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners Magazine, and the Reverend William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Add to this the many well-respected national organizations of scientists, teachers, postal workers, medical professionals, journalists, and other religious leaders who endorsed or spoke out for Biden, and you have to ask yourself, how is it possible that so many individual citizens still voted for and still support Trump?
In response to one of the Trump/Biden debates, Tom Nichols said,
"This was not a debate. It was a sustained attack on the American system of government by the president of the United States." And who is Tom Nichols?
Tom Nichols is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. I rest my case. This country needs to start valuing education, not only in educating our children but in remembering that education is a life-long process. We need to read current and historical sources. We need to reflect on what we are reading. And we need to think critically about everything we read and hear.
Note: This essay was originally published on my Facebook page on 11/4/20, the day after election day 2020. Sources for all of this information were cited beneath several posts on my Facebook page, primarily in September of the same year.
Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018
I've been thinking about Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg (I guess that's "Sugar City") and all, and how they are struggling to maintain profits and guard our privacy and stop promoting false information about candidates and all kinds of other things. So much to consider. How can they maintain profits and continue being Facebook if they have to...? On and on with the questions. Here's what I think: It's not that hard to put the good of the people first. Self-sacrifice is how good people live. Self-censorship and generosity, whether it is in your business model or your creative pursuits is what is needed here. I self-censor to be sure that what I am offering through my playwriting is of positive benefit to society. Many artists I know give freely and reduce what they could earn because what we really care about is not money but a world we can all applaud, be in awe of, and live in. Imagine if you could wake up every day and give a standing ovation to the world we created together. Let's create that kind of world.
February 11, 2018
These times are distressing. Yet I cannot help but stay positive. I present this reading from The Center for Action and Contemplation [cac.org] not to disparage other creation stories (because there are beautiful metaphors in many of them), but to highlight differences between stories that present a peaceful beginning and those presenting a violent beginning--and where those lead. From Richard Rohr:
"The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is not the Bible’s oldest book. Genesis’ two accounts of creation were compiled in their present form as late as 500 BC. During this period, the Jews were likely in exile in Babylon, where they were exposed to multiple creation stories....[T]he Babylonian Enuma Elish...describes creation happening after a battle between two gods. The male god kills the female god, then tears her body apart and uses half of her to create the heavens and half to create the earth...." [an interesting idea for a play]....
"[T]he driving engine of this story is violence, carnage, and destruction. So, the exiled Jews decided to write down their own oral tradition, surely to stay cohesive as a tribe among all the competing influences from Babylonians and others. In the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis 1, God—who is “Creator” in verse 1, “Spirit” in verse 2, and “Word” in verse 3 (foretastes of what we would eventually call Trinity)—creates from an overflowing abundance of love, joy, and creativity. Humanity’s core question about our origins is whether the engine of creation is violence and destruction or overflowing love, joy, and creativity. Is our starting point love and abundance or is it fear and hatred? How we begin is invariably how we end and how we proceed. Our creation story is important."
It is advent—a time of waiting for Christ to appear. According to Christian historians like John Dominic Crossan and others, it is likely that Jesus was not born at this time of year. It is also likely that any census taken at the time of Jesus’ birth (if Rome even called for one) would not have drawn Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. So what do we do with those historical inaccuracies in the Biblical narrative? Why, at this time of year, are we waiting? And for what?
The thing about sacred scriptures is that they are seldom about history. They are about spiritual things, about changing our inner landscape, about how to approach the complexity of the world with a simple heart. The idea that scriptural stories are not factual, but metaphor, does not weaken them. It makes them stronger. We have to deal with metaphors. We have to delve into metaphors and ask ourselves what the meaning of the story is for us—for our spiritual enhancement, not for our understanding of history. Understanding history is extremely important, as current events show us; however, understanding history is very different from spiritual learning.
I like what James Finley of the Center for Action and Contemplation has to say in this beautiful Advent meditation. This year, I choose to meditate on his words as I wait for the birth of the Christ child and I offer it for your pleasure.