Presidents Day: Reminders from George Washington

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George Washington 

When calculated by the Gregorian calendar, George Washington was born on February 22, 1731.  A federal holiday honoring Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879, though at the time the holiday applied only to government offices in Washington.  In 1885, the act expanded to include all federal offices. Finally, in 1971, the celebration of Washington’s birthday was shifted to the third Monday in February

While serving as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, George Washington created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier. Revived on Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, the Purple Heart medal (which bears Washington’s image) is awarded to soldiers who are injured in combat. As with Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington’s birthday subsequently offers an additional opportunity to honor our country’s veterans.

Although Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, was never a federal holiday, nearly half of the state governments have officially renamed their Washington’s Birthday observances as Presidents’ Day.  However, the latter has neverbecome the official national designation for the former in either government records or through Acts of Congress.

Within the country, some states recognize a variety of presidents on the holiday, but Washington’s Birthday (locally adopted as Presidents’ Day) was actually not intended as a day to honor the general office of the presidency – that idea arose from a newspaper article intended as a spoof during the Nixon era. Presidential records indicate that Nixon merely issued an Executive Order (11582) on 11 February 1971 defining the third Monday of February as a holiday.  The announcement of that Executive Order identified the day as “Washington’s Birthday.”

Celebrated for his leadership in the founding of our nation, George Washington was the Electoral College’s unanimous choice to become the first President. He was seen as a unifying force for the new republic and set an example for future holders of the office.

Since 1862 there has been an oft-forgotten tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington’s Farewell Address should be read on his birthday. It is my hope that in our time, the leaders of our government – and all fellow citizens — might take time to review at least the following sampling of advice Washington proffered to his new nation, contained within his Farewell Address of 1796….

On his hopes for our national life –

[May heaven] continue to [give] you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in time, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

On preserving our national unity –

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union…will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

On the pitfalls of party politics —

…to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community… are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

On preserving the separation of governing powers —

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them.

On truth in education —

…Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

On national debt –

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. 

On international relations –

The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. 

On the undue influence of foreign powers –

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government…. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

In light of George Washington’s hard-won national liberty and hard-won personal wisdom, it is my prayer that the district that is home to our nation’s capital will take heed of the far sighted advice of our chief founder, for whom it is named.

In Christ’s Peace – Amen.

Drilling for Oil in the Arctic: The Loss of the Sacred Wild

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Arctic Fox in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge

“Humans are not the sole inhabitants of God’s Earth and indeed there are numerous places where wild paw prints in the dirt vastly outnumber our own.” – Tom Martinez

In December of 2017, Congress opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas drilling as part of the tax overhaul. With 45 species of land and marine mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, ANWR is more biodiverse than almost any area in the Arctic. The  coastal plain portion (Area 1002) especially represents arctic diversity and is the area now being opened up to exploration and drilling.

ANWR is home to the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska and supports muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares and dozens of fish species. It also serves as temporary home for millions of migrating waterfowl and the Porcupine Caribou herd which has its calving ground there.

The biome of the tundra environment is particularly vulnerable to any disturbance of the land. “It’s easy to do something on the tundra but it’s very difficult to restore,” said Francis Mauer, a retired biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. “Once you start disturbing the tundra vegetation, it takes sometimes nearly forever for the mark to go away.” Arctic Drilling

The good news is that there is time for counter action by environmentalists, state and local groups and people of faith. The new legislation requires that the Department of Interior conduct one sale within four years and a second within seven. However, there are several procedural steps that must be taken before those sales can be held, and the process is not clear. Lawsuits and other actions by opponents of drilling could slow things, both before and after any lease sales.  Additionally, as The New York Times reports, Democrats’ ability to halt progress toward drilling in the refuge is dependent on the party’s ability to recapture the majority in one or both houses of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. Arctic Drilling As Process

Within the ongoing efforts of the current administration to overturn Obama-era legacies, the Interior Department has additionally rescinded the rule that would have added regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal and tribal lands. Also, the Interior Department has repealed offshore drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill. The Obama administration had blocked drilling on about 94 percent of the outer continental shelf, the submerged offshore area between state coastal waters and the deep ocean. However, the recent legislation now allows for new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard. The governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington have all opposed offshore drilling plans.

Interior Department officials have indicated that they intend to hold 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico. Seven areas offered for new drilling would be in Pacific waters off California, where drilling has been off limits since a 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara. Though the current US president claims that the decades-old ban “deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth,” this is simply not an accurate statement.  Offshore Drilling

Even if oil companies find oil in the Arctic refuge, it will increase U.S. oil reserves to a bit more than 3% of the global total. OPEC has 70%. There is no conceivable path to oil independence by producing oil domestically. Offshore Drilling Facts

In addition to the impact on land and animal populations, drilling for oil in the Arctic means that indigenous peoples will suffer from the loss of culture, lifeways and spiritual practice. Fifteen villages and small towns scattered across northeast Alaska and northwest Canada are the home of approximately 7,000 Gwich’in – the most northernly location of all indigenous nations.

The Gwich’in’s cultural affinity with area caribou herds has deep spiritual roots. Ancestral stories describe how northern people lived in peaceful intimacy, with all animals. When The People became differentiated into distinct cultural groups, it was agreed that the Gwich’in would hunt the caribou. The modern day manifestation of this spiritual belief is that “every caribou has a bit of the human heart in him; and every human has a bit of caribou heart.” The belief is that the Gwich’in will always have partial knowledge of what the caribou are thinking and feeling, while the caribou will have a similar knowledge of humans and attachment to them.

The indigenous peoples’ historical respect for the caribou is reflected in stories and legends that include the importance of using all parts of the animal, community cooperation, and sharing. The traditional caribou management belief system of the Gwich’in has continued to the present, including in legislation of modern game management practices and through the establishment of an International Porcupine Caribou Commission [IPCC]. The members of the Commission represent the villages of ArcticVillage, Venetie, Fort Yukon, and [Inupiat] Kaktovik in Alaska; andOld Crow in the Yukon Territory. ANWR and The Gwich’in

The consideration of human-animal relationship as spiritual practice and theology must be raised as a central concern to Christian faith practice and belief.  An avid hiker and UCC minister, Tom Martinez, offered this reflection after his recent trek through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

In our modern world we have become alienated from our integral relationship to the ecological systems of God’s Earth. Perhaps the physical, emotional and spiritual distance we have put between ourselves as humans and the natural world allows us to approach the wild as a place to conquer. A place we can guiltlessly raid as we extract resources such as oil and gas… The price we pay for our disconnection with God’s creatures and wilderness is vast and life-threatening… Perhaps most profound is the spiritual price we pay as we desperately seek for what we have lost, tormented by our disconnection and isolation as a species. With an expanded awakening to the meanings we have heretofore lost, there comes a growing sense of urgency and a call to deepen our understanding of our true place in God’s creation — moving from a place of dominance to one of stewardship and caregiving. As we begin to shift our consciousness from a view of the planet as an object to be conquered to one more akin to how the Gwich’in experience it, as ‘the sacred place where life begins,’ only then can we find our true selves as God’s created beings.  The Rev. Tom Martinez, Article

Truly, my friends, healthy environmental stewardship is rooted in a Creation spirituality that appreciates and strives to comprehend humanity’s interdependence with and responsibility for the diversity of life that God created and called, “Good.” Our connection with the Sacred cannot be alienated from ecologically sustainable practices and an understanding of the scientific, economic and political realities that inform the background of what is essentially THE spiritual struggle of our age.

Our true dependence is upon the Earth, not upon oil.  Our deepest need for connection with God is satisfied only by the experience of the wilderness – that most sacred place where we are compelled to go, in order to encounter God face to face. Sometimes the face of the Divine takes the form of a fox, or a bear, or a hummingbird, or a caribou.  The Sacred is wild, after all, and in its vulnerability, we are called to discover our truest strength.

ANWR Polar Bears

Polar Bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Transforming the Toxic Masculine: Resistance for Our Time

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Maori Father & Son

Over the past few years, the term “toxic masculinity” has entered mainstream conversation.  The term refers to an unhealthy social and self-concept among men, of every nationality, belief and culture. Like any illness or addiction, not all men suffer from toxic masculinity.  Being male is not a “problem” and men are not “the problem.” However, the wellness of men – and of every society and nation – is subject to the effects of toxic masculinity, so it behooves all of us – of every gender – to understand its symptomology and global impact.

The concept of toxic masculinity is used to describe behaviors among men that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Toxic masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions. Behaviors of misogyny, homophobia, and violence are considered toxic within the area of social sciences due to the harmful effects such behaviors have within society. Additionally, behaviors of extreme self-reliance and suppression of emotions are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.

Over the past few years, some very important research has been done regarding the link between toxic masculinity and environmental decline. For example, the December 2016 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research included an article detailing a series of seven studies providing evidence that the concepts of greenness and femininity are cognitively linked in male behavior norms –  Journal of Consumer Research .  This is to say that, “Consumers who engage in green behaviors are stereotyped by others as more feminine and even perceive themselves as more feminine. Further, men’s willingness to engage in green behaviors can be influenced by threatening or affirming their masculinity.”

Living from and with toxic masculinity is typified in behavior that cares more about self-image than about others or the environment. Within its complex of behaviors, to the toxic masculine, the feminine – and anything associated with the feminine – is abused, disregarded and only deemed valuable insofar as it serves to serve the needs of the toxic masculine ego. I would add that the toxic masculine ego can likely never be satisfied, and can subsequently never experience fulfillment. The toxic masculine ego is the ultimate insatiable consumer.  Whatever it cannot consume or forcibly conform to meet its needs, it abhors and destroys.

Last month (December 2017), Scientific American published a follow up on the JCR article of the year prior – Scientific American . The authors note that, “Women have long surpassed men in the arena of environmental action,” making the suggestion that, “masculine affirmation and masculine branding may be effective in narrowing the gender gap in environmentalism.”  Basically, by making a man feel manly, he’s more likely to go green.

This isn’t a bad conclusion to come to, though I do think it’s somewhat narrowly focused.  I think the studies provide some backlighting to a larger social shadow that is broadly linked to the social/global history of patriarchal cultures and the heritage of patriarchal cosmology which our world is collectively attempting to transform.  I believe the global transformation to a new paradigm of equitable environmental sustainability will require the social, theological and psychological deconstruction of toxic masculinity.

In my opinion, toxic masculinity is at the root of every major social and environmental challenge in our world today. From violence against women and transgendered persons to wars for land and natural resources, from mass shootings to the military industrial complex, from prohibitions against women’s’ education in some societies to corporate and nationalistic lobbies in the halls of legislature of other societies, and from species extinction to loss of indigenous sacred sites, toxic masculinity is incapable of valuing life for all time because it truly only perceives its own here and now.

Finally, toxic masculinity in leadership is perhaps the greatest threat to the viability of our world.

The healthy masculine is not threatened by emulating behaviors that are generative, relationally equal and mutual. The healthy masculine exercises empathy, values the full spectrum of human/personal emotion and has an expansive sense of compassion. There are many historical, religious/spiritual, philosophical and cultural male models of the healthy masculine. Christ is one such model.

Jesus valued the perspectives of women, children and men – of people who were different from him. He did not value violence or see it as the answer to threat. He was courageous without bravado, caring without the need to be repaid, loving without self-interest and able to share his emotions of fear/grief/joy/love/pain without questioning his value as a person. He was fearless in his conviction that might does not make right, that one’s life is made whole through healing, nurturing and caring for others and by creating a new social reality through dialogue and greater mutual understanding. His courage was not found in conquering the will or lives of others but in his resistance to living as though he was conquered (by an emperor). He was free in heart and mind and spirit, and because he was a truly free man, he had no need to enslave anyone. He was a man who gave life where there had been only death.

Christ’s hope, I think, was that all  men should be freed from their emperors – from the ways of being men in history and in our day that keep all the world in thrall.

Jesus with Children, Fr. John Giuliani

Jesus with Children by Fr. John Giuliani

The Trinity: A Model of Interdependence and Sustainability for a Threatened World

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Three Sisters

Every society and culture that has arisen on the earth appears to have developed a concept of power(s), supreme being(s) or wise teacher(s) that provide/s instruction or guidance on how to live.  Within the study of cultural anthropology, there has been a long history of academic dialog regarding the role of spiritual or religious belief within society.

In early human societies, belief as a method of transcending self can be considered a highly adaptive and successful strategy for coping with dangers in the environment and engaging in risky or innovative behaviors that may yield a high reward or benefit for the self and/or the family/community. From the historical perspective of the study of spiritual/religious belief systems, the ability for a community to survive within the competition for land and resources, for achieving freedoms and new opportunities, has always come down to what a given culture believes and is prepared to do because of those beliefs.

I believe that we are observing (again) in our current time, that no matter what demonstrable knowledge we may have of the world, it is what people believe about that knowledge that makes the difference between either assuring human survival or assuring our demise. Subsequently, belief itself could be said to be the summation of an ultimate power.

One example of how belief (in supernal beings or wisdom figures) dovetails with knowledge of the natural environment as a successful survival mechanism is the domestication and cultivation of the crops of squash, beans and maize (corn) among the Iroquois peoples.  In a technique known as “companion planting,” the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is around 6 inches tall, beans and squash are planted around it, alternating between the two kinds of seeds.

The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as biome of living mulch that helps retain moisture in the soil, while the prickly hairs of the vine are a natural deterrent to bugs.

Anthropologists theorize that the process to develop this agricultural knowledge took place over 5,000–6,500 years. Knowledge of how to grow “The Three Sisters,” as they are called among many North American indigenous cultures, has been passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. Variations of the theme exist between Native cultures, adapted to specific environments, resulting in a diversity of “Three Sister Gardens.”

For many Native peoples, the meaning of the Three Sisters runs deep into the physical and spiritual well-being of their people. Known as the “sustainers of life,” the Iroquois consider corn, beans and squash to be special gifts from the Creator. The well-being of each crop is believed to be protected by one of the Three Sister Spirits. Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all eight essential amino acids, allowing most Native American tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet. In this instance, knowledge and belief support one another and collaborate to assure the survival of several types of plant species as well as supporting several types of human communities.  The interdependence of knowledge and belief becomes cultural wisdom, while the interdependence of several species supports the well being of each.

Within the stories associated with the Judeo-Christian belief system, three interdependent beings emerge in the form of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Though there are variations of the specific nature of the relationship between these three beings within the variants of Christian belief, the common theme is that the Trinity is a divine expression of a unified way of being. The three beings support one another, care for one another and ultimately seem to be mutually dedicated to sustaining and nurturing people specifically and life in general.

The adaptive survival mechanism to human communities through maintaining a Trinitarian belief system may not be as readily tangible or apparent as food production.  However, when one applies the importance of the belief in the incarnation of God in Christ, Jesus becomes the model for how his followers are to incarnate the Holy Spirit as an indwelling reality. Through the spiritual ritual of Baptism, the believer is motivated (called) to actively engage in several practices that can effectively improve the survivability of several species simultaneously.

Trinitarian spiritual life practices include (but are not limited to): service to others, dedication to social justice, commitment to the alleviation of poverty and hunger, sustainable stewardship of Creation, healing of communities and reconciliation between peoples, laboring for peace, and teaching about the life-giving power of love. These actions are understood to demonstrate the believer’s love of Christ, having an ultimate affect that changes the socio-cultural world and improving the chances of survival of life – in all its diverse expression as the singular entity known as Earth.

Truly, as the stories of many faiths and cultures teach us, the archetypal form of the Trinity within belief systems speaks to a deep and shared wisdom – an intuition that seems passed on in the human genome – that all of life is connected, interdependent, mutually resilient, collaboratively co-creating, capable of tremendous life-sustaining nurture and equally threatened in survival without this awareness.

The ultimate power of belief in the Trinity is that it has the potential – if fully lived among human communities who practice its tenets – to save the world, not from some mythic end of divine retribution but from an all too real consequence of humans not believing in the interdependence of all life. The human species has an immanent survival need to create sustainable communities based in a mutual commitment to sharing resources, cultivating multiple species upon which we depend and which in turn depend on our species for their survival through responsible care of creation – appreciating the knowledge we have (in fact) of the impact of our species on the Earth.

Knowledge and belief are lovers in the aware mind, and we are called to incarnate the compassion by which that union compels us to act. Knowledge, belief and compassionate action compose a trinity of consciousness unique to human kind, an incarnate trinity that can transform the world as we know it into a new creation, one on which all life depends upon us to realize.

In the name of the Creator, the Gardener and the Nurturer – Amen.

Nurturing is the Labor of Spring and of the Easter Season

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Angelico - Magdelene & Jesus in Garden

Fra Angelico’s Painting of Mary Magdalene recognizing the risen Christ, who is depicted as a gardener, carrying a hoe used in cultivation – the New Adam cultivating both Creation and people through his relationships with them.

At the end of a grey and rainy winter, I feel very grateful for the breaks of sunlight and sweet spring melodies of the songbirds that have returned to nest in the woods and brush that surround our home.  To support the birds and squirrels that are making nests at this time of the year, I have put out special containers containing the carefully saved lint from our dryer at home for the animals to use in nest building.

As I watch the animals in the spring and experience my own desire to assist them, it seems to me that nurturing is an instinctive quality among most species – even older trees share nourishment through their root systems to help support saplings and trees that are unwell. Nurturing is sacred work, and it is work in which all the earth appears engaged.

For human beings, Nurturing draws on our fullest capacity for physical, emotional and spiritual labor. When we nurture, we become deeply connected to the recipient of our care, even as we become deeply connected to those who care for us in our vulnerabilities. Christ models the impulse to nurture as spiritual response to the need he sees around him.  His response is grounded in compassion and love, which is the essential work of God and reflects the summary of the Law as the commandment that Jesus gave to his followers to love one another.

In the last days of his life – when deep appreciation for his life and the love he felt for his friends welled up in him like the sweet nectar of a ripe grapes or the yeasty impulse of rising bread – Jesus nurtured those around him with all that he had to give; he bathed them, he fed them, he taught them, he comforted them, he forgave them, he encouraged them and he loved them.  Jesus nurtured all who came to him.

In the late 14th century, the English anchoress and mystic, St. Julian of Norwich, wrote:

It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother. And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: ‘It is I.’ As if to say,  I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfillment of all true desires…

The nurturing quality of God is in us as part of the image of God in which we are made.  In each of us resides the essential trait of mother/father nurture, even as this aspect was essential to the nature of Christ.  At this time in history, in the life of our world, nurture is a radical force that utterly unhinges the swinging door of hate that can shut away and separate parts of the human family, one from another.

Nurture is a force for unity, for profound relationship and connection across national boundaries, across belief systems and cultures, across ages, economic disparities and even across species – as we see in so many unique and beautiful animal friendships in nature. Surely, God is at work in all of Creation as the loving force of nurture, and we are meant to be part of that force.

This Easter, for you, for our Church and for our world, I pray that we may all know the deep nurture of God through our relationships with one another and with God’s Creation.  Through the sacred labor of nurture, let us live from Christ’s selfless love that has been instilled in our hearts.  Let us serve Christ by giving our hearts freely away to the world that Christ lived and died and rose again to save.

This Good Earth, like a Pearl of Great Price, spinning amidst the awesome wonders of the universe, is Beloved by the God who called it good and which has been given into our care. Let us be a force of nurture in our world.  All the lives on our dear planet deeply long for and deeply need the cultivating touch of genuine care.  In every heart there is a seed, you see, that needs the water and sun in us that we must provide. Every life with which we share God’s Creation desperately needs the gifting impulses of our Baptism, the fruit of the covenant that we have made with the Son of God. For, the Water and the Son in us is enough to nurture all the world, if only we believe.

Rachel Science March

At the March for Science, Coupeville WA – April 23, 2017

“Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled”- Coping with the Death of a Dysfuntional Parent

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mukilteo-light-at-night

Mukilteo Lighthouse – Stormy Sunset

Before I became a parish priest, I spent twenty years as a professional hospital and hospice chaplain. During that time of my ministry, I provided pastoral care within a wide range of family dynamics (and dysfunction) as well as within some of the most compassionate and present families I’ve ever seen.

All the families that I encountered brought their hearts, needs, secrets, issues and gifts to the patient bedside like shepherds and wise men bringing gifts to the manger of the Christ child – not all the gifts and personalities that made the pilgrimage were beautiful or perfect. Yet, all did bring gifts, because they brought themselves. Truth does not come from perfection.  Rather, truth emerges only and always from the messy muck, the dirt and ashes, pressures and darkness that have conspired to give rise to  life itself.

Most family members had a moment during their loved one’s dying process when they expressed embarrassment for the depth of their emotion, vulnerability or attachment – as though they had learned somewhere that strong feelings indicate weak character. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for personal growth (as in, “Oh, crap! Here comes another learning experience”). Additionally, introverts grieve differently from extroverts; there are general differences between genders in the grieving process; cultural and social background influence grief expression or repression; and children express grief differently depending on age and developmental stages.

Grief is individual and complex.  The ability to grieve can be further complicated when there are challenging dynamics or abusive history between the one who is dying and the family member or friend who is struggling to cope with feelings of anger, guilt, relief or annoyance.

A funeral that I have done recently for the alcoholic parent of four adult children has caused me to reflect once again on the complex grief process involved for those left to either pick up or throw away the pieces.

The encouragements that I  share below are specific to adult children coping with the loss of a parent who was abusive, alcoholic, addicted or otherwise incapable of providing a healthy parent-child relationship. Family Systems Theory helps us understand that addictive disorders, sexual abuse and dysfunctional dynamics are commonly passed down through generations. Stopping the cycle requires intense and purposeful self-awareness and change in those who inherit the legacy.

The death of an addicted or abusive parent brings with it by default a challenged grief process for adult children. This is a summary addressing the most frequent issues that I have encountered in their complex grief process, though it is not all that has been, could or should be said. Perhaps, though, it can be a start for someone seeking a beginning…

Expect to Feel Many Emotions; Please Do Not Fall into a Cycle of Shame for Feeling Them

The parent-child bond is a fundamental human relationship. Whatever our relationship with or experience of a parent, the child within us will have as much (or even greater response) than the adult we may be now.  While everyone has unique feelings about the death of a parent, some of the more common emotions include: Sadness, Relief, Anger, Guilt. All that we feel is necessary to experience in order to move healthfully through the grief process. There is no “bad” emotion, though there can be unhealthy ways of attempting to cope with them. Be honest with yourself about how you feel (or don’t feel), and be even more honest with yourself about how well (or unwell) you are coping with the loss you feel or the issues raised for you by your loss of your parent.

Emotional Labor: Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Needs

While we are used to thinking about our work life as valuable enough to deserve compensation, our culture does not sufficiently value our emotional labor as real work. Because processing the emotions of grief is laborious,  while engaged in emotional labor, we need to find real ways to compensate ourselves through rest, renewal and nourishment. Your feelings of loss and sadness will contribute to genuine fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make good decisions will be impaired. Your low energy level will slow you down, so respect the need that your body and psyche have for rest and care. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Resist over indulging in ways that you know are harmful to you or those around you. Lighten your schedule as much as possible, and take breaks  to do enjoyable activities. When you experience negative flashbacks to the past, look around your immediate environment – name five colors that you can see around you, identify five textures that you can feel, identify five sounds that you can hear, identify five smells that you can detect in the environment, then take five deep and slow breaths…repeat the sequence whenever necessary. Sink an anchor bolt into the present moment to help you be here now and not there then.

Realize Your Grief is Unique to You; Everyone Grieves in Their Own Way and at a Different Pace

Your grief is unique. No one grieves in exactly the same way. Your particular experience will be influenced by the type of relationship that you had with your parent, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background. As a result, you will grieve in your own way and in your own time. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people or adopt assumptions about how long your grief process should last. Take each day anew, and grieve at your own pace. Allow others to do the same.

Recognize the Death’s Impact on Your Entire Family

If you have brothers or sisters, the death of this parent will probably affect them differently than it’s affecting you. The death may also stir up sibling conflicts. Try to do your part to encourage open communication, but set clear boundaries on what behaviors you’re willing to tolerate from others towards you, and stick by those boundaries. You may find, on the other hand, that the death of your parent brings you and your siblings into greater mutual understanding or clarity of your own relationship with them. Your role may change within the family, as other members either let roles go or accept new ones.

Acknowledge Your Parent’s History and Strengths.

Chances are your parent was raised by a family struggling with some combination of its own dysfunction, psychological issues, sexual abuse, tortured family relations, addiction, financial pressures, etc. At the same time, your parent probably would not have been as strong an antagonist unless she/he possessed underlying strengths, however misfired or unrealized. The goal is to learn to see your mother/father as a human being rather than judged through the lens of either the fantasy parent that we wish we had or a grotesque monster set apart from the context in which that person was formed. Through the death of a challenged parent, we can need to acknowledge both the death of the real person as well as the death of the possibility of the reality being different than it was. Recognize that both losses are valid causes of grief, and that you will be processing grief over both what you had and what you didn’t have.

Reach Out to Others for Support

Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself is to reach out for help from others. Take responsibility for getting the help you need, and do not blame the dead then for what you fail to do for yourself now. You may need to re-parent the child of you that still lives in memory in order to nurture the child within with messages of self-acceptance, love, compassion and encouragement. Make a promise that you will limit how much time you spend a day dwelling in self-pity (which can develop when grief is used to justify addictive or codependent behavior) but you can certainly indulge in it if it’s helpful to you. Then, grab onto those who love you and move on with them.

The Relationship is Not Gone

Though the parent may have died, the impact of your mother/father on your life and sense of self will not suddenly be gone or resolved – for better or worse.  To be reconciled to the hurts of the past does not mean that the past or the person is forgiven or forgotten.  Rather, to be reconciled with what has been is to be reconciled with the nature and reality of life, of living within the truth of the human condition.  Happiness is not made by wish fulfillment – of longing for what cannot be changed. Rather, peace or personal happiness comes to us when we can turn our gaze from what is behind us that keeps us living from the past, towards the possibilities before us that draw us into the life to come. Your parent’s life is over, but yours doesn’t have to be. Whether you write a letter to your deceased parent, express your relationship through art, writing or therapeutic conversations – say what you need to say, how you need to say it, and live by the boundaries you set for your parent’s impact on your self-concept going forward.

Be Honest with Yourself, as you Sift Through Your Memories

Chances are that what makes a grief process difficult when it comes to the loss of a challenging parent is that not all the memories are bad ones. Pan through your childhood carefully, like a miner sifting for gold in the moving river of memory and time. Be deeply honest about the muck, AND lift up even the smallest grain of good and do not disvalue it. Those golden sands have formed you at least as much as all the muck, and the gold is what the wise miner keeps to invest in the future. Leave the muck – as much as possible – to settle silt-like in the riverbed of time.

Following the Indigenous Jesus

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Author’s Note: I wrote this reflection for my parish’s newsletter after returning from the interfaith clergy gathering at the Oceti Sakowin Camp that took place on
November 3, 2016
native-maddona-and-child

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden,
because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed,
so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  2 Cor 5:4

The last week of October was very difficult for me.

I have been close to Native ministries in The Episcopal Church for almost sixteen years now. I have experienced many joys and developed friendships that sustain me in crucial ways in the many ministries into which I am called in the church. I have remained present and supportive over the years within many of the difficult but important relationships which characterize The Episcopal Church’s organizational relationship with indigenous communities throughout the Provinces of the church, as well as within many nations that are a part of the Anglican Communion.

I have served as a member of two indigenous delegations sent by The Episcopal Church to participate in international meetings of indigenous peoples within the Anglican Communion – at a meeting in Australia and another in New Zealand. I served for five years on The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministries, before it was disbanded due to budget cuts by General Convention 2015 along with a majority of other committees, councils and advisory boards. I currently serve on the Presiding Bishop’s Indigenous Missioner Search Committee, even now engaged in the search for The Episcopal Church’s next Indigenous Missioner.

I have served in indigenous ministries within the Diocese of Olympia, since I arrived here in 2000. My tribal affiliation is the Shackan Band of the Nicola Tribal Association in British Columbia, and I remain the first and only (known) indigenous person ordained by our diocese. At this time, I am proud to be part of the supportive community of two indigenous men who are currently in the ordination process, each of whom I have known for several years. Many of you know Allen Hicks (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), and some may know Daren Chidester (Aleut/Athabaskan).

The Episcopal Indigenous Network in the Diocese of Olympia is a small but dedicated group of indigenous Episcopalians. We were glad to recently sponsor The Rev. Branden Mauai – an Episcopal Deacon from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation – to be a guest of our diocesan convention in October, when he presented two workshops about what is happening in the conflict between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners – the organization building the Dakota Access Pipeline through the historic treaty lands (and sacred burial areas) of the Standing Rock Sioux.

Our Indigenous Network also sponsored two letters and a petition calling for the cessation of building the Dakota Access Pipeline as part of creating greater opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue that respects the dignity of the Standing Rock Sioux and the historical trauma of indigenous peoples in our country (which greatly informs the current moment). The letters and petition were signed by members of Diocesan Convention and are being sent to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the Governor’s Office in North Dakota and the White House.

On the same weekend of our Diocesan Convention (October 21 and 22), The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church met. As part of their business meeting, they passed a resolution, formally requesting that law-enforcement officials, “De-escalate military and police provocation in and near the campsites of peaceful protest and witness of the Dakota Access Pipeline project.”

Five days later, police and security forces from six states joined various police agencies in North Dakota in a heavily militarized operation to remove indigenous peoples and other Water Protectors from a camp located on historic treaty lands that blocked the “progress” of the pipeline constructions.

On October 27, I watched the coordinated, militarized assault take place over live streaming video from indigenous friends and contacts at Standing Rock, and I was horrified. I saw a whole new generation of indigenous youth being traumatized by an all too familiar pattern of systemic aggression and racism. When our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, visited Standing Rock in September, he shared that in his opinion, Standing Rock could be the Native peoples’ “Selma,’ in terms of civil rights justice. I think that the Presiding Bishop is correct in his assessment.

Immediately following the Executive Council meeting, The Rev. John Floberg (a member of Executive Council and rector of St. James in Cannon Ball, ND) issued a call to Episcopal Clergy in particular but to religious leaders and laity of all traditions, to come together for prayer on November 3, in a peaceful demonstration of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and Water Protectors. Our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, is supportive of my participation in the event, and I will be at Standing Rock for the first week of November. Barring any travel delays, I will be presiding at our Sunday services celebrating All Saints on November 6th.

Later in the month, beginning November 15th, I will be travelling to Nepal to participate in a long-planned service trip to bring medical and educational supplies to villages still engaged in the process of recovery from the earthquake that took place in April of last year. The trip to Nepal is my continuing education project for 2016. I have a professional ministerial interest in studying how unique faith traditions (such as Buddhism) provide psychological and spiritual support during times of community disaster. This work is related to my ongoing role as board-certified professional chaplain, who can be deployed to provide support to first responders and victims during times of national and community crisis.

I feel that I will be responding to two very different but equally real national disasters this month – one still actively emerging in our country and one still in recovery in Nepal.

As many challenges as there are in our nation and in our world, the sincere practice of our faith – whatever that faith may be – is crucial to our personal ability and collective responsibility to be centered in peace and committed to love.

In the Prayers of the People of our Book of Common Prayer, our collective prayers are always to include prayers for: 1) the members and mission of the Church, 2) our nation and those who hold authority, 3) the welfare of the world, 4) the concerns of the local community, 5) those who suffer and those in trouble, and 6) the saints and those who have died.

I know that for me, both personally and professionally, I will be engaged in prayer for all of the above and more on a daily basis. As with the network of indigenous peoples within our diocese, I cannot do all that God calls me to do, without you. Whether I am serving you, or indigenous peoples in our diocese, or people in other countries, Trinity is my home. Let us pray for one another, and let us give thanks together for the eternal promise of freedom and peace that God gave to the world through the Nativity of his son, Jesus Christ – our Savior and our Lord.