Thursday, October 29, 2020

MAGA? We Maga are Here...Arising

The universe startled me yesterday, which these days, takes some doing.

There’s not a day goes by that doesn’t have me scratching my head or struggling to bear up under the inhumanity we’re seeing right now. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel a sense of awe-disbelief at the surreal world we’re living in, finally being unmasked (so to speak) for what we’ve made it, collectively. Each day brings its news cycle or social-media blitz, un-grounded and ungrounding 7-course meals of anxiety and disbelief, fear and disdain, increasingly unconscious sufferings and hatreds, with a little toothless satire dusted on the top trying to help those of us who appreciate satire digest it all. Yet the universe startled me last night with a marvelous juxtaposition, a stunning invitation for me to play in (as the writer I am), to see what might rise here for Good. For Heart. For Healing. I’m going to start a ways from where we’ll end up, but those who are hungry for the feast provided by such Great Mystery will stay with me. I’m not writing for those who aren’t hungry anyway.

This weekend marks the “fall-back-one-hour” season in my part of the United States, November 1st, All Souls’ Day, and Nala’s Arrival Anniversary. Brian has asked me repeatedly these last pandemic months: When can we put up the Christmas decorations?!? Last January, after a hellish drive home in an ice-storm only Minnesota does best, he came home from Cost-Co with a huge box. “It was on sale!” he said triumphantly. A full-size—maybe even grand-size—Christmas tree, with lights already attached. It’s a “put-together-in-3-minutes” fully-lit Christmas tree for our high-ceilinged living room. This weekend is finally to be the weekend! Sunday November 1st is the day we’re going to decorate our home for Fall-Back, Nala’s Anniversary, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas…the holy-days.

Which means the Season of the Magi is fast approaching... Most of us are familiar with the journey of the Wise Men in Christian story-telling...three men traveling from their distinct locations, following the brightest Star, bumping into one another on the way, and landing at the stable where the Christ child lay shortly after his birth. I remember trying to convince my mother that I should give my (rather fundamentalist sister) a feminist version of the story. It tells the story of the Christ child's birth, but offers the wisdom of women from across the world, bringing their gifts of storytelling, of bread-baking, and of...I forget the third 'gift.' Out of an honoring that this gift would not have been appreciated by my sister, that I was giving it because I wanted to give it with a rather angry-feminist-flick at her, I did not leave the store with it... I don't remember whether magi was even used in the text itself...

Magi is the plural form of magus, which named a priest in Zoroastrianism and the earlier religions of the western Iranians, the Persians. The earliest known use of the word magi is in a trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great—the Behistan Inscription. This word is commonly associated with the astronomy/astrology of the time, alchemy and other forms of esoteric knowledge. (That both scientists and religious folks today hold these things in disdain or condemnation should cause your eyebrows to rise and get curious...). In these contexts, the word carries a feeling of magician or practitioners of magic. Once Latin and Greek languages-influence come into play, we land with magi meaning “kings” or “wise men,” entering into English through the Latin around 1200 C.E. Today, depending upon your level of fear and willingness to demonize another, magi can bring a ‘scholarly’ condemnation of Zoroastrianism or a 'projection of fear' onto other human beings accused of ‘the dark arts’ or magick. My own scholarly-skepticism is well-familiar with both condemnation and projection, so I’ve taken to getting curious about the scholar's need to condemn, the patriarchal-Christian need to demonize. That may be more healing, in the end, I’m learning.

 So why not condemn or refuse? Why care about all of this? Because we have now received a delightful serendipitous-juxtaposition that invites our reclamation of We the People amidst some of the most fear-mongering and inhumane energies I know in the United States today.

Magus...priest of an ancient tradition ...

MAGA...Make America Great Again ...

and now

Maga...the feminine form of magus...

a Harvest Woman rising into her distinctive necessary presence and gifts for the world 


I landed here in this linguistic collision because I was looking for the location of an article I had read years ago on the Harvest Woman or being an Autumn Woman—a woman after motherhood who is entering into menopause, yet clearly years before her evolution into Elder/Crone. A Harvest/Autumn Woman is awakening to her distinctive gifts to bring to the world, often with a much more deeply embodied wisdom shaped by nourishment-with-rigor, deeply felt commitment to the earth and her offspring…gifts differentiating from and completely freed of the biological-mothering rhythms and quite distinct from the more cerebral-linear masculine (today, especially). I was looking because I had just spent a privileged-blessed hour with an awakening Harvest Woman…


Eventually, I remembered that it was a women’s circle community in Australia, and that my first introduction to this wisdom circle was an article on Menstruation as Spiritual Practice. (Yes, really...). Both essays were timely gifts for me five years ago as I was beginning the long journey of reclaiming my own body, its beautiful blood-rhythms, its impending journey into menopause. Because of this community, these writings, I was able to truly love my body’s deep-wisdom known during menstruation—the dreamtime, the deeper sensations and awarenesses—before it was all over. The imposed shame of my tradition’s condemnation of my woman’s blood as unclean broke open to a fierce delight in my body’s wisdom-week every month. I was increasingly freed of the inherited embarrassment of my blood’s presence, smell, physicality. Before it was too late, I knew my motherhood’s cycle-rhythm-wisdom, though my path has been to not have biological children. Utter GIFT. I then learned I was becoming a Harvest Woman, approaching menopause. With longer-life, women today enter into this distinctive evolution of the Feminine beyond its phases determined by the masculine and its predilection to focus on maiden and motherhood. I was entering into the phase of my Feminine journey completely independent of the masculine yet gifted with all the masculinized gifts I had inherited and honed in my journey. 

So, this earlier essay led me to the updated site, which can be accessed here. What had been has become a portal into the writings and teachings of Jane Hardwicke Collings, introduced more fully here. And you know what the Harvest/Autumn Woman essay has become, re-named? Introducing Maga

Collings gives her introduction to the name, Maga, from her friend Cedar Barstowe, while they were sitting on the back deck of a home in Boulder, Colorado. Maga is the feminine form of magus, priestess of the Feminine moving into the world. As Jane asked her friend for more story, Cedar said, “I’m no Crone yet….far from it, I’m out there in the world earning my living and I have much to give. … My life experience and the wisdom it has brought me provide a stable and rich foundation. … I have arrived at my Self in this life season. I’m not trying to prove myself and so I’m now driven by a desire to use my gifts and passions to give back. The name Maga came from one of the women in our community, Sylvia Keepersii. An apt and potent image, Maga was intended as the feminine version of Magus – the wise man, magician.”

As I read this updated version of the article I had read years ago, I was stunned as it came fully home into my own body.

I AM A MAGA? I gasped and paused. My United States-ean soul-eyes bugged out, again my body breathing in sharply. 

And then a deep-womb laughter of the Old Woman coming soon within me began at my very root… I let the guffaw fill the room and sat with the picture-perfect unity of it all. I could hardly contain the delight and giggling.

Today’s Harvest-Women-Magas are the perfect counterpresence to USA's MAGA. We are simply going to take-over their name, their symbol…just as many populations unseen by the dominating-toxic masculine reclaim words for themselves. Perhaps this time, we'll do so with pink Maga hats and irrepressible humor, fortitude, and wisdom, which is able to love the violently afraid, able to withstand the pains of rebirth all around us.

This capacity in us is not painless, but it does not require suffering, if we surrender to who we already are in this world and the gifts we are here to bring. Nor is this journey peaceable or calm as we would hope for. It’s incredibly tense and holding-still. It’s an increasingly energized stasis, knowing yet waiting patiently in the Flow for the Pace of Guidance. It’s more like being an arrow drawn back to the bow but fiercely held there, staying, not releasing any weapons, not participating in the violence. When we participate in the violence, after all, we become them...


Regardless of who wins the election next week, our world IS beginning to see this global rise of Harvest-Autumn Women, deeply steeped in the wisdom of nourishment-with-rigor, living a fierce protection of the young, the vulnerable, and the elderly… No matter what happens in these next weeks, more and more of us are rising to care for the planet, for our Mother. She is calling her best warriors who know intimately the costs of war and have the personal power to stop it the only place it can be stopped...withinwhile standing firm without...

Which can only happen when each/all of us learn it within, for ourselves, first…women now, but also our men... When we learn that each of us is worthy of true intimacy while most of us have not actually experienced it in the prisons of cultural-marriages, the (external and internalized) abuse of women(-identified), and the toxic masculinity binding our beautiful, compassionate men(-identified). When we learn our safety matters and learn how to hold our own boundaries, with deepening personal power used for the good of all, not the (un)paltry economic gains of the few.

We used to think voting was about the economy, but it’s increasingly NOT about economic stability or security anymore. It’s slowly becoming about awakening and becoming human, connected, kind… Our Harvest-Autumn women(-identified-ones) are re-learning how to allow the masculinized partners in their lives to do their own emotional-spiritual work, to absolutely be required to honor spoken boundaries and the distinctive gifts of the women-identified in their lives, even more than their own...a spiritual strength of surrender inaccessible to most (men-identified) today. It’s not easy, and as most child-bearing women know, it’s bloody and full of shit that needs to get out of the way.


But the Maga are here, in our midst. More and more of us... We stand for the vulnerable, the young, the elderly, those who are suffering. We won’t save this world because Maga wisdom is not about salvation of what used to be. It’s about more and more of us becoming the New, to-get-Her, pushing through What-Was without denying or blaming or ignoring or even looking away. The best part of this, in my belly, is the ability to smile gently but persisently: today’s MAGA is only the painful-pill or seed of all the Maga to come. We are already here, learning...


...we may need to confess that the majority of these our United States may not have woken up enough to know this from within... We may yet be in for the ruin of our institutions in the teeth of the inhumane...but I am writing for myself here to remember. The Maga are already here, rising... More and more of us... Women and men learning to do this kind of work, inside, for themselves...for the most tender of us... We simply need to hold Her hand(s)...together.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How Can You SAY That? I asked her...

What if I lived life today as if there really were a divine order to things? That we cannot ‘get it wrong’? These words were gifted to me today, even as I now sit here befuddled by them. I asked the African-American woman speaking, a coach-friend-elder, “How can you say that? Seeing the world the way it is right now, how can you say that?” Before my mind’s eye danced the suffering of so many American (Black) families, sons and daughters lost to police violence; families ripped asunder in a global pandemic, with 225,000 lives lost, a majority in communities of color. Tears pricked my eyes as I, a white woman from Dayton, asked her, “How can you say that?” She smiled at me as she said quietly, Because I have already surrendered…

My body knows there is wisdom here that my mind cannot hold for long. Her gaze was clear, her voice was sure. Assured. She is living something she knows intimately and well. Once upon a time, I knew a body truth about surrender. It was not the popularized conception of surrender as weakness or a victimization. Like surrendering to the conqueror on the battlefield, or to a toxic masculinity so rampant in our world today. No, this wisdom-surrender is rooted in finitude and grace, growing more Life and Love in selfless strength demonstrated without fanfare or even acknowledgement. Something from the inside…known in relinquishment and trust.

I first encountered the wisdom of
surrender to an elder, to a teacher, in a Buddhist lineage--Nyingma-Kagyu lineages in Tibetan Buddhism. I experienced it within the context of a spiritual friendship, rooted in the Christian faith, offering new language for understanding surrendering to my tradition’s teacher, Jesus. But the Buddhist lineage invited surrender to one’s teacher, one’s root-lama, so to learn the path more deeply, without attachment/aversion, for freedom, awakening. For me, in my own tradition, the question became: What did it mean to surrender to an elder whose unconditional love transforms and/or transfigures all into blessing? What is the path of surrender that is not acquiescence or self-abandonment, but life-giving gift and self-becoming/divine-fulfillment? The visceral mark of this surrender is a sense of freedom, of release, of life-giving energy within and beyond… It is known by its fruit, one could say.

My body recognized what this friend was offering me today in her witness to surrender, yet choice and discernment have to tango here too. My first real encounter with this wisdom was a learning experience I’d rather not have had. I believed I was surrendering to an elder. For a time, I experienced the freedom and life-giving character of a deeper encounter with myself. But she was not an elder. She was a dear friend whom I desired to empower so make a teacher by becoming a student. But then her attachment to being the only teacher between us grew sickly and sickening of us both. Neither of us could grow without being grasped to spiritual death by the other. Had I not relinquished her, the friendship, and reclaimed myself, we would have continued to suffocate one another...claiming love but knowing only imprisonment. If it does not liberate, it is ego, not love. (Dr. Maya Angelou again). I have since been skeptical and rather closed off to the notion and potential wisdom of surrender.

Then these words...What if I lived life today as if there really were a divine order to things? That we cannot ‘get it wrong’? Once upon a time, I lived in a universe--or multiverse, either was fine by me--in which there was a divine order to things. My life’s path took me into a Kierkegaard philosophy course my junior year of college, awakening me in ways I had not known I was sleeping. I relinquished plans for medical school and leaned into a completely unanticipated path of teaching in a girls’ school in Pasadena. I encountered strong women leaders in both school and church who would mentor me, take me under their wings and encourage me. Grad school in theological education beckoned, and away I went into an orderly-disorderly, definitely non-linear pathway of transformation. What I get to do today was never something I said as a little girl that I wanted to do when I grew up. I teach at a freestanding seminary in a Protestant tradition not my own, learning/teaching interreligious-intercultural encounter and spiritual practices in historical traditions. Yet...somewhere along the way, this utter conviction in the divine order of things has been shaken down to a fine strand or a fragile thread. Life can only be understood backwards, Kierkegaard supposedly said. It must be lived forward. I can articulate the divine order of things as I view my life backwards from here. But forwards…? In today’s America? Really?

This sense of loss or fragility has not been an overt shift in belief/doubt about divine presence, divine order...I know what my life has shown me, and the freedom of being finite, of not being in charge. There’s no existential challenge wrestling its way within me; Spirit is Spirit and when we get to participate, always, a blessing… But the challenge of living my life today, convinced of the divine order of things? I’m more a seminary professor taught the hermeneutics of suspicion than a surrendered participant in divine (dis)order...I’ve lost the felt-sense of surrender and trust in a God whom I could name easily and know as that God forever. The wounds of the last (four?) years are simply so deep, so painful, so unforeseen (by me)... And as I grow and change, not ironically, so does my felt-sense of the divine.

It’s been a million little strands breaking under the strain of our overwhelming human fragility and our seemingly irrepressible inhumanity. It’s the politely and conveniently ignored betrayal of women as women by every major religious tradition on the planet, drenched in one-sided, abusive-patriarchal and feminine-demonizing practices/thinking that dehumanize all of us and e-masculate the planet. It’s walking the faithful path and experiencing two days of utter void and disintegration in which abandonment is the only accurate description. Generation upon generation of body-wounds, internalized traumas, fearmongering and incitement to violence… This…? The divine order of things…? Jewish wisdom rises regularly in my awareness these days, of the world lost with each human being who dies, of the rise of fascism or authoritarianism while so many of us hide and hope it will all go away, it will all be alright… Never again simmers so close to the surface while you can only do what you can do bursts bubbles of fear.

But my body knows the wisdom of surrender and the empowered freedom that comes when letting go of my sense of utter-responsibility so to receive my simple place in the flow of things. I more deeply trust my body’s perception of what is actually life-giving, often (but not always) in contrast to what religious traditions presume they’ve meant as “life” before. Surrender here does not mean giving up or letting go of all that beckons for change. 

It does mean acts of radical trust while being in the day’s arisings, the moments as they arise… It means entering into ritual in companionship with the earth--my tree-elders close by for instance--and in gratitude to the earth. It means staying grounded in life-giving activities (CrossFit for me, probably some baking too, plant-tending, knitting). It means welcoming all the wisdom that has come before, inviting the appropriate ancestors to draw close and help for Life, for Love, for all. Surrender means being precisely as I am, open to growing older, younger, larger, smaller...whatever the invitation may be. BE more than DO, while the world turns on her axis of Hope. Show up on behalf of those suffering and hiding. Be precisely who you are created to be, knowing you are not alone. Show up for the wisdom trainings that find you--peace-making, de-escalation trainings, being prepared--and live in the life-giving energies of the world being painfully transfigured before our eyes.

Again, I see her smiling face, her gaze that reaches me even through a screen...Because I have already surrendered… 

As we concluded our time together, she startled me again: Enjoy these next weeks before I see you again. Startling juxtaposition is a signpost of faith in Kierkegaard’s world. This week...before the Election...Enjoy... Enjoy these next weeks… Deep breath... Right... Enjoy...

What do I need to do to enjoy this next week in life-giving intention and joy?

What be YOUR pathway of intention and joy?

Notes for the road, perhaps a later page...

Remember, anxiety is a sign you are not present to the moment. Fear is only in the past (memory of something that happened) or in the future (anticipation of what may happen), but never in the present. Stay present to the moment. There may be danger in the present, but never fear. BE as you need to be to stay present in the moment. (Probably CrossFit for me!)

White people struggle so to surrender... What would it mean for more of us to learn the freedom in surrender to the elders further along on the healing path than we are...? (Hint: they'll probably not look like me/us, but some might...)

You are not alone. Only when you abandon yourself do you feel alone…

Friday, October 23, 2020

Love of Country Before Party -- A New Deal?

I’m slowly coming to realize a deeply embedded inheritance, which shapes our perceptions, which shape our politics. Or maybe just ‘my perceptions and politics,’ but I do think there are versions of this pattern in all of us today. I may well have confused my largely-inherited partisan (Democrat) passions for a love of our country, these United States. I experienced something last night in a virtual town-hall meeting that revealed something new to me, something very old, something quite moving...a Love of Country over Party. I’m not sure that I've actually experienced that in this way in all my years of viable citizenship (1988-present)...which needs exploring now. Somehow along the way, I learned the habit of speaking openly with Democrats and guardedly with Republicans. I inherited passions that were particularly partisan and I mostly assumed that was what love of this country is. It's not. (To be clear, love of country is not the idealization of it either...I'm beginning to sense it is something much harder, grittier, yet inspiring and ennobling...)

For the last three decades, my civic attentions have waxed and waned depending upon whether a Democrat or a Republican was President. I’ll never forget the high I experienced when finally, in my short voter’s lifetime at that time, someone I voted for was elected President. I became engaged and conversant in current events. I weighed in on things that ‘my side’ was or wasn’t doing while in power. When George W Bush won, I felt defeated and relinquished any sense of civic engagement or responsibility. I began to wait until the next presidential election, when my side might have a voice again. I was tireless in the Obama campaigns--both of them--and believed “in my country” once again. I hardly slept the night before Election Day during the first campaign, having to drive home from a professional meeting in Chicago on Monday night, so to canvas and be helpful however I could on Election Day itself. I could hardly keep my eyes open to see the text that went out to all of us two minutes before Obama took to the stage (in Chicago) to celebrate the Election results. 

I was tireless in the Hillary campaign, for different reasons but some similar ones too. I remember driving to Columbus so I could hear her speak at a rally close to the University. I smiled and also mourned when getting to meet some of the cast of The West Wing here in Dayton as a kick-off volunteer-training event. (I loved meeting Alison Janney and Bradley Whitford; I mourned as I realized the chasm between their view of the world and the Ohio town they were visiting...they didn’t know where they were or who they were talking to…). I remember feeling real fear for the first time in a civic activity, being chased down the street by a Trump supporter yelling and blustering at us for even canvassing in his neighborhood. And then Election Night--the disbelief, the rage, the sadness. And so for the last four years, I’ve fasted from much of anything civic. When I hear the man's voice on the radio, I turn it off. As my side begins to gain momentum for change, for security and redress of all that has wounded us in 2020--pandemic, protests manipulated, economic free-fall--once again, I’m tireless in my support and my volunteering time-energy-resources. 

This is what I thought love of country looked like, though my own parents may have lived a more stable pattern for themselves. My mother was a Democratic councilwoman for 14 years in her staunch Republican town. She worked ‘across the aisles’ easily, so much so that many Republicans instigated her campaign for Mayor, when a more Tea-Party conservative was going to run. She lost that race, and grieved it for a long time. But she lived a love of country and her community across the national dynamics during those years.

There was nonetheless a deeply ingrained sadness at Republican conservatism and the damage they/we saw it do to the things they/we value--health care, social-security-safety-nets, support of those less well-off than we were economically, materially, systemically. To this day, I cannot see how Republican values expressed in a culturally conservative vein are faithfully Christian...which is not to say they are not. That is to say I have an automatic bias and knee-jerk judgment given my earliest formation in a Democratic family in a Republican town. There is an intellectual disdain and a judgmental spirit in my family about things Republican.

Even conscious of that, in any either-or choice, I still cannot vote for small-businesses over policies that will aid those facing systemic challenges or who have less voice than I do. That will always be a difference that comes with me...even though I honor that I am one who has never had her livelihood depend upon parents’ small businesses, etc. It's complicated, even after you practice non-judgment and holding the ambiguities. To glimpse from a slightly different angle: I've been recently moved by the challenges Black Americans face in love of country, for instance. A beautiful essay that holds the complications for us to feel them can be found in Black Patriotism: When Love of Country Means Holding it Accountable. (July 2020). If Black Americans can love this country amidst the horrific injuries to their lineages of family and faith, I can learn a lot from them...

So...last night, I was inspired and deeply engaged to witness a Love of Country over Party that I’m not sure I’ve actually ever experienced in our contemporary political scene. In partisan politics, love of party swallows love of country. There is no relinquishing or decreasing in the weaponized politics of today. But I sat in on a virtual town-hall meeting last night with The Lincoln Project founders (two of them)--Jennifer Horn and Steve Schmidt. I did not know either of those names before last night, to be honest, though I have kept my eyes on The Lincoln Project and support it financially. I deeply appreciate their movement and hope for their/our gaining momentum. I’m a little uncomfortable in their laser focus on Donald Trump, but I can certainly understand why they choose him as focal point. 

I was surprised to feel something new, something old, something else moving last night as I listened to them respond to questions and offer invitations, even guidance. Something in me opened in the impassioned speech and fiery rhetoric of Steve Schmidt. I also felt moved by the words of Jennifer Horn--a quieter voice, a gentler rhythm, but no less impassioned and convicted. The Moderator (whose name I’m sorry I’ve forgotten by now) held the space well and invited a balanced voice between both Horn and Schmidt. 

Schmidt took us back to the remarkable singularity in United States history of the peaceable transition of power over these 244 years. George Washington went home to Virginia.

King George couldn’t believe it. And John Adams, defeated, relinquished power in the sting of his loss but the country's gain. Schmidt brought us back to a common history, even with its painful atrocities then and to come--Native Americans and then chattel slavery. He spoke words forcefully that I could rally behind as a staunch Democrat. He and Horn were inspiring and encouraging, calming and invigorating. I felt a deep appreciation for who they are as Republicans and fervently desire for them to remain just so. There was no my side and their side in this experience. It was love of Country over passion of Party.

So I’ve been sitting with this today, thankful in an ironic way to Donald Trump for awakening me/us to this deeper vein of citizenship that awaits us, if we can grow into it. So many of us are habitual Party-advocates: my parents were Republican and so am I. My parents were Democrat and so am I. We've lost the focal point of stewarding any Common Good. We've lost the skill set for weaving a common fabric where I give sometimes and you give sometimes. Now it's "they take when they can" and "we take when we can."

I know this season will be the easy part of it. It is relatively simple to unify against such a man as Donald Trump, for those who are willing to really take a look and get involved. I honestly don't know anyone who wants to vote for Trump, but I also know historical-inheritance Republicans who will vote for him on the off-chance their economic situations will be heard and seen. And I can respect that while fervently disagreeing from where I sit, stand, move. Yet the Lincoln Project brought a Love of Country over Party that awoke something beautiful in me. I saw a tenacious devotion to our country's ideals that are so much more common ground between so many more of us. I heard a willingness to risk, to sweat through the details, to hope for the American Experiment to thrive for more of us... I found myself with an unusual question that will remain with me from now on:

How do we participate in healing a party not our own for a Country that is Ours? Both Republicans and Democrats can ask this question, looking the other's direction...

Or to ask these things concretely... How may I be in support of small businesses in my community, because a healthy Republican Party has honored that part of our American population’s need(s)...particularly more significant as manufacturing has waned and jobs are shipped overseas to cheaper global markets? How may I honor the need for more national security because part of our American population lives and works in that economy and our world appears to be a more dangerous place than it used to be? (Though factfulness might dispute this, come to think of it...). How do I advocate for the civic-communal policies & safety nets more and more of us need--health-care, economic opportunity for all with a living wage, campaign finance reform that could give voice back to the People instead of Big Business--while tempering my own partisan passions within a more expansive and deeply rooted Love of Country over Party?

I know that political parties are here to stay, and that they used to be able to assist us in refining arguments and policies for the Common Good. I don’t think our politicians, by and large, remember that or see their ongoing work in that light. Some do. I've been moved by Mike DeWine in this pandemic season, though I differ with him substantially on so many other things. I know that some politicians DO engage their callings with a clear sense of loyalty and commitment to their constituencies whether party-identified or not. But campaigning never ceases, and the need to raise money begins with the first day on the job. Competition for resources and the dirty games of national politics have gained the upper hand. With a tight-social fabric, the political parties could function with greater respect, hospitality, and dignity. But today’s USA does not have a tight-social fabric anymore. 

So I wonder if We the People need to create some new language that honors this partisan reality and yet seeds a visible Love of Country over Party at each step along the way… I wonder if we invite intersectionality into our discourse in a more intentional way…? What if we went with linear order: I am a Democrat-Republican, because I lean toward traditional Democratic values for stronger-less-competitive community fabric even as I support small businesses and honor healthy Republican discourse. Others could say they are a Republican-Democrat, because they lean Republican for small businesses or whatever they’d want to highlight, while they also support Democratic values for working populations and healthcare for all.

Or we could focus on the noun for ourselves, adjective for the other...I am a Republican Democrat. Another could say he was a Democratic Republican. Here the noun is the primary affiliation, and the adjective is the secondary affiliation. I think I like that one more than the first, because it gives primacy of location to the party-affiliation that is secondary. Balancing somehow...

What could it offer us to begin to use hybrid political-party labels, to remember we are at our best when we love country before party? That we are to honor the other voices, especially those with which we disagree the most, as we stitch our communal fabric more closely together once again? Can we be intentional in this healing, stitching work in the face of authoritarianism, fear and hatred pouring into our discourses from without? Hybrid-acclamations might remind more of us that we are all in this together...or that we need to begin stitching our common fabric back together in some fashion.

It'll never happen, my cynical side says. Too confusing for the either/or minds of our world right now, the sound-media bites we nibble all day. But wouldn’t it be marvelous? To remember this American Experiment is never over and needs constant, conscious tending by our better angels, led by those who can call out our better angels...?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

American Authoritarians -- Not as Ironic As We Might Hope (Apparently)

 A fairly traditional view of the American electorate has expanded now to show us a part of ourselves most of us would rather not see: American Authoritarians. Many of us will deny and project this “new development” onto “them” in order not to see. My invitation here will be to counter any division with a “we have met ourselves” here in this moment. A wide array of research from anthropologists and social psychologists finds a pretty consistent showing in all countries across the globe that at least 33% of the population has authoritarian tendencies. Knowing the seeds of all of this in ourselves is the only way to prevent its continued expression ‘out there’ in 'our' future. Let’s you and I take a good long look.

I am building upon the work of Brian McLaren in his recent essay “The Five Electorates in 2020,” which can be found in its entirety here, or in brief definitional summary given down below. You will recognize familiar terms in our political discourse today, even though any schematic is only useful with its next improvements.

Voters in the United States today come in clear ‘flavors,’ whether Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal. More recently, Independent. These terms are more indicative of historical structures and less communicative about the driving forces behind voters choices. The terms Traditionalists, Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives get at the driving values behind voting patterns. (You can see summaries below). So far, all of these terms describe different orientations to the rules and norms of democracy, with all honoring the fragility and yet powerful presence our democracy/Republic lives in our collective world.  

Brian McLaren argues we will all benefit from an alternative way of viewing American politics today. “There have been four kinds of voters in recent elections, but now, a fifth voter element is emerging, and that changes everything.” 

Authoritarians. These Americans find security and delight in submitting to a powerful leader who promises to protect them from all enemies. They value only one thing: winning. To achieve this, they portray toughness--even cruelty and violence--with no admission of weakness or failure; display an unapologetic willingness to break any and every rule to win; demand absolute loyalty to the leader, offering constant praise and adulation; sacrifice truthfulness and critical thinking, because the leader alone defines reality; reward those who submit to him as good people and punish all who don’t as bad people; and suppress all dissent.

These Americans are those of us whose rules and norms conform to a centralized power (whether individual, party etc.) rather than to the values and historical practices of democracy. Power is centralized by means of fear, division, distortion or diversion and suppression. Fear is employed to counter a real, exaggerated, or concocted enemy to activate and unify followers behind the leader. Society is divided based upon an absolute loyalty to the (individual, party, etc.) and hostility to the identified enemy. Gross distortions and diversions of truth mean what is true is only what the leader says. Any acts of dissent, especially by protestors, opponents, or the press, must be squashed.

At this point, it’s easy to feel the temptation to push this as far from myself as possible, joining the chorus of those who condemn such ignorant, uncritically-reflective, and dangerous ‘crazies’ that we cannot believe are actually in our beautifully-messy American democracy. That is not who we are. That is not me. But here’s the thing…

Fear drives me to the rejection of them and the denial of their realities. Which leads to more division. They have nothing to do with me, nor I with them. Which hides what is true before us--we are in this story, like it or not--in attempts to divert and even distort what is clearly unfolding in our collective civic world. Then...It won’t be long before apathy and cynicism set into my bodysoul...signals of an inner suppression…

The authoritarian pattern may be raising its ugly head in remarkable ways in our time, but this pattern is already always within us. I’m not saying “we’re all authoritarians” at all. I’m saying that authoritarianism is here, and so its patterns are already working in all of us. Some express it outwardly, because it matches what their internal fears and consciousness drive in them. More (I hope) are not expressing it outwardly at all. But we are internalizing it every day the pattern speaks in the news, yanks our chain in fear through social media, lives in our neighbor with whom we refuse to speak. 

So how do we counter the pattern without its dictating our responses?

From the day after the election in 2016, when Hillary conceded the election though she had won the popular vote, there has been the call to Resist. #Resist. Yes. Yet this feels so very much like the fundamentalist irony with which I have lived most of my life. Scientists can often (unconsciously) become ‘liberal fundamentalists’ to counter the claims of religious fundamentalists. It seems the most logical thing in the world, to use reason to counter a religious fundamentalist, whose primary tool is already placing faith in opposition to reason, as defined by scientists. Unending conflict is assured, with no one listening to the fundamentals of the other, and more importantly for here: no resolution, ever.

Results? Disdain and refusal. Which I totally get...having lived in the tensions in my own family. Ironically, it's the scientist in the family who first realized the damning impact of disdain and refusal. This now means he often bears the disdain and refusal of his 'religious' brothers, unaware how disdainful they are being. Authoritarianism confronted could play out this same pattern, and often has with those under the banner of #Resist. To not #resist like we are means you are complicit. Fear runs the show. Dissent from a 'liberal view' means betrayal and deception of the cause of liberation or against him. The energies are so similar...I get wary.

So how do we awaken to the authoritarian pattern, gently, vividly, all around us…without succumbing to its force-energy-pattern?

I say it has to begin with the body, to matter. Soften your belly, breathe deeply into your body. Soften your heart, or allow your heart to breathe into a spaciousness that awaits... This is a willingness to open, to become vulnerable, yes...Then...

Refuse the fear. Inside and outside of yourself. Refuse the fear. Maintain peace of mind. Practice the welcoming prayer. Exercise. Enact kindness. Know Joy. Refuse the fear.

This next one may be harder, particularly if you've been viscerally wounded by an authoritarian (of any stripe) it's not for everyone. But for those who can: refuse to be divided from “them.” Draw close. Sense and see the sadness, grief, anger driving the need for a strong man and overwhelming authority 'out there.' Don’t pretend or assume you will change anyone, but don’t be divided from “them.” Draw close and stay curious.

Stay focused on We the People, the gift that a messy democracy is to the planet, when it heals and grows stronger. Honor traditionalists, conservatives, liberals, and progressives for the contributions each makes to the whole. Don’t get diverted from the Whole. Don’t give energy to the Distractor or crazymaking. Stay focused on We the People. Even when it seems hopeless...

Refuse the suppression of voices, including the authoritarians. We authoritarians may not value democracy but a strong democracy will protect the rights of dissent, even our own. To try to suppress the authoritarians is to "become them".

All this is the learning about how to live with fundamentalists for me. The trick to stay engaged and inviting of everyone to the table without allowing anyone to think the table is only his/hers/theirs. The more rigid-expression Americans amongst us try to make this Table all their own, and despite their best attempts, it’s simply not. But none of us will change any other either. It’s always a journey before us, if we choose…

Meanwhile, we would do well to not judge authoritarianism too harshly, even as we work with all our might to hold a different kind of space, a generous space, a welcoming space, a compassionate space for the awakening and evolving of all. One heart at a time, as ever. Because just wait until the situation is ripe for yourself. It's in our collective heritage, this patriarchal/strong-man pattern, which means it's in every one of us in some fashion. To deny it is to invite it to emerge in unconscious being militant for peace, or shaming a sister while striving to be a conscious feminine community.

The pattern always remains, and will be with us for a long time to come. It is in our best interest to awaken to it within, so we may counter it without.

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Brief summary descriptions, ala McLaren’s essay:

Our American electorate is organized largely into two parties, but voters within these parties have clustered in four distinct ways. 

Traditionalists are those who feel less at home in a world of rapid, rampant change, and seek a return to old-fashioned values like hard work (including physical labor), close-knit families that show special concern for children, mothers, and the elderly; character qualities/virtues like honesty, decency, respect, self-discipline, sacrifice and service; and faith communities that form character and contribute to the common good. 

Conservatives are center-right voters who believe in a strong national defense, free and fair markets, individual freedoms with minimal government involvement, property and privacy rights, and the dangers of debt and need for fiscal restraint

Liberals are center-left voters who champion America’s growth and global leadership, protect the working and middle classes from dangerously powerful corporations, promote human rights and democracy around the world through aid and international agreements, and good government, right-sized to meet the needs and opportunities of the moment. And finally, 

Progressives: voters uncomfortable with the status quo. They courageously face climate change, honor the dignity and diversity of all people, preserve and protect local economies while being good global citizens, and humbly tell the whole truth, including uncomfortable truths about our nation’s past and present injustices. In typical primary seasons in recent years, 

Traditionalists and Conservatives have battled for Republican nominations, and Liberals and Progressives have battled for Democratic nominations. Independents play a larger role in general elections, tending to share a mixture of center-left and center-right values.

ENACTING Beloved Community

This is a phrase that undergirds the work of C. Anthony Hunt (or here ) as well as a curricular goal of one of United Seminary’s Immersion...