The “Strange Angels” of Our Inner Life

Kelsey Hart’s homily at Church of the Holy Family on April 30th resonated deeply, especially her observation that after his death, Jesus’s disciples’ feelings must have been “all over the place.” I’ve spend a lot of time with emotions all over the place. Yet I’ve been able to befriend my emotions and even to learn from them. I’ve begun to treat them like a sixth sense. After sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch, I’ve added my emotions—the content of my own inner experience.

My mental map of this inner territory includes four primary emotions: happiness and sadness, anger and fear. See if these experiences resonate. Happiness is light and sadness is heavy. Happiness accompanies friendships and reunions, visions and accomplishments. Sadness accompanies death, leaving friends, losing a pet, or getting a low grade or evaluation. Anger accompanies a trespass or violation, an unjustified criticism or an avoidable mistake. Fear accompanies danger, risk, walking a tightrope in business or friendship, even the prospect of loss.

Emotions are like guardian angels—they are messengers with information to share for our wellbeing. Fear warns of danger, anger suggests an injustice, sadness alerts us to loss, and joy announces the gift of grace. It’s no wonder that the symbol of the cross has resonated over the centuries. It’s surely the perfect image of the full human experience: the horizontal line, the contingency of fear and anger; the vertical line, the cycle of sadness and joy.

Over the next four weeks I’ll write more about joy, sadness, fear, and anger and take you on a journey that leads, without fail, to the choice to embrace the gift of grace.

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Inflight spiritual retreats

The itinerary indicated that LOT Polish Airlines flight 676 to Warsaw and Krakow would leave from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport’s Terminal F. But the departure display didn’t show any LOT #676, Warsaw, or a 14:40 departure time. My pulse speeded up a tick and my careful self-counseling kicked in. I’m an experienced troubleshooter.

I’m supposed to be in the right terminal. An information kiosk is not in evidence. The first official I query in very limited Russian sternly points out the Information kiosk. At my “spaseba” in sort of Russia, the woman softens, smiles faintly, and says in English, “I don’t know.” I grin and say with a nod of my head as I turn toward the kiosk, “I don’t either.” Her smile broadens.

The woman in the Info Kiosk checks her computer and says I need Terminal E. My pulse relaxes a tick and I back track. A little boy at Passport Control keeps escaping his mom while we wait our turn. I greet the uniformed young man with my best “Dobri den.” My Russian visa gets its routine exit stamp and I get a pro forma surly look from the young official.

Security was painless, the tunafish sandwich was tasty, I typed two paragraphs, and then it was time to board the plane. I’m now at 30,000 feet on our way to Poland. I’ve never been to Poland before and Polish doesn’t look or sound like any language I’ve ever read or spoken, but Europeans tend to be multilingual and the more I learn, the more interesting Poland becomes.

A friend described how, after World War II, the Poles painstakingly organized the bombing debris into orderly piles while they minutely examined the old photos and prints of their cities from before war. The remaining pieces of Warsaw were carefully put back together. He said that you can find stones with visible cracks from the explosions that broke them apart during the war.

Traveling is a useful spiritual exercise. Illusions about perfection are shattered but life goes on in spite of the breakage. Terminals change but one can reorient with a little effort. People are predictably helpful. Small steps add up to reasonable forward movement. Occasionally a stewardess brings a surprise chocolate wafer. A plane flight can be a little spirit retreat.

Now typing in Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, the Gate 31 spokesperson announces that flight #3923 to Krakow will be delayed until 17:15. No problem.

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The Art of Keeping Calm

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I walked past the Girl Scout Cookie display outside King Soopers this morning. I very small and very cute little girl was telling a man that the box cost $4. He said, “Here, how ’bout I give you $5.” I reflected that this is the true American “Art of the Deal”—a transaction involving selfless offering, not self-serving calculation.

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Human Smoke

Whatever the polls may reveal about the relative prospects for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the discourse, the tone, the focus of this endless campaign is horrible. It is sickening to see a deceitful and self-promoting sexual predator on the same stage with a fundamentally well-intended and long-experienced, if flawed, public servant.

This spectacle of a male candidate who assaults, lies, cheats, and steals with impunity screams out for perspective.

In 2008, author Nicholson Baker published Human Smoke, The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. It is a history—from August 1892 through December 31, 1941—of the public and private discourse and events that lead the world into war.

It is a factual narrative about Adolf Hitler, his surrogates and Nazi compatriots, world leaders, public figures, and ordinary citizens. Baker’s narrative is drawn from meticulously documented primary sources: newspaper and magazine articles, radio speeches, memoirs, and diaries.

The narrative describes in stark detail the nature of Adolf Hitler’s assault on the German people of the Weimar Republic following World War I, using lies, threats, and innuendo; passionately provocative and inciting rhetoric; scapegoating and demonizing; all the while playing on the genuine needs and frustrations of German citizens for his own political aims.

Hitler created an alternative world of falsehoods and bogus assertions that he promoted as factual and visionary. He was an ultra-nationalist, racist, white supremacist, dictator who played on the fears and vulnerabilities of German citizens.

Donald Trump acts remarkably like Adolf Hitler. The similarities and comparisons are unavoidable and inescapable.

What we get from Donald Trump in every debate, every rally performance, and every TV spot is “human smoke”—choking, blinding, gut wrenching cockamamie—every bit as cynically calculating, self-referencing, and self-serving as Adolf Hitler’s.

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Getting off the bench to save American decency and democracy

It’s too easy to succumb to despair, overwhelm, revulsion, and spirit fatigue in the present political climate. But succumbing to any self-defeating spirit at the expense of constructive engagement isn’t an option at this moment in America. There are ways to save ourselves from failure, embarrassment, and chaos. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

For a while now American politics has largely devolved into a name calling, blame game among politicians at all levels who refuse to hammer out a shared vision and cooperate to remove the obstacles that thwart it. Without a shared vision and an honest analysis of why we’re bogged down, America keeps spinning its wheels and getting nowhere. We’re stuck and it feels lousy and scary.

It’s no wonder that millions of unemployed, uninsured, under educated, and under-served citizens are pissed. I’m one of the fortunate ones, but I’m pissed that our political system is selling us all down the river. Our country is caught between a rock and a hard place—huge human need and faltering political systems. This campaign for the presidency should be shedding light on how we work together to find our way out of this wilderness. Instead it’s making us stupid or crazy and too often, disengaged.

We seem mesmerized by Mr. Trump, whom we know to be a self-serving salesman whose entire life has been built on lies, deceptions, broken promises, and disinformation. We’re behaving like deer paralyzed in the headlights of an oncoming stretch limousine, unable to give Mrs. Clinton, her flaws notwithstanding, due regard for being a capable, caring, and creative public citizen with a lifetime of effective service.

With the future of American democracy at stake, it’s time to call Mr. Trump out for what he is—demonstrably incompetent and a transparent fomenter of lies, discord, and chaos. (Remember, please, that the stock market hates chaos even more than ambiguity.) We’ve got to elect Mrs. Clinton, not because she’s a squeaky clean savior, but because we need to buy time to work together to remove the barriers to the fulfillment of America’s promise that there still is an attainable American dream. Today we are denying too many of our neighbors their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are demanding better. Everyone who’s been left behind deserves better in an advanced 21st century society.

People who want to protect the American dream, share its promise, and remove obstacles to its broadest possible fulfillment need to get off the bench and see that Mrs. Clinton pulls away from Mr. Trump. He can not be allowed to do more harm to our country than he already has. While I know that getting off the bench is not easy, I’ve been taking stock of my own challenges over the last several months. I’ve learned some things about getting off the bench that are important to share.

Mr. Trump is so obviously a racist bigot and preposterous liar, I’m repulsed every time I listen to him. I turn away because I am angry at being taken for a fool. I just wish that he would go away. But he won’t. We’ve got to admit that he is a real threat. Newspapers, statesmen, military leaders, and many others are doing their homework and cataloging the consequences of what we can plainly see with our own eyes. We need to act to ensure that he can’t win the election.

I find it hard to believe that enough neighbors will fall for this master manipulator to elect him president. I’m tempted to deny that defeating him depends on my personal action to rally support for Mrs. Clinton. But the truth is, Trump’s defeat in the name of decency and democracy depends on millions of us splashing cold water on our faces to clear the fog so we can work together to elect Mrs. Clinton.

Regrettably, but not surprisingly, lies, innuendo, and sly allusions to racist rhetoric have an effect like “sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.” They destroy the human spirit. I have to guard myself so I don’t get sucked into the illusions, anger, and blaming. I will not allow my positive spirit to be subverted by a self-inflating, self-promoting candidate like Donald Trump.

It is clear that many Americans are willing to jump to easy conclusions with no basis in fact. It’s tempting to tune out and turn off. But in the face of massive disinformation on the Republican side and the temptation to discount so much detailed, thoughtful information on the Democratic side, it falls to each of us to find and attend the facts for ourselves.

I listen carefully to both news and commentary and have never before read so much each day to keep straight what’s true and what’s baloney. There are plenty of reliable sources: the PBS Newshour, National Public Radio, the Racheal Maddow Show on MSNBC; the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Yorker and other periodicals; and the Daily KOS sampling of bloggers who investigate and report using factual sources.

We especially need to listen to our neighbors who are being ignored and are now disaffected. We need to learn how to enroll them in an inclusive and constructive campaign to rebalance the priorities of our society. We can not leave the outstanding obligation of decency, neighborliness, and fair play to go unattended and unfinished.

Thus, while it is clear that we must keep Trump out of the White House, it is even more important to make sure that Mrs. Clinton succeeds as President. You and I must vote for public servants with whom we and she can work to solve problems. The mandate to fix the policies and systems that have fallen short has to come from the bottom up. The people we elect need to feel the power of those who elect them.

Please share what you’re doing to get out the vote, what you’re learning about caring for your own positive spirit, and how you’re connecting with people of good will who will commit to voting for Hillary Clinton.

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The Tyranny of Innuendo

I’m sitting in a hotel in Riga, Latvia, taking a writing break during a two-week RoadScholar study tour of the three “Baltic states”: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A few paragraphs down, I’m going to comment on the American political process and the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton candidacies.

But first, I want to create a historical context with a short report on this morning’s lecture about Latvia’s politics, economy, and demography during the Soviet occupation (1940–1991) and the present. The speaker was Prof. Anita Naciscione, from the Latvian Academy of Culture.

Two things were striking about Professor Naciscione’s talk: (1) the simple clarity of her description of the effect of the Soviet occupation of Latvia from 1940 through 1991, and (2) the cutting sarcasm of her reflections on the methods of Soviet repression. She said “During the Soviet occupation, we became ‘a culture of lining up.’” I was brought to attention by her remarks.

In March 1949, when meetings were held to promote collectivization of agriculture, Latvian attendees were asked “Who is in favor of collectivization?” No one raised their hands. Nearly overnight, 41,800 of Latvia’s most effective and profitable farmers and their families were deported to Siberia on the charge of being “exploiters” and “capitalists.” A second round of meetings promoting collectivization was held in April 1949. The attendees were asked “Who is in favor of collectivization?” Everyone raised their hands. For more than 50 years, “democracy” in occupied Latvia was thus controlled by Soviet tyranny. Latvians lined up behind the Soviet program in order to save their lives.

Among the consequences of this Soviet “command economy” were severe shortages of life’s necessities, including food. Professor Naciscione described how the economy worked. When you saw a line, you knew something was available, so you got in line. Then you asked, “What’s on sale?” No one ever knew, however, if there would be enough bread (or whatever) to supply everyone all the way back to the end of the line.

I suspect that Professor Naciscione’s sarcasm arises from her direct experience of chronic pretense: the culture of disinformation, psychological manipulation, and democratic paralysis that was the basis of Soviet power. As I listened to her lecture, I recalled a famous one liner from the Soviet period: “The Soviets pretended to pay us and we pretended to work.”

Fast forward to August 2016 and the campaigns for the presidency of the United States.

The 2016 campaigns will be remembered as the time when Americans woke up to our own catastrophe of chronic pretense. We have kidded ourselves into thinking that we live in the land of opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We do not. At least not for everyone. We have been living in personal and social illusion. We might well say, “Our politicians pretend to serve us and we pretend to believe them.”

We should not be surprised that so-called “uneducated, blue-collar workers”—especially those who are unable to find work—are pissed off and willing to follow a candidate who speaks the language of pissed off. Remember the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes that we learned in high school English?

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun? / Or fester like a sore— / And then run? / Does it stink like rotten meat? / Or crust and sugar over— / like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

This year, the dream deferred has exploded in our faces. The cynical and arguably imbalanced Republican candidate has capitalized on legitimate anger to create immoral havoc. Donald Trump uses assertions to gain notoriety, lies to enroll adherents, and innuendo to foment disorder. 

Donald Trump made a calculated faux casual comment on August 9, 2016:

“If [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

This is the tyranny of innuendo and comes close to treason. It is not legitimate political discourse.

The cautionary line “loose lips sink ships” during World War II counseled good citizens to “beware of unguarded talk” that might aid America’s enemies. Donald Trump’s “loose lips”—the epitome of “unguarded talk”—reflects the opposite of good citizenship. By what he omits and what he says, Trump’s language practically invites the outraged, the imbalanced, and the unhinged to break the rules that bind us together as Americans and protect us from social chaos.

What’s the connection with Latvia, the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, and the reflections of an expert of Latvian culture? Donald Trump is using the same tactics of disinformation, psychological manipulation, and social chaos as Joseph Stalin and his successors during the years of Soviet occupation from 1940 through 1991.

In our time, Vladimir Putin is using outright lies, half truths, assertions without factual basis, and innuendo to manipulate the emotions, thoughts, and judgements of whole populations to his own ends. Putin and his operatives are waging a global war of disinformation related to the state of hostilities in Ukraine, the wishes of Crimean citizens, the aspirations of the Baltic states, the aims of NATO and the European Union, the intentions of the United States in the world, etc. The aim of this state-sponsored campaign is to destabilize whole societies and regions of the world to Putin’s own self-serving ends.

From whatever causes and for whatever reasons, Donald Trump is cut from the same cloth and seeks only to further his own self-serving ends. Read the history and listen to the people who suffered because of Hitler, Stalin, and now, Putin.

I am a person of good will who cares about justice and opportunity in American society. If you share my sense of both urgency and good will, we have heavy lifting to do to reach out to neighbors of other political persuasions, who doubt the viability of their own lives, or can not envision the possibility of political change.

Donald Trump is heading in the exactly wrong direction. Hillary Clinton needs support heading somewhere closer to the right direction, which I for one, define as inclusive opportunity for employment, lifelong education and health care, and the blessing and creativity of multiculturalism, including NRA members. We have careful, heeling work to do.

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ECC European regional gathering

The Reformed Catholic Church in Poland

Reformowany Kościół Katolicki w Polsce

Bishop Francis Krebs, the Presiding Bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC), is in Poland to visit European colleagues and to ordain two deacons in the ECC’s member church, the Reformowany Kościół Katolicki w Polsce (Reformed Catholic Church in Poland). Suzanne Schloemann and I joined Bishop Frank in Poznan earlier this week.

Fr. Tomasz's famous pasta

Fr. Tomasz’s famous pasta

The regional gathering on Saturday 23 July 2016 included Poles, Belgians, and Americans. We sat together in the our Polish colleagues’ chapel in Fr. Tomasz Puchalski’s apartment in Poznan. We celebrated the Eucharist together, with various parts in Polish, Flemish, and English in the morning followed by Fr. Tomasz’s (perhaps famous?) pasta and zucchini for lunch.

Art, Bishop Francis, two Polish colleagues, Fr. Tomasz, and two Belgian colleagues

Art, Bishop Francis, two Polish colleagues, Fr. Tomasz, and two Belgian colleagues

In the afternoon we talked about how European colleagues might systematically prepare over the next few years for the formation of a new ECC diocese with its own bishop in Europe. The discussion covered matters such as fostering local initiatives and leadership, responsiveness of the ECC’s present bishops to the needs of ECC-related churches in Poland and Belgium, and the nature of the agreements among the several European parishes and the larger church organization of which they are key, emerging members.

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Anna and Joanna spoke about their anti-discrimination work in Poznan

This is a fascinating conversation that notes and appreciates multiple values and approaches: both local autonomy and global accountability combined with regional initiative and international presence. Holistic balance creates unique regional approaches that further a replicable global process for nurturing relationships with sister churches in the Old Catholic tradition. Inspiration can flow both east and west. For example, Anna’s and Joanna’s report on their anti-[age, gender, sexual orientation] discrimination work in Poznan can inspire colleagues in Belgium, the US and elsewhere to explore similar advocacy outreach.

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Oecumenische Katholieke Kerk in België

Multiple issues and creative possibilities became apparent in the dialogue. European colleagues might hold their own decision making gatherings while consulting regularly with the Office of the Presiding Bishop. The Reformed Catholic Church in Poland will certainly evolve its own constitution while establishing appropriate working agreements with the ECC. The network of priests and lay colleagues who comprise the Oecumenische Katholieke Kerk in België (Ecumenical Catholic Church in Belgium) will take its own unique path for membership in the ECC.

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Speaking from the heart about the ingredients of spiritual community

Several people spoke from the heart about the experience of creating faith communities. All of us were deeply moved by the common experience of building relationships. All three societies represented—Polish, Belgian, and American—share major issues around social compassion amidst profound social change. All of us gathered in Poznan were aware of the profound gift of healing spirit that allows us to meet one another as disciplined colleagues and revered friends.

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