7.05.2016

The Rise of Burn It Down Politics and the Backlash Against Globalization

I could be totally off, and this is sort of meta-thinking and thus prone to unchecked flights of fancy departed far, far from reality, but I feel like the political chaos in the European and European-derived countries and their democratic governments (I'm including the US in that broad sweep) is the result of a dawning recognition and grasp of the ugly truth that despite our hallowed democracies, our political systems were all created not by and for the people, but by the considered and best-intentioned efforts of the wealthiest among us, to preserve their way of life and yet also provide some justice and opportunity for the rest of us also (although if your skin was darker than pale or you had a vagina, it's only very recently that you got to participate on a sort-of-but-not-quite equal footing).

I am no expert in global economics, international banking, or diplomacy. But I don't think it takes a Ph.D. in international finance to know that regular folks like us are not ever going to have a seat at the table next to all the paid lobbyists where the decisions that affect us the most--global trade deal negotiations, the halls of Congress, our own state legislatures--are being discussed or set aside, acted upon or ignored, and what we are left with instead of substantive participation where our voice is heard, is a surrogate feeling of being involved by voting for the politician who is most masterful at manipulating our sympathies, by telling us who's to blame for our frustrations (not them, of course--they'd like to point you to the least powerful in our society and have you blame them), by portraying themselves as the most religiously pious, by promising a slightly more humane approach to healthcare and housing and access to higher education and the better jobs that come with that--but never acknowledging that our "democracy" is really here to protect and sustain the global financial markets and the wealthiest corporations who make them up.

I get the "burn it down" appeal of Trump, particularly with his double-whammy of both criticizing the international trade agreements that have overridden our labor and environmental laws (although that isn't why he's criticizing them), and simultaneously playing on the fear of non-whiteness with his plans for the $50 billion wall (really just a massive redistribution of US taxpayer money to Trump's construction cronies who will then be beholden to him personally, but that's another post for another day). But tearing it down, by itself, isn't enough, and in fact is kind of risky because it creates a vacuum, and political power abhors a vacuum. Something, likely the most opportunistic force in the room, will jump into the void and run with it. Things could get ugly, with an extreme right (more likely) or extreme left (less likely) upswell. I don't know about you, but I'm holding my breath for the UK and all of Europe right now, that the beloved British reserve, the cool-headed common sense in the face of utter chaos that we love to tease our political parent over but grudgingly respect and admire, will hold the country steady and steer a safe course through all of the uncertainty to dry land again.

Another option is the Scandinavian Solution, where higher taxes (but still lower than the US had in the '50's) have created an undoubtedly more humane society--public universities are paid for; healthcare is accessible to all; parents are allowed extended paid leave after the birth of a child; the mix of affordable housing, minimum wage and public assistance means that full-time workers and their families aren't living in poverty (like we have here), having to work multiple jobs while having no access to safe childcare for their kids (like we have here), foregoing necessary dental work to be able to buy groceries (like we have here), having to choose between taking care of an elderly or disabled loved one or earning an income (like we have here), or skipping necessary and even life-saving prescription medications because they can't afford them (like we have here). But I'm afraid, after the (ironically named--why hasn't anyone pointed that out?) Citizens United SCOTUS ruling, that ship has sailed. We will never see a Congress elected with a majority who would stand up to the moneyed special interests to pass the sort of tax reform and institute the 21st century version of The New Deal that would be required to make these ideas into a reality. The very first step to get us there would be for Congress to pass a law that gets corporate money out of elections and returns us to the days when only public funds could be used to fund campaigns. But I don't see that happening. I would be delighted to be proven wrong on this, but I think we've passed a Point of No Return for ever getting corporate money out of our politics, and their lobbyists out of our elected lawmakers' offices.

So what will be the outcome of the backlash against the economic and political globalism happening now? I have to believe that global financial leaders are paying attention. I think the "burn it down" politics of the far right is concerning for them, and well it should be. This used to be the exclusive arena of the far left with the demonstrations at the G7 meetings, that conservative media more or less scoffed at. Now globalism is receiving critical attention from both the left and the right, so yeah, I think they're paying attention. But I think they are so accustomed to the bubble of protection that their extreme wealth affords them from the rest of the world's problems--wars, disease, revolutions--that they figure they'll just ride out all of this, too. And they are probably right.

So for the rest of us, will we see through all the rhetoric that is constantly pumped into our airstreams and computer screens to divide us, make us not trust each other and call each other the most appalling names (libtard? really?) and see our common interests in these very basic human needs of affordable healthcare and prescription drugs (whether we pay for it privately via insurance or publicly via a single-payer system), sustainable wages so full-time workers aren't dependent on public assistance just to feed their families (this is a simple shifting of the cost of labor from profitable corporations to the public taxpayer--why doesn't the rest of the country grasp this obvious fact?), safe and well-funded public schools, and robust public funding for mental health services, just for example? As long as we on the left and the right continue to label each other as evil, ungodly, unChristian, baby-killers, ammosexuals, etc., instead of stepping away from the ego-pleasing rhetoric, humbling ourselves and searching for common ground again, I don't think so. In the absence of taking our future into our hands together and trusting each other a teensy, teensy bit, we are spinning toward the void, toward the "burn it down" that won't go away even if Trump isn't elected--because what else is left? We must be our own "citizens united" if we are to overcome Citizens United. It would mean accepting that you won't get everything you want. It would mean--gasp, choke, gurgle--compromising. Could you stand that? Could you stand to give the other side a small victory in exchange for your own small victory? Could you listen--really listen--to what someone with whom you really really disagree has to say, with an open mind, without personal judgments, without self-righteousness steeped in your own moral superiority?

4.07.2016

The Holy Grail and an Infinite God

Because my book is about an Arthurian hero (who happens to be a woman, but that's not the important part of the story), I've been thinking a lot about the Holy Grail lately. Not the Monty Python version, but the real deal. I've got the sequel in my head in bits and chunks with the connections between them and the first story and the anticipated third and final hanging together in 4-D in my mind, and I'm finding the idea of the Holy Grail taking a core position in the rubric.

I didn't mean to get here, actually. I didn't start by trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Grail. Instead, I was struggling to come up with a metaphor for how religions relate to God (I'm tempted here to adopt the Jewish approach and instead write g-d, acknowledging the full impossibility of containing the true nature of g-d in a single word, "God," but although I agree with the reasoning behind writing g-d, it feels a tad too pretentious since I am not, in fact, Jewish.)

This is the metaphor that is sticking with me, and I am certain it is not an original construct of my own. Unfortunately I don't recall where I first came across it, but if any readers can point me to a source of something similar, I would be very grateful. It seems to me to work like this: Think of God as water, all the water in the universe. It is a necessary ingredient for life. It is everywhere, visible and invisible. Our own planet is awash with it, our very bodies sloppy full of it. If we are cut off from it we die. Think of every ocean, every lake, every stream, aquifer, cloud, and vapor. Every icy comet. Every molecule of these two fundamental elements, linked up to support life.

Now imagine a cup. Fill that cup with water. The cup is religion--any religion. It helps us to interact with the water, to drink the water, to hold the water. The water appears to take the shape of the cup and fill it perfectly. It does this with every single cup.

You could look at the cup of water you hold and say, "This is all there is to know about water. Look, the water perfectly fits this cup. My cup is the True Cup." And you would be completely wrong. You would be confusing the cup with the water. You would be assigning boundaries and limitations to the water that are actually only the properties of your cup. You would be denying the nature of the water, that every other living thing drinks it as well as you do, without benefit of your cup. There are many cups, all of which serve their purpose of giving people the opportunity to drink the water. But there are also those kneel beside the stream and drink with their cupped hands. The water nourishes them just as well.

And in thinking through this, it seems that the Holy Grail is that vessel that is the universal cup, it is the container of water that has no shape, no limit, no top or bottom. It is the cup that cannot be written down or stored in a jeweled box, that transcends dogma, that is the eternal, unbreakable link between God and our souls. It is the cup that cannot be fought over, because it is never the same as it was.

It is all cups at once, forever.

2.15.2016

Fired and Reinstated

I am raising myself. I have the daughter my mother always wished for me.

Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, while I was busy making waffles for breakfast, which wasn't really what I wanted to eat that morning but it would be a treat for the kids so I was making them anyway (with nutella, sliced strawberries, and fresh whipped cream, natch), my daughter screamed at me that she didn't think she needed to be parented and that she was not my "little labor worker."

Of course this didn't just come out of nowhere. Earlier she had asked me if she could watch tv, and I told her that this day was going to be a "Screen-free Sunday," after which she admonished me that this meant I couldn't go on to Facebook, after which I sent her to her room. It all went downhill from there. Although I was amused by the yelling that she didn't understand why she needed parenting, as I was making her breakfast, I was also hurt by it, so husband stepped in as the patient and calm one. We tag-team like this. Only one of us is allowed to lose his/her shit at a time. Dear husband went to her room with her to visit reasonably about why she required parenting at this stage of her life. As he told me later, she remained unconvinced. So I figured, okay then. I know when I'm not wanted. She doesn't want to be parented? Fine. I'll fulfill my legal obligation, but nothing more. At 18 she's on her own.

By the way, my daughter is 8 years old. Fortunately, husband and I had been reading articles just this week about parenting through the emotional highs and lows of tweens, hilariously thinking that we were preparing ourselves to be better parents to my almost-11 year old son. Hahahahhaha!

We were on our way to church (still hilarious!) so I explained the new rules to her in the car: I would still make her food choices for her because I paid for her food, but she was welcome to ride her bike to the grocery store and use her allowance to make some purchases of her own. She would be making all of her meals from now on. I would help her if she asked nicely, and if I happened to not be doing something else. She would do her own laundry from now on, whenever she felt that it was necessary. She could come and go as she pleased, but like an adult, I would expect her to let me know where she was going and when to expect her back. She quietly absorbed all of this, and when we got to church, she gave me a backwards hand flick and walked off to change into her accolyte outfit. I then put our priest (father of twins one year behind my daughter) into a panic by telling him what was going on. He might as well know what's in store just around the corner, right?

During services I sent husband a few texts: planning on telling her she needs to be thinking about how she'll pay for college. Going to let her sort out her own bedtimes, as long as she's quiet in her room by the time we are being quiet and getting ready for bed. Husband is all for it. My son is watching these texts, and at the one about college, leans over and whispers, "I'm glad I'm still being parented."

After services there were three large Valentine's Day cakes set out, dwarfing a small plate of cut veggies and dip. I told her to help herself, and she might as well start calling me "Liz" now, since I wasn't going to be her mother anymore. Mostly I talked to the back of her head as she walked away. She got herself some food (gamely placing three snap peas on her plate beside the cake) and sat down by herself in a corner. Five minutes later I was chatting with our priest when she came over, carrying her plate.

"I have a question."
"Okay."
"I didn't mean I didn't want all parenting. Just the telling me what to do part."
"Sorry, it's a package deal, sweetie. I can't only do the parts you like."

She walks away again. Five minutes later she's back.

"You can be my mom again."

I didn't even have to get to the part about not paying for college.

Later we talked a little more. I confirmed for her that it was so hard to not be her mom for even those few hours. She seemed to like that. She also apologized for hurting my feelings. The rest of Valentine's Day proceeded as normal, sweet and touching cards were exchanged, surprise stuffed animals given, chocolate eaten and shared. This little bump was dramatic, but not too bad. I discovered that I have maybe been putting myself aside a little too much, observing how much her words had hurt. It felt a little like co-dependency: "How can you say that to me after all I do for you???" So I'll try to put a tad more attention on my own needs sometimes too. It's funny how much easier it is to lovingly give people the safe space they need to work things out without injecting your own drama into it if you'll first take responsibility for meeting your own needs.


2.07.2016

On Being a Pro-choice, Pro-marriage Equality Christian Woman


Reading the posts about the large gathering of Christian women, IF: Gathering 2016, I came across a blog post titled "Longing to Belong," describing the ways in which Christian women really do need to find and build community together as part of our spiritual practice of prayer and service. It's a lovely essay, warm and welcoming and accepting.

But I have yet to personally experience this welcome from the larger Christian community at large. I am a pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Christian woman. I worship at an Episcopalian church, and even the US Episcopalian Church has recently been dealt the censure and judgment of the global Anglican body by being banned from voting on any Anglican matters for three years, specifically due to our church's acceptance of marriage equality as part of our Christian mission in service to Jesus's love here on earth.

In 2013, when the Texas Legislature debated and passed the disastrous HB-2 law that shuttered nearly 3 out of 4 of all women's health clinics in the state where abortion had been available (among many other desperately needed women's health services), I went to the Capitol to file my opposition to the bill. There, I was confronted by Christian women who refused to talk to me, who looked upon me with contempt, or mistrust, or fear, or anger, or hatred--but never with acceptance. Never with kindness. I even brought a cooler full of water bottles, bananas, and granola bars with me to hand out to anyone I met, hoping to start conversations. The pro-HB-2 women walked a wide berth around me, although one commented that she liked what I was doing. But she kept walking away with her companions rather than stay and have a conversation.

I don't belong to this group of Christian women. They don't want me. They have judged me and found me wanting. I don't believe they could ever accept that a Christian woman could follow the teachings of Jesus and arrive at pro-choice and pro-marriage equality positions, but I have. I pray. I read the Bible. I am raising my children in the church. And I feel very fortunate to have found the community that I have found at my church--a church that is not specifically pro-choice or anti-abortion, but that welcomes everyone, truly. Both the same-sex couples and the man who sat beside me in a class and declared homosexuality "an abomination," unaware, I know, that my own family includes a same-sex family.

I do not evangelize in the sense of trying to turn the world around me into a Christian world. It already is. There is no part of creation that is separate from God's love. I accept the infinite, timeless, boundless nature of God. It is fantastically humbling. To suppose that the manner in which I name and worship God is the only way to be in a walk with God seems the ultimate in spiritual arrogance, and a deep insult to the true nature and power of God and God's love. It would be more a reflection of my own fears and limitations than anything to do with God. There is a hymn that is a favorite of mine that resounds often in my thoughts: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

So when I see the signs for IF:Gathering 2016, it has an invisible asterisk for me. I don't believe that I would be welcome there. Not really. Not with the beliefs that I have. I still can see the disdainful eyes of the women who came to the Capitol in 2013, who sang and prayed in the Capitol rotunda by themselves, inviting only those women who wore the correct color shirts to join them and worship with them. Christianity was reduced to a version of Dr. Seuss's tale, "The Sneeches." It was heart-breaking. And it continues today, when I try to speak up as a Christian for pro-choice views on women's health in online discussions. If this post gains much traction on the interwebs, I feel confident I'll be able to measure on my kitchen clock the hours until a Christian comments to me that I'm going to Hell for my beliefs, or that I'm not really a Christian, or that I'm some other sort of failure as a child of God. All because I have arrived at different conclusions and had the temerity to say so while claiming a place in the cool shadow of the Cross.