Antidote for What Ails America

“Vulgar! He’s simply vulgar.” comments my neighbor from the driver’s seat of her car as we enjoyed a spontaneous conversation in the alley. Shocked, appalled, outraged are equally good words to describe our reaction to the rise of Donald Trump. Now I’m getting scared, simply scared!

Polls suggest the actual election of Trump to be our President is still remote. But as improbable as that may be I’m still feeling overwhelmed, grieved and frightened. Why? Because that which Donald Trump personifies will not be resolved on Election Day. Neither will resolution be achieved by the election of Hillary Clinton.

It will likely come as a profound disappointment to the man, but what we are witnessing ultimately isn’t about Donald Trump. No, this isn’t about slapping the “Trump” brand across 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue! Rather, it’s about the deep pain, festering resentment even, that resides in homes across America. And this national despair cuts across gender, race and socio-economic groups.

So what are we to do? Build higher walls to further insulate ourselves? Move to Cape Brenton Island, Canada? Buy a gun? Fear, resentment and desperation may be the source of such considerations. But they merely exacerbate the problem we must address.

So, what are we to do? Well, first of all we must never give up. Somehow, we simply must restore trust in one another to reweave the social fabric of our nation. There is no easy fix. This will not happen on Election Day 2016. No, our work is much more arduous and will take more than our lifetime. But begin we must.

But, what? What can we do that will make any difference? Yes, vote! But that’s hardly enough to counter the vulgarity that has overtaken America. Yes, it would be easy — but an abrogation of personal responsibility — to assume this is about an election and the “majority” expressing its collective will on November 8. That’s simply delusional.

Conservative pundit David Brooks has his finger on the pulse of America and points us in the right direction:

…first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable.

As is often the case with matters that really count, our answer resides within a huge paradox. Rather than building walls, leaving the country or buying a gun our way forward opens by doing the exact opposite. The antidote for what ails America lies in tearing down walls, reinvesting in our communities, disarming ourselves.

Sounds a whole lot like once again becoming brother, sister, neighbor to one another; caring for the orphan, widow and outcast; welcoming the stranger; loving our neighbor as ourselves.
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You may read David Brooks’ insightful and provocative much more extensive analysis at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/opinion/if-not-trump-what.html?_r=0 

Images of Our Own Creation

Who was the Charlie Brown character that is known for saying “Ugh!”? That’s how I feel this morning — UGH!!!

In a little more than an hour I will drive through the heart of Minneapolis during the morning rush hour. Having made the commute six times last week I really don’t look forward to the ordeal. However, I want to make finishing touches on the icon of Teresa of Avila I began with the local iconographers guild last week. Fighting traffic is my only option at the moment.

Being retired has insulted me from this hideous ritual we call rush hour — out of sight, out of mind! But last week I was ensnarled amid a ritual horde creeping ahead at 12 mph to which we have become resigned. Like me, most vehicles were occupied by only the driver. Unlike my 1999 Chevy Cavalier, many were monstrosities of engineering wizardry (I’m told some can even drive themselves!).

Yet, we all crept along snarled within the great American equalizer we call the morning commute. The collective insanity of what we have created was inescapable. There must be a better way! Yet, as complaisant rats in a benign laboratory experiment we dutifully reenact our routine oblivious to the insanity, blind to anything beyond the car ahead of us, resigned to a certain fate.

The stagnant pace on I35 between 46th and 35th street exits provided an opportunity to consider what we have become. In fact, the frustration moved me to a kind of “contemplation” of that from which there was no escape. In the moment, I could only name what I saw as an indictment of our blind, rapacious consumption.

All this was occurring during a week in which we gave lip-service to Earth Day. This was occurring en route to writing an icon. Countering the paralysis of a horde of vehicles pumping carbon into the atmosphere, iconography is about reverencing human association with nature — fine wood panels, base coats of clay layered to gold leaf, earthy pigments mixed with egg tempera, all handled reverently at a deliberate pace, the very antithesis of the mind-numbing ritual of the freeway.

Echoing through these intervening days is an off-handed remark offered by our teacher and master iconographer, Nick Markell. He reminded us of something I had never recognized. In the Genesis creation stories God creates the world ex nihilo, virtually out of nothing. Only when creating the human does God take the clay of the earth and breathe into it God’s own breath of life.  We are earthlings by original design, human as in humus — composed of dark, rich, fertile dirt; one with creation!

Would that we returned to this original awareness. Would that we truly lived the wisdom written in our very bones. Would that we awoke from collective addiction to rapacious consumption, the alienation with which we move about our day, our suicidal isolation from the earth, resignation to what we have created.

Keeping It Together

We’ve all had such times… times when life spins out of control and we ricochet from one thing to another.  The last month felt at times like being trapped within such a pinball machine.  Sometimes the best we can do is to remember to breathe!

Yesterday things returned to a more humane rhythm. This morning a ten-day ache in my jaw has noticeably subsided — a reassuring indication that my stress induced tendency to clench my teeth while sleeping had begun dissipating.

With this welcome — and not too soon — return to life-as-normal comes a desire to resume more regular postings here, to get back to Kneading Bread. Toward that end, I share a poem that appeared like manna to nourish me during these frenetic weeks…

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.

Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

This poem by Margaret J Wheatley is entitled, “Turning to One Another”.

Villanova… A True Champion

Amazing what we can learn from the NCAA basketball championship! Those of us who missed the game last evening between North Carolina and Villanova missed a barn-burner. Fans will be talking about the game for decades! Within the last ten seconds NC tied the game only to have Villanova sink a 3-pointer with one second left on the clock! Absolutely unforgettable!

All the hoop-la (pun intended!) reminded me of something else I’d missed. If I’d ever heard the origin of the name Villanova, I’d long forgotten. I knew it was a Catholic university somewhere in Pennsylvania. Today I learned it was founded by the Order of St. Augustine and is located in Philadelphia. The university is named in honor of the 16th-century Spanish Augustinian, St Thomas of Villanova.

Who, you say? Well, Thomas was a pretty great guy and deserves much more recognition than he receives! The part I like best is that Thomas was known as “father of the poor.” His charitable efforts were untiring, especially towards orphans, poor women without a dowry, and the sick. In addition, Thomas appreciated the power of education for empowering people like these.

He possessed, however, a sophisticated notion of charity and was no one’s fool about the source of the problem. Though he was immediate and direct in his giving, Thomas sought definitive and structural solutions to the root causes of poverty. “Charity is not just giving, rather removing the need of those who receive charity and liberating them from it when possible,” he wrote.

Thomas appreciated there’s more to poverty than just the poor!  Last evening’s game was evenly matched and players on both teams demonstrated the greatness of the sport.  Thomas understood it isn’t always this way.

Go Villanova… a true champion for 2016!
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You may learn more about Thomas of Villanova [here] on Wikipedia which is the source of what I have learned.