Wednesday, December 20, 2017

LA POSADA

We had our annual Posada last Saturday--the Christmas procession with Mary and Joseph/Maria and Jose, looking for shelter for the holy child.  We had some really mean innkeepers turn us away, which was great!

I'm looking for Posada or shelter from all the craziness of this past year.  The tax cut for the rich has passed, sacred lands are going to be sold to mining companies, Dreamers are hung out to dry, pedophiles are honored, but don't say "transgender" or "science based".  It seems like an assault a day.  But--as they say on the ads for "miracle" products on late-night TV--"there's more!"

That "more" may indeed be more assaults on the poor, the earth, those who are seen as "other".  But on this eve of the Solstice, I hold my hands out, not only asking for shelter, but offering it.   Mary gave the fetus that became Jesus (yes, Virginia, that's how it happened) posada in her womb.  She gave him breasts aching with milk.  She became the house for God, the house for hope.

I wrote this blog post on the Posada for our denomination's worship blog:

http://blogs.elca.org/worship/?p=925

And I ask, what indeed, if we were all Posada for hope, for justice, for healing.

Be Justice.  Be Beauty.  Be Shelter.

Patrick

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sounds of Silence

In 1967--I'm pretty sure of the year--I was out hunting pheasants with my older brother Mike and my father.  "Hunting" is the right word--not "getting" any. It would have been this time of year: not a lot of snow on the ground, the landscape a muted severity of grays, tans and browns.  A low angle sun that seems to call to the inner depths of things.  One of my favorite times of the year.

If you've hunted pheasants, you know that the two actions you take are walking and being quiet.  We walked cornfields, barely used railroad tracks, sloughs, edges of woods.  I can't remember if we ever saw any birds that day. I know that we didn't shoot any.

It was cold that day, and one of the joys of that day was getting back into the warm car and driving to the next stop.  There was a new song that really grabbed me, as I sat in the back seat.  It spoke to the cold day, and also to where I was in my relation to my family at that age:  It was haunting, melancholic, beautifully sung, and also contained words that challenged how we looked at the world: "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCl8x1PaD7M&spfreload=5

I think maybe "The Sound of Silence" was the first song I fell in love with.  "Hello, darkness, my old friend..."   "In restless dreams I walked alone..."  I felt that, finally, someone was singing to my 14-year old soul. I didn't know where I fit into the family.  I was sad, in a time when boys--especially boys who played football, did Boy Scouts and hunted--didn't show that sadness.  I remember leaning back all of my 14-year old self into the back seat and thinking something like "I want to keep hearing this song forever".  There was something like joy and sorrow wrapped together in my hearing of it.

Except maybe I wasn't 14. The wonder--and curse--of on-line access is that I can just look up and see that "The Sound of Silence" was released in 1965.  Who knows how long it took to get to the top of the play list at KAUS 1480 in Austin, Minnesota.  But it probably didn't take two years. So maybe I was 12 or 13.  And maybe it doesn't matter, because as I continue to discover myself, who I am now at 64 (that I can confirm), who I was, and who I will be, I can give thanks for the beauty, the pathos and the call of that song. And so many others.

This is a poem I wrote over 30 years ago. I think that 12 or 13 or 14 year old boy is in there.


THE MASS

For Thomas Merton

A boy raises a match to twin candles,
Chanting baseball scores behind his prayers.
Bread and wine are ground into the stone,
The water is drawn, knife whetted,
Colors kissed and draped over shoulders.
The priest steps slowly to the altar,
Holding his years like stones coughed up by the sea.
He opens the book, lets the words slap his face,
Turns reddened to us, and weeps history.
It is a moment to say yes to failure.

 
The candles burn thick with darkness,
The music dances in the flames of a thousand circles.
Now the host is raised up to the beaks of night,
Now the words are shouted from the cross:
“This is my Body!” “This is my Blood!”
Walk now to the River, with hands open to receive the promise.
Like a tooth picked off a playground after a fight,
You put it in your pocket, wish on it,
Watch it grow into some terrible friend,
Some new and utterly lonely beast.

 

Be justice. Be beauty.  Be thanksgiving.

Patrick

Monday, October 16, 2017

ME TOO


ME TOO

 

I was hit on by someone in a position of authority over me, and inappropriately touched by a colleague on several occasions.  I can say “Me too”.

 

But that’s not enough.

 

In both those cases, I was physically stronger than the other person, and had options for getting out of the situation.  That position was ending soon, and I could often avoid the person who touched me.  I wasn’t catcalled, groped on the bus or subway, called a slut or sexually assaulted.  I know many women—among my church, family and friends who have been.  I have tried to work against all kind of sexual harassment and violence, and I could say that I stand with women who have been threatened or attacked.  I could say “Me too”.

 

But it wouldn’t be enough.

 

Because men, including myself, need to say “Me too” about participating in a culture and society where women are treated like objects.   About seeing women as something to “get”.  I would like to say that I never thought that way or spoke that way, but I would be a liar.  I could say that I was younger, that I was raised in a town and time where using women was drilled into males from a very young age, and that this socialization is ingrained in our society so deeply.

 

I could say a “Me too” to being socialized to use women, but that isn’t enough.

 

Look at the language of “get” that men use:  I “got” a girlfriend.  I “got” laid.  Even I “got” married.  This language of acquisition and possession can morph quickly into actions that “take” instead of “get”. And taking another person is violence on any level.  I am sorry that I have participated in that, but that’s not enough.

 

I am trying to live my life in a way that does not objectify, harass or molest women (or anyone else).  I’m not perfect, and I fail.  That’s not an excuse, nor a plea for pity or cheap forgiveness.  What I can do is join with other men in a different kind of “me too” campaign, where we commit each other to recognize our participation in objectifying and demeaning women, and we commit ourselves to working with other men to stop it.

 

That could be a really good thing for us men to say, “us too”.


Be Justice. Be Beauty. Be "Us Too".

Patrick

Saturday, July 22, 2017

RAGING


I’m sitting in the studio I rent at the Loft Literary Center, a place boundaried by the ethics of silence and reflection.  I’m eating Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter out of a jar, and munching on crackers.  No other writers mind, because outside, down the block and across the street from the Vikings Darth Vader Stadium, in the parking lot of a bar, a heavy metal  raging scream shock damn it to hell band is playing its collective asses off for the masses.  I’m sure their volume control goes even beyond Spinal Tap’s 11, maybe up to 15 or so.  The guitar riffs are OK, the drummer is good, and the main singer—whom I’m guessing is a white guy around 40, whose long hair is starting to creep up his pate—is doing his best to channel rage.  After every song, a roar goes up from a couple hundred men.  Pretty soon, I expect to see pirates rappelling down the stadium walls to the plaza, where feral hogs will be slain by the sword and roasted whole over huge fires. 

I don’t write rage that well, and I’m trying to figure out how rage has taken over our discourse and our politics and even our families, rage not only from those who have been deprived, but from those doing the depriving. 

Interlude: the band just burst into their rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.  Touching.

I’ve been reading about how loyal Trump voters have stayed loyal, and how his bullying and coarseness and vulgarity actually make them feel better.  About him, and about themselves.  I know there are a lot of people feeling left out and powerless in parts of our country, and Trump feels like a champion.  But I wonder what will happen when that feeling doesn’t deliver, when all that is left is rage, with no action or strategy to funnel it into.  What will happen then?  There will still be music and rallies where we can shout about our power and our sense of being betrayed, but eventually that rage—real or imagined, it doesn’t matter—has to go somewhere.  God, help us.

 
This is a poem about a girl I knew who had reason to rage, and somehow found hope.  It was originally published in the anthology: Veils, Halos and Shackles: International Poetry on the Abuse and Oppression of Women.

 
DON’T KIDNAP MY MOM BEFORE MY FIRST COMMUNION
 

For Janette

She crouches behind
the stove on the 4th floor
of a building with no elevator,
no front door, no smells
but rum, urine, frijoles,
flowers, fried fish,
t-shirts and asthma.
She breathes as softly
as her mind will let her,
with knocking at the door.                 

 
Who could it be?
A machete?
A tiny telegram from Tio?
An angel whose face
is on backwards?
The little peephole
is a magic pipeline:     
good things come in small packages
and bad things, too.

 
Her body is twelve, skinny
enough to squeeze behind
the stove, tight enough
to attract mustaches,
fingertips, maldiciones.
Her eyes are mousetraps
being nibbled.
She prays with her thumb,
her nightgown, the stuffed
bear she thought
to bring along.

 
She remembers
the story, from First Communion
of the five thousand fed:
five little breads,
two small fish,
given by a young boy.
“But it could have been you,
the pastor said. “It could have
been your hands
holding up the miracle.”
She looks at her hands,
browned like stove grease
from behind the stove,
white knuckled, red
in the creases,
eager to give birth.                 

I will be bread, she thinks.
I will be a fish:
A tiburón, a shark,
something that is
difficult to catch.

 
Be justice. Be beauty.  Be wary of your rage.

Patrick

Friday, November 4, 2016

WHAT IS AILING TRUMP MAY BE AILING US

One thing I have not seen in all the election talk is discussion of what might be under Donald Trump’s misogyny, appeals to violence and general all around bullying.  I want to share some reflections on that, with a bit of trepidation. 

First of all, I don’t know Donald Trump, except for two things: 

1) His public persona, as he and his brand promote it.  There is a chance, I guess, that the whole thing could be just an act that he’s putting on.  He is a showman and salesman, after all.  But I kind of doubt that it’s ALL an act.  There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the Trump persona and Trump the man.  That’s sad.  And scary.

2) I lived in New York from the early 80’s to the early 90’s, when Trump was building his empire, and so got to see his pretty shady deals, his egomania and his attacks on enemies.

I am also aware of Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment (thou shall not bear false witness), where he says: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, think and speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”

It’s hard to put the best construction on everything Trump does and says!  To be honest, I’m not that great at doing that with my wife and daughters!  Or even myself!  But I will try.

I think that Donald Trump has to have a huge wounding inside of him to be this angry, this vengeful and this hostile.  His default seems to always attack: attack opponents, attack the press, attack the “system”.  I don’t think you can be that way constantly unless there is a huge hurt inside you that you cannot or will not be reconciled to.  Anger, hostility, violence are defense mechanisms, and always defending against an internal threat as well as an external one.

What might be that threat for Trump?  What might the wound so fierce he has to always be promoting himself, and doing so at the expense of others? 

 
The easy answer—and this is speculation, of course—is that it has something to do with women.  And probably something really early in life, that left a big wound; one that was built on over the years.  I’ve read about Fred Trump, his father, quite a bit.  But not much about his mother or other female family members.  I’m not seeking to blame someone, but doesn’t it seem likely that some woman hurt Donald Trump deeply?  Some hurt that is so hard for him to bear—even to admit—that he has to be in control all the time?

 
A friend who is a 12-step veteran shared this slogan with me a while back: “If you spot it, you got it.”  And I have to say, I got some of Trump in me.  There is a resentment towards those who would hurt me (or even just oppose me)—or my church, or family or community.  There is anger that can go from zero to sixty in a flash.  There is too much of a readiness to attack opponents, rather than challenge their ideas. 

 
I’ve struggled to change that, and to understand that, and have made a lot of progress, but it’s still in me.  I do not know if it is something universal to all men, but I can see in myself that being wounded by a woman calls up all sorts of stuff that being wounded by a man doesn’t.  This is the place to go into the particulars of what that is for me.  But at its core, there lies a feeling of being rejected for who I am.  And being ashamed of that.

 
Trump must have a deep well of shame in his self.  Because that’s the currency he deals in: blame and shame.  When you call someone a “fat pig” or a “loser”, that’s shame-throwing.  And you can’t throw what you don’t have.

 
Certainly, Trump has tapped into voter discontent in a large chunk of the electorate.  Much of that is based on reality: a lot of people have been screwed by the economy and the government, and a lot of people are not that far from being homeless or unable to retire.  But I think there’s something deeper in us as a people going on.  I think there is a feeling of being rejected, and a big, boiling pile of shame in us.  Some of that can be explained by changing demographics, and the fear that provokes in some people. There is certainly a big chunk of racism and sexism in the Trump movement.  But I don’t think that’s all that’s there.

 
What is our shame and hurt that keeps us from listening to each other, from compromise, even from fully rejoicing?  There are several books that could be written on that!  But let me take a stab at one, exhibited in our fascination with all things military.  Trump really ties into that, with his promises to defeat ISIS and terror in general quickly and completely.

We’re approaching Veteran’s Day (which actually started as Armistice Day, celebrating not warriors, but the end of a war).  The ads for “honoring our veterans” events seem to be on all the radio stations.  I believe that we need to support the people who are coming back from war—including providing means for them to recover from moral injury as well as physical and emotional injury.  But it seems to me that the enshrinement of “The Troops” has become almost idolatrous—not to mention, it makes us more likely to get into more wars, because we want to “support our troops.”

At the root of that is a big tangle, I think.  Of course, we want to support our brothers and sisters.  We want to help them heal.  But underneath that is our collective shame about how we treated veterans in the past, especially in Viet Nam.  And not just the reality of how we treated returning vets, but our perception of that, stoked by politicians who benefit from war.  We feel powerless over that, so to some extent, we overcompensate by lifting up today’s vets as heroes (whether they were actually heroic or not).

But underneath that shame is a deeper shame about our sending our soldiers to Viet Nam in the first place, to fight a war that was wrong, evil, cruel, full of war crimes and completely indefensible.  Those who would benefit from war continue to try and make it an honorable cause, which simply can’t be done.  Many of our soldiers were victims of that war, but many were perpetrators, especially at the top.  That’s messy, and it’s easier to try and keep that tamped down.  To ignore it, or justify it, or minimize it. But it won’t stay down.  Just like slavery and Jim Crow won’t stay down, or the genocide against native peoples won’t stay down, or the seizure of half of Mexico, the oppression of women and on and on.  Those wounds, and the shame attached to them, keep coming up.

What does this have to do with Trump?  There is no doubt that Trump has been wounded—deeply, and has great shame about it.  He can’t admit it, because that would make him a “loser”.  And there is no doubt, in my mind, that he has shame about the wrong he has done and continues to do and has great shame about that.  He can’t admit that, because that would make him the problem, and not the great solution.

How about us, these United States?  Could we be honest enough to admit that we are really wounded and that we have really wounded others?  Will we continue to vote and be ruled by shame and fear, or will we break out of that?

The only way I know to do that is to trust in the grace of forgiveness.  A grace that does not wipe away accountability for evil or deny justice.  That’s a messy kind of grace sometimes, but there’s great freedom in that too.  And it takes great bravery to be that honest and work towards repair and restoration.  But hey, aren’t we the land of the free and the home of the brave *?


Be brave.  Be free.   Be justice.  Be beauty.

 
Patrick

 
* Yay, Cubbies!

Friday, June 3, 2016

MAY SHOWERS BRING…?

I haven’t written in a while, and this time I REALLY have an excuse: first, carpal tunnel, then tendonitis, then arthritis and what may be a pinched nerve, all in my writing hand. So I may not be writing a lot for awhile.  But I have a few random thoughts (two actually):

I do not understand how the three young men from Minnesota who were found guilty of “conspiracy to commit murder abroad” face life in prison, when cop after cop who has actually committed homicide here gets off with nothing.

I am not a supporter of people going to Syria to fight for ISIS, but could we be honest about who actually is ever tried for “conspiracy to commit murder abroad”?   Lots of Americans go to serve with Israel’s army, there are U. S. veterans fighting with militias in Iraq and Syria, there are many mercenaries (called “contractors”) committing murder in countries all over the place.   We should at least call it “conspiracy to commit murder abroad for people and groups we don’t like”).

That’s the first thing.  The second is that it’s a beautiful spring day outside: lots of rain, lots of green and colorful things bursting out all over.  But when we turn on the local news today, we will hear it’s a “bad day” a “gloomy day”, and that the “good day” of the weekend will be when it doesn’t rain.  Of course, prior to the newscast, they will tell you that they are going to tell you that and then at the beginning of the newscast they will tell  you that they are going to tell you that, and then five minutes into the newscast they will tell you part of that, and promise to tell you more of that later in the newscast.   And sometimes apologize for the rain.

Yes, I am in a good mood today, honestly!  It being spring and gardening time, maybe you’d like this poem, recently out in Philadelphia Stories:

 
ASCENSION DAY PLANTING, NORTH PHILLY

                                                                                                                "God does what she wants.
                                                                                                              She has very large tractors."
                                                                                                                                           Robert Bly

It is the first time Jesús has planted, and
his haircut is on backwards.  His eyes are
little birds, hinged at the wings.  His hands
spend their days combating eagerness.
Give him a shovel.  Give a boy with poking eyes
an extra hand to carve his name in dirt.
Some boy's house fell into its own pit here
and made hole-homes for rat-friends,
for pawned treasures and secrets that never
got redeemed.  Jesús can make time with a shovel.
Make it march backward.  Stand on its head.
Do tricks.  Blink back nobodies.  Earth is a bag
to hold heaven, and Jesús is a hole's best friend.
Big sister Milly (one leg over the fence into babies,
the other still in diapers), hands him a tomato
with its web roots of tiny feathers.  It is a small
bird fallen out of heaven.  It is a troubling
miracle, that rests a moment in Jesús’ palm,
cupped between the thumb and the dirty nails,
until his knee bends, his hands 
swoop down, and his fingers
release the peeping prey to the freshly dug earth.

Be justice. Be beauty.  Be ye not afraid of the rain.

Patrick

Monday, March 28, 2016

WHERE IS THIS ANGER COMING FROM?

There has been a lot of talk this election year about an “angry electorate”, or at least the angry part of the electorate that the news media loves to cover.  And there certainly has been enough angry rhetoric from the Republican presidential candidates.

 
But I don’t think that anger alone explains the appeal of Mr. Trump, and his appeal to “deport all illegal (sic) immigrants” or “bar Muslims from entering the U.S.”, not to mention the physical violence that has taken place at some rallies.


There are a lot of people angry in this country.  I’m angry about income inequality, pollution and climate change, profiling and racism, violence against women, etc. etc.  People are angry about a lot of stuff.  I imagine that in every election in our divided nation, close to half the people are angry about “the other side”.  But I don’t think that explains what is happening this year.


I think the problem greater than anger is that people feel powerless.  That their world is changing and that they can’t stop it.  Which causes fear and hopelessness, which are REALLY hard to feel, and so we tend to cover it up with anger.  And usually the kind of anger that looks for a scapegoat.


A lot has been made of the fact that it’s mostly white working class people who support Trump.  (I imagine there’s a lot of poor white people that do as well).  I can’t speak for such a large group, but I can see why they would be angry—about income inequality, the loss of high-paying jobs, and cultural shifts that—to them—have happened so rapidly.

And if they feel powerless to change things, where do they turn to?  If you are African-American, there are groups and strategies you can be a part of, from Black Lives Matter to NAACP.  There are many Latino and immigrant groups, women’s and LGBT organizations.  There are unions and environmental groups.
 

But if you are a white working class man, you may be asking “Who is MY champion?”  And if you feel shut out, disempowered, and that opportunities to flourish and feel secure are passing you by, then it’s not hard to see that you might be drawn to a man who not only promises to fix what’s ailing you, but also does it in a way that calls out the very groups you may see as destroying your way of life: immigrants, Muslims, the poor, minorities, “elites”, “uppity” women.

 
Needless to say—but it really does need to be said a lot—Trump’s strategies aren’t going to help working class people at all.  But when people in the US vote more often for whom they perceive and feel is “for them” rather than on specific policy strategies, you could see how someone is “standing up” and “knows how to get things done” would be appealing.

 
Now you could say “It’s their fault—“They should see through Trump’s lies”—“They’re acting out of their privilege as whites”—“There’s plenty of movements and organizations they could get involved with for real change”, etc. etc.

 
That may be true. (Although it is easy for the left to demonize and stereotype poorer and less educated among us, because, let’s face it, the intellectual and financial base of most of the left is middle class and upper class.)  But telling people who feel powerless that they are wrong to feel that way is like saying to someone who is angry “Why are you angry?”  or “You really have it better than lots of other people”. How often does that work out well?

I’ve seen this same dynamic in the church.  Most of the congregations I’ve served have been in inner cities, where great ethnic, cultural and economic changes have taken place in the neighborhood around the church.  I have led those churches into change, change that has been hard and slow and sometimes divisive. While many established leaders discover that a new way of being church with the community is both wise and just, not all do.  And when fundamental change takes place—especially if people don’t feel they have the power to stop it or change it—there can be a lot of resentment and blaming that gets built up.  The newcomers—whether they are from a different race or language or economic status—make an easy target for “why things are going wrong”.


As church leaders we quickly point out the racism—both obvious and subtle—in these disenchanted leaders.  And it is there.  But I’m beginning to see more clearly that we often overlook how the shift of power can be so unsettling to those who once had great power (or thought they did) and now see others “taking” that away from them.  If you feel powerless, you may even see a genuine, intentional sharing of power and vision and leadership as a threat.

 
I surely am not saying we should back off change because some of the old guard are suffering (and don’t call myself Shirley!).  Far from it!  But if we claim—as we do in the church—that God empowers all people, then part of our work has to include patiently and courageously listening to people who feel powerless, and helping lead them into a new understanding of power and mission that includes them, along with the new groups exercising power and leadership.


Not that I (and we) do that well all the time.  Nor do I think that everyone can and will get on board with change.  Some people have to leave.  Accepting that can be hard for those of us who want the change; it can be doubly hard for those who have decided to support the change, but still are struggling with it personally, and who may have long histories with those who have left.

That change that I’m talking about—on the church and on the national level—is indeed a justice issue, but I’m beginning to see that framing it as such can sometimes have the opposite effect that we want.  People who are living out of a sense of powerlessness may even see what we call justice as injustice, because they perceive they are being excluded. 

I do not think we should stop working for change in society that is needed—changes in addressing climate change, racism and policing, income inequality, war and so on—changes that may make that section of the populace who feel powerless feel even more so.  That’s going to happen.  My hope is that there is a way we can work for that change without stereotyping and demonizing the people we don’t like because they stereotype and demonize people we do like.

Part of that has to do with really listening to people who are different than us and not attacking.  I would like to suggest a couple of ways our language can either impede or help that listening:

1)         Only talking about white privilege with working class white folks when we talk about policing or other issues of racial justice is not very effective.  Most police officers come from that community (a real problem for community policing, to be sure), and so many working class white folks have family or friends who are cops.  People who feel—and to a lesser or greater extent have experienced—great losses by the changes that have occurred (especially economic) don’t feel very privileged.  They have more privilege for being white, yes. But they don’t feel that they are privileged in general.  Framing the discussion in terms of privilege doesn’t seem to engage dialogue very much.

2)         And to my friends on the left—where I locate myself—is it helpful to respond to opinions you disagree with by saying the people expressing them are “mansplaining” or “whitesplaining”? If your goal is to change people’s attitudes and actions, how exactly will cutting off dialogue help?  There must be ways to understand and then counter their opinions in ways that open rather than close the human connection. Also, how much power and privilege do we have because of our education and our ability to use words?  Do we use that privilege in systemic, subtle and unconscious ways?

 
Well, that’s a lot of words from me.  I am worried about the direction of our country and our church.  But I don’t feel powerless about it.  And I trust that this will keep me sane.

 
Be justice. Be beauty.  Be power.


Patrick