Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

If not with fruitcake, then how?

Posted: December 13, 2020 in Uncategorized

A few years ago I made a retreat with some friends to Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. Like for most, the pilgrimage was meant to help me shed a skin, discard what needed to be left behind, and to discover the hidden depths that remained concealed in the distracted life. After a few days of solitude, repeating ethereal worship and moving back and forth between the intersection of nature and community, a new space is opened inside. What fills it is a grace, of course, and it can’t be designed or planned.

During my days there I struck up a conversation with a monk during the designated conversation time (since the Trappists hold the discipline of silence). In order to support itself, the Abbey makes fruitcakes, sells them online, and ships them across the country. It’s a big deal. Access to Kentucky bourbon doesn’t hurt. And this monk had made fruitcakes his entire life at the Abbey. Fruitcakes and prayer.

During our brief talk I asked him how that worked, the fruitcake occupation with the spiritual life. He looked at me like I had asked why you get wet when it rains. If you can’t find God in a fruitcake, he said, then you can’t find God anywhere.

That thought has been shared before in the history of spirituality. St. Teresa of Avila famously said to keep watch during kitchen duty because “even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans.”

I don’t believe, however, that my fruitcake-making monk read Teresa and then tried out the pots and pans formula with fruitcakes. Rather, I think it is a universal aspect of the spiritual life; there comes a time when one realizes that nothing out there is going to provide more than what can be found where you stand, in your own hands. Which makes sense of the monastic understanding of “stability.” Quit jumping around, here and there, and settle in where you are and find what is meant to be found.

Robert Fulghum is primarily known for his book All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten. The most important Fulghum observation for me came not from his most popular book. It was rather an offhand observation he made that garnered little attention. Except for me.

One time when Fulghum was on a pilgrimage to India, he visited a renowned holy man. He hoped that Atlantis might rise out of the sea and his spiritual quandaries would be forever answered. But instead he said that after a while the holy man came out, scratched his back side, sat in front of Fulghum and said, “Go home.” Fulghum waited. Was the wisdom about to come? It was not as he expected. “Go home and find it. There is nothing here you can find that you can’t find at home.” And then he got up and wandered away.

We know many stories like it, parables and tales that use the long journey to lead us to where we began, but to behold it differently, with new eyes.

If you can’t find it at home, or among the pots and pans, or in the fruitcake in front of you, you’re not going to find it. All those who fret about lack of mobility during a pandemic are faced with the same thing. If you can’t find it where you are, you can’t find it. If you are left with yourself, if the porchlight is on but you discover that nobody is home, then nobody is home. You’ve got a problem. But then again you have the beginning of a journey. That is the first spiritual discovery, that the emptiness cannot be filled with outside things, moving parts, or our own moving feet. It can only be filled with holy things that have slumbered out of sight.

Like a babe in a manger, for example. Be there if you will, watching, beholding. Among the shepherds, animals, the fragile family, pots and pans and fruitcakes. If you can’t find it there, well, then you can’t find it.

Pin on Cornerstone 1: Faith

To the Transition Team of President-Elect Joe Biden:

As you prepare for and select the multi-facetted leadership required in a new administration, I would like to register but one of the many concerns you will be facing: This administration’s relationship to diverse American religious communities.

The First Amendment of our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion even as it limits the governmental establishment of any one religion. This understandable and yet sometimes uneasy tension is there for a reason; our founders had experienced both the curtailing of religious liberty and the establishment of theocratic church-state structures. Neither were desirable. Their constitutional outcome included provisions that prohibited both.

Nevertheless, religious life has always been and continues to be an important force in American life. As your administration decides how it wants to build bridges to religious communities I would like to provide some modest observations and suggestions.

First, let us not fall into the errors of the previous administration. We should avoid governmental alliance with one slice of the religious community to the exclusion of all others. During the Trump administration that slice primarily included one stream of white evangelical Christians. Only those leaders had the ear of the administration. Their concerns were narrow: End Row v Wade (by seating conservative judges), provide tax-payer dollars to private religious schools (by placing a Secretary of Education who favored private schools and not public education), and conduct policy with Israel in such a way that it reinforced their own Christian end-times scenarios (with a Secretary of State and Vice President who were those white evangelicals).

In return, the administration was paid handsomely with votes and blind allegiance, regardless of the actual irreligious nature of the President.

We do not want this for our country or our religious communities. Constitutionally speaking, we want to avoid even the appearance of the establishment or even preferential treatment of one religious community. It is an error to do so in such a diverse religious nation as our own. Morally speaking, we want to regard our neighbors as ourselves, making sure that all religious voices are around the table.

Rather, we should strive to secure a broad and diverse council of religious representatives that reflects the true religious diversity of our nation. These religious representatives need not agree in doctrine, practice or ethical issues. But they do need to be able to speak for their own communities, express respect for other traditions, and exhibit a willingness to pursue the common good of our democracy.

This religious diversity should include Jews from their several traditions, Christians of many denominations, Muslims both Shite and Suni alike, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Bahais, indigenous religions and many others. They should engage in conversation that illumines both unique and shared concerns. And let it be said: This religious diversity must include religious ethnic representation at the same time that it considers historic religious identities.

There needs to be a director of this interfaith religious council, an experienced person who is able to gather the tribes together and foster a sense of unity.

This has been done before in past administrations. In that sense, it is nothing new. But in contrast to what we have just lived through, it will seem almost revolutionary. Which is why it should be done soon, confidently, and well.

Mr. President-Elect and Ms. Vice-President-Elect: Reach out to the broad religious communities of this nation in a generous, inclusive and truly interested way and you will touch much of the soul of America. It is an opportunity you dare not miss.

Investing at the right time

Posted: November 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’d like to buy that property. That nice piece of property in the middle of the war zone. Maybe Syria or Afghanistan. Or that lot next to the crack house. Maybe the property that was abandoned after the fires. Right in the middle of the earthquake, flood or mudslide. Under the debris of the tornado. I’ll take it. Cash on the barrel head.

People wondered about Jeremiah. His nation was cracking up, people heading toward exile, adversaries pounding on the door, the proud walls tumbling. And then, in the middle of chaos and disillusionment, he says he’s buying his cousin’s field (Jeremiah 32). When everyone is loading possessions into their carts for a quick escape, hiding away in the basement, and bracing themselves against impending famine, Jeremiah buys a field for the future, a future that can’t yet be seen.

He takes the deed and seals it in a clay jar for safe-keeping. And the word that comes to him from the Spirit is that in the future life will once again flourish on that very land. You can’t see it now, but it will.

Kings and empires rise and fall. Leaders are good, corrupt and everything in-between. The times are tranquil or full of angst. The people are wicked and righteous and both at the same time. We wish we could choose the times into which we are born or where, but that is not up to us.

Jeremiah buys the field, the field of the future, the field of hope. I hear it’s a risky investment. They say such blind faith is pure foolishness. The majority says to fly under the radar and protect yourself.

But what they don’t understand is that buying the field of the future clears the way for the future to unfold. Unless we bank on a vision of the future that is greater than the reality in which we now live, it won’t come. That vision of the future has to be announced, anticipated, trusted.

Buy the field. Whatever else is happening, just buy it.

Voting is always important, especially if you are part of a healthy democracy where voting is safeguarded for all citizens. In a quasi-fascist political system citizens go through the motions of free elections when the elections are rigged either before or after the election to secure a pre-determined result.

When the United States was at its best we encouraged integrity in the voting process and secured election observers in the world societies that had questionable integrity around their voting practices. In my opinion, we are now one of those societies that needs to be monitored. The reason is, in my mind, perfectly clear: Some citizens and leaders in power are attempting to repress voting by interrupting the voting process, suppressing the vote, and in the main making it harder for people to vote. Those who are attempting to suppress the vote or encourage intimidation of voters are the ones who stand to lose the most when everyone votes. That is the only trump card they have to play; they cannot win elections fairly.

The attempted corruption of our election process is symptomatic of a larger trend and problem, the erosion of democracy itself. For the last four years our present administration and its proxies and enablers have systematically dismantled or dismissed the very institutions that make for resilient democracies. All this is done under the rubrics of the “deep state.” In actuality, these structures have been put into place to bring accountability and leadership beyond and often in spite of who happens to pull the levers of power at the moment. Autocrats want to dismiss any voices that call into question their own.

Democracies are fragile. They take years to build and can be dismantled in a relatively short period of time. We live in such a time when totalitarianism is rising across the world, a new fascism. When this happens the free press is silenced, human rights violated, “law and order” used to control the opposition, and all of the organs of government are controlled in order to reflect the one worldview of the autocratic leaders. The illusion is created that the regime in returning power to the people, but that is a ruse; a new controlling class seizes the assets and enrich themselves at the expense of the very ones they pretend to protect. Coalitions of the fringe combine to create a minority that controls the majority. The Judicial system is highjacked to always rule in favor of the regime and corporate interests that keep it in power. The Congress becomes anemic and ceases to provide a balance of power. Religion is manipulated to create an idolatrous state church in which the form of religion is filled with the ideology of the regime. And yes, the veracity of elections is either compromised or surrounded by doubt and suspicion in order to manipulate the outcomes.

We are living in such a time. When I say that this is the most consequential election of my lifetime, I am not exaggerating. Democracy as we know it hangs in the balance. Only a vast demonstration of resolve and courage by our citizens will help change course. If we do not, in the span of only four years the country we know and love will become a weak and twisted version of itself.


I just read a Columbus Day statement issued by our own government. It is a strident denial of history, with shaming of anyone who might describe our American history in anything other than glowing terms. Those people, the ones who tell the whole story, are not really patriots. They are intent on tearing down our proud heritage. Or so the statement leads us to believe.

I guess I am one of those people because I am going to tell the whole story.

A few years ago, I sat in the Cathedral in Seville, Spain and gazed upon the silver-lined sarcophagus of Christopher Columbus. In fact, the resting place of Columbus was not the only silver encrusted thing in the space; the entire sanctuary was silver-plated. Sadly, I knew where all that silver came from. The Americas.

More than 20,000 years ago Asian peoples began migrating from what is now far east Russia westward across a land bridge that spanned what we know as the Bering Strait. In stops and starts, in waves of migrations and likely settlements on and around that glacier covered geography, with great physical and genetic adaptation, the ancestors of native American people moved across and down the Americas. Over the course of thousands of years their tribes inhabited every geography that would eventually shape them; lakes and woods, plains and desert, mountains, jungle and seacoast. They hunted, gathered, migrated with the seasons, established permanent encampments, sustained themselves with agriculture, used and developed tools, pottery and weapons, built monumental mound cities and stone temples, lived in cliff dwellings, pueblos, movable camps and island hamlets.

These numerous tribes formed alliances for protection and survival, competed for resources, waged war, raided their neighbors and took captives and horses, traded and engaged in commerce, imprinted sacred symbols and stories into rock, ritual and dance, shared rites of passage with children, and buried their dead in caves, on platforms, and in mounds. They hunted large beasts, fished the rivers and lakes, and balanced their diets with maize, beans and squash.

Just a few centuries after the Norse traversed the northern route of the Atlantic to the settle along the present-day coastlines of Greenland and Newfoundland, European powers began a vast exploration of the lands of other continents. Buoyed by the Discovery Doctrine of the Catholic Church that declared all lands unoccupied by Christians were eligible for the taking, the seafaring countries of the Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and England did just that. Beginning in the 15th century they invaded, made conquest of and colonized the lands and peoples of the Americas. They also brought their European diseases which decimated the tribes.

The Spanish dominated South America, Central America, and Mexico which then reached all the way into today’s American Southwest and California, and this became “New Spain.” The Portuguese claimed the huge area of Brazil. The French controlled much of Canada, the great lakes and the Mississippi river basin for “New France.” The English focused on the American eastern seaboard upward to and including Nova Scotia, as well as the western portions of Canada and northwest American coast.

The expedition of Columbus was the prelude to invasion, conquest and colonization.

The conquest by the Spanish was conducted by such conquistadors as Cortes in Mexico 1519, Pizarro in Peru 1532, de Soto in what would become the southeastern United States in 1539, and Coronado in the present-day American Southwest in 1540. Their methods of destruction and domination contributed to the conditions that would eventually bring their colonial downfall.

In addition to amassing more land for empire, the Europeans had intentional financial goals as they occupied and colonized other lands and peoples. They wanted to exploit the wealth of the colonized lands and return it to Europe or establish new cash crop plantations that would raise needed products for the European market. Whether it was silver, cotton, or sugar, a large work force would be required to make the enterprise cheap and efficient. They had a solution for that challenge, a solution that would reach beyond the indigenous peoples they had enslaved.

In the 16th century, the great European powers began what would become a 350 year-long slavery enterprise in the North Atlantic. Though the practice of slavery was not new in the world the scale of this was new. Never before had such a world-wide, trans-continental coalition arisen dedicated to the one end of joining commerce and slavery, a coalition that included the monarchs and merchants of Europe, the cooperating kings and chieftains of Africa, and the vast slave markets of the Americas.

Cargo ships filled with European goods left all of the well-known seafaring ports – Lisbon, Seville, London and Liverpool, Nantes, Amsterdam – and sailed to the slave river ports all along the western coast of Africa. Those European goods were exchanged for slaves who had been taken captive inland and brought up river to the market ports by the Africans themselves. The slaves were secured through a variety of means – as the spoils of war, through indentured servitude, taken in slave catcher raids. This human cargo was transported across the “big river” of the Atlantic to the slave mart islands of Jamaica and Cuba in the Caribbean and the slave harbors in Brazil, Mexico, and the southern English colonies. There they were sold for cash or traded for products that would return to Europe.

In the Americas, colonists received slaves from all parts of Africa and they became the key to the prosperity of every labor-intensive enterprise – silver and gold mines, sugar and coffee plantations, cotton, hemp and tobacco fields. In the American English colonies, the first instance of slave trade may have occurred more than a year before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. In 1619 an English ship carrying between 20-30 Africans in chains landed at Point Comfort in Virginia. The crew traded the human cargo to colonists from nearby Jamestown in exchange for food.

It wasn’t long until the slave trade not only enabled the production of wealth in the colonies through free labor, but the slaves became valued commodities to trade. Thus, possession and trading of slaves produced capital itself, which only increased the volume of the slave trade.

The British slave trade grew immeasurably in the 18th century, and between 1720-1730 over 10,000 slaves were sold in South Carolina alone. To add perspective, in South Carolina in 1732 there were 14,000 white people and 32,000 slaves. By the eve of the Declaration of Independence, 1776, the British were sailing ships of slaves at the pace of 200,000 every decade, most of them sold in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Of course, the institution of slavery became the single most divisive issue in American culture, leading to a Civil War. After emancipation, Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination took slavery’s place and continued until the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. The legacy and remnants of slavery and racism haunt us still.

To pretend that Columbus and the conquistadors who would follow were simply proud adventurers makes a mockery of the real history that is ours. This false presentation is a distortion of truth, a whitewashing of the record, a denial of the genocide of indigenous peoples already in the Americas and the slavery of those brought here to work for the prosperity of their owners.

            I am proud to be an American for many reasons, but the invasion, conquest, colonization and exploitation of the Americas is not among them. I remain hopeful that we will someday realize the lofty dreams of our founders. But the way forward will not found through codifying the indefensible. Telling the truth is neither tearing down heroes nor demolishing heritage. Telling the truth is the only way to clear a pathway for future greatness.           

colored drinking fountainI was out on a walk through town today when I ran into a friend doing the same thing. We chatted for a while, especially telling stories of where and how we grew up. He was a rural boy, living far outside the central Missouri county seat of Fulton. For Missourians, we know this area along the Missouri river as “Little Dixie” and Fulton is in its epicenter, in the “Kingdom of Callaway.” Fulton was founded in 1820, a year before Missouri’s statehood.

Virtually all of the towns along the Missouri River were slaveholder towns. They trucked in cash crops like tobacco and hemp, worked by slaves, and then sent them down river. After emancipation the economies of those farms and plantations fell on hard times. Though freed men and women often worked for wages at those very same farms later, they often had an indentured status, a new kind of slavery.

During the century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation, characterized by unequal rights such as the right to vote. And for people like my friend whose childhood took place near Fulton, Missouri in the 1950s, segregation was on parade.

His mother, however, was engaged in her own civil rights movement long before its time. In the midst of segregation, rank discrimination and the barely concealed presence of the KKK, she protested in her own way. Like when it came to public drinking fountains, for example.

My friend told me that one of his earliest memories, perhaps when he was as young as Kindergarten, was of his mother marching her five children to the dual drinking fountains near the court house which were marked “white” and “colored” and lined up her brood to get long drinks from the “colored” fountain. This was in clear and dramatic sight of all the town’s people gathered at the court house. It was her protest. In the words of John Lewis, she was making “good trouble.”

The judge at the courthouse was a straight shooter, morally unwavering in his judgments and sentences. When he got wind that certain members of the Fulton community were threatening to go out to this woman’s house and vandalize or burn it, the judge came out into the common area of the courthouse, summoned the attention of all who were near, and made a statement:

“I want you to know that if I have the slightest reason to suspect that anyone has done harm to this woman or her property, I will arrest, charge and lock them up for eternity.” Evidently that threat did the trick. Nothing happened to my friend’s mother, family or property.

According to my friend, he ran into this same judge later in life, when he was a young man. The judge told him how much he respected his mother, that she was a courageous woman ahead of her time.

So she was. And he was a judge ahead of his time.

That’s what it takes – a moral sense that rises above the crowd, the courage to stand out and take a stand, and a community that resists the injustice in front of our own faces. And it starts by showing our children what is and is not moral and how to be a part of the solution when doing so is hard and sometimes risky.


On Tyranny – Timothy Snyder

Posted: August 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder is a professor of History at Yale University. In 2017 he published a collection of twenty short reflections on tyranny entitled On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. It challenges the reader to become aware of the fragility of democracy and how authoritarian regimes may arise in our own time. In one sobering statement he suggests that “We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” I want to summarize here his twenty observations/suggestions.

  1. Do not obey in advance. Authoritarianism depends on the public giving blind ascent in advance to anything a repressive government or leader wants. Anticipatory obedience is a political tragedy.
  2. Defend institutions. It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. Institutions do not defend themselves and can be undermined. It is in the interest of autocrats to have weakened institutions under the control of the regime.
  3. Beware of the one-party state. Tyrannical regimes eliminate the competition and turn elections into farce. One-party regimes controlled by the autocrat at the top breed the worst forms of tyranny because there are no competing voices.
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world. We live in a society of symbols. Notice the emergence of symbols that exclude some while building the status or pride of others. Notice the way propaganda is displayed by the indoctrinated.
  5. Remember professional ethics. Totalitarian regimes redefine what is acceptable and what is not. When norms are abandoned under the rubric of doing it for the good of the cause, professionals often abandon their ethics. Don’t do it.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries. When people with guns start wearing uniforms in order to enforce the aims of the leader, the end is near. When the pro-leader paramilitaries, police and military intermingle, the end has come.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you are a member of the police or military, remember your Constitutional oaths and responsibilities to fellow citizens. Democracies fail when armed forces are swept into unconscionable behavior.
  8. Stand out. It is easy to follow along and autocracies depend on absolute obedience. The moment an individual sets an example to resist the regime the spell of the status quo is broken and others are given courage.
  9. Be kind to our language. Separate your way of talking from the terms of propaganda, typical phrases and buzz shorthand. Free yourself from the sound bites of hackneyed social media. Undermine cliches. Expose glittering generalities.
  10. Believe in truth. Dictators thrive on relativity and alternative narratives. With enough chaos in the rhetorical air, autocrats redefine law, norms and human decency. Be clear about what is and is not moral. Do not be blinded by loudness.
  11. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Don’t trust the propaganda of the regime. Encourage investigative journalism. Investigate propaganda sources. Take care that you do not pass on propaganda misinformation to others.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk. Do not let the regime set the tone. Engage in friendships beyond politics. Seek to understand others and share your opinion. Attempt to stretch beyond barriers. Dictators want neighbors to fear one another.
  13. Practice corporeal politics. Dictators destroy democracy when the only people that show up are their own supporters. People in power want us to stay home and be passive. Form common cause with new friends and march with them.
  14. Establish a private life. Despots want to control your private life and eliminate protections against government interference. Consider using electronic media less and have more face-to-face relationships. Tyrants seek a hook on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.
  15. Contribute to good causes. Tyrants want everything under the state and all energies directed to the state. Be active in non-governmental organizations that express your values. Pick a charity and support it. Make choices that support society outside of government.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries. The present difficulties in the United States are not unique and belong to a larger trend. No country will shore up their democracies in isolation. Anti-democracy autocracies are everywhere. Be aware.
  17. Listen for dangerous words. Be alert to words used by authoritarians: extremism and terrorists. Be aware of notions of emergency and that this is an exceptional time in which rights and norms must be suspended in service to the common good.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny depends on moments of terror. Authoritarians exploit these events in order to end checks and balances, suspend freedom of expression, end rights to a fair trial, and dissolve opposing parties. It is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.
  19. Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for generations to come. They will need it. A patriot wants the nation to live up to its ideals. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well, and always wishing that it would do better.
  20. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny. It is a common error of our time to believe that democracy is inevitable; it is not. It is fragile. And narratives of great mythical futures insured by a cultic hero abound.

The founding fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew in their own time, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Anti-democratic currents in our own time provide a parallel threat, the forms of which would be almost unimaginable to those same founders. These times have been left to us with a similar charge, to be alert to the powers that would dominate rather than uplift the life of our people and nation. The charge to us is to remain vigilant, courageous, and willing to take a stand in the face of  every threat, foreign or domestic. There is no one else in the ring. Only us.

The World is Flat(er)

Posted: August 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

Flat EarthWhen Tom Friedman first released his provocative book, The World is Flat, people took notice; he had named dominant world currents that took everybody back to zero – the internet, globalization, democratizing movements. At the time we began to understand what he meant. But it didn’t turn out exactly as he predicted.

Those same currents generated tribalism and the emergence of new elites. The box was indeed shaken and reorganized, but the powerful made use of it for gain even as the less powerful suffered more. Social and world currents do have a leveling-out effect, even if not in the ways we imagine. Like pandemics, for example.

There is no doubt that the current pandemic has done the same kind of thing, at least for most of us. It has shaken institutions, organizing principles, the way we do commerce, family, religion and spirituality, family life, dating, education and entertainment. In many cases it has just  finished off what was already in the process of dying. In other cases our adapting actually pushes us to new ways of relating and organizing that creates a new way of typical living. For example, using Zoom as a way to gather is no longer novel, it’s simply assumed.

In the same way that Friedman’s observation that new communication and global commerce would shake us up and level us down, but at the same time did not take into account how the powerful would use it to their advantage, so our present pandemic has also leveled most of us out even as the elite and very wealthy have prospered. Even now wealthy politicians quibble about how many bread crumbs of unemployment benefits or relief assistance they want to throw under the table to the desperate.

As most world citizens have endured loss of health, life and livelihood, needed to adjust to new limitations, and in many cases made new discoveries about what is really important, a certain class of people — the elite and super-wealthy who are quite insulated from the ravages of COVID — have exploited the pandemic to their advantage. They have prospered off of the suffering of others, becoming even wealthier as millions have plunged deep into an economic depression. They have been helped to become even richer by government itself, which has favored certain people and corporations, giving them lucrative contracts and exceedingly generous bailouts. Even large churches that were in bankruptcy due to clergy child abuse cases were given aid – an artificial shot in the arm when they should have been allowed to experience the full consequences of their injustice.

It is not a new story, the wealthy exploiting hard times to get even wealthier. Every war provides that opportunity, and contractors that make every armament and supply necessary for the war effort profit, ending up better off after the war than before it. There are entities right now that are becoming fantastically wealthy as a result of our present pandemic.

Excluding that sorry dimension of the hyper-wealthy and powerful prospering during hard times, most people in the world are in roughly the same boat, even if located on  different decks for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd classes: We are forced to the essentials of life and our humanity; we allow ourselves to be remade not only for survival, though there is that, but also aspiring for a better self and world; the ways, structures and methods that used to carry us go flat even as new models and innovations take their places.

In important ways, the world is flattening again. When that happens everybody goes back to zero, a kind of universal flood that transports us in an ark of transition toward a new world. Just what world that shall become is as unknown to us as it was to Friedman. But it is being transformed, for good or for ill, before our very eyes. We are living at a dramatic inflection point filled with chaos. And the wise and courageous among us will walk across that newly leveled landscape and imagine a new world even before it appears.

Fork and Green Beans

Call it fortuitous. I was seated to the immediate right of Donald Trump on a bench before plank tables in a rather simple but spacious lodge-like dining hall. It was lunchtime. Though I wanted to avoid staring, I turned slightly to my left and watched him eat what was before him. Most conspicuous was the rather full fork of green beans that he proceeded to swallow in one hungry gulp.

“At least I’m eating my vegetables,” he said. I nodded. “And they were grown right here in Missouri,” I retorted.

In my dream, Donald was his present biological age, showing all the wear and tear of the years. But his emotional age was much, much younger. He was, as the unconscious goes, maybe ten. He sought the same kind of approval that a ten year old might desire. And because he was not allowed to grow into mature manhood, he remained stuck there, at age ten.

The trappings of his elite life had allowed him to move through growing up, but without the formation of mature manhood. He was given unbridled power and protected status too early. He continued a charmed life of little responsibility and self-indulgent freedom. His character never developed. In the end he became a menace to the world surrounding him, a person who exploited others as an immature ten year old might. He was enthralled with his own ability to get what he wanted. He was even excited by his ability to intimidate and harm others with his biases and prejudice.

But on that bench by that table with a fork of green beans, it was a different story. In a rare moment I looked upon a broken little boy and had empathy for him. That empathy in no way gave him a pass for his large catalog of future misdeeds. It was, rather, a glimpse into what existed before a course of events twisted it.

I suppose I have always wanted to look favorably upon Donald Trump. I want to look upon every person in that way before the world disfigured what was originally created in the image of God. But I have not been able to see Donald Trump that way, blocked as I have been by his heinous actions and thoughts. Even now, as his house of cards collapses, he doubles down on incessant lying, jeopardizing his own people, and threatening the democracy he swore to uphold.

The dream gave me what my waking self could not, some compassionate look beyond all the debris and destruction. I suppose we fantasize about doing that with other historical characters whose misguided motives harmed so many: every one was born somewhere to a mother, drank her milk, learned to walk, and toddled into life. If only we had known them before.

It was my subconscious that provided a boy eating green beans. There were no kids in cages, no obedient subordinates protecting him from prosecution, no unraveling of the hard work of generations.  We want to love people, or something of them, even a trace, that had some strand of a purpose in the mind of God. But everything they became keeps us from seeing it.

By the time this story is over, we will unable to see that part of him through our own contempt and disdain. But today, just today, I am allowing a benevolent eye to look upon a ten year old eating green beans. If I am capable of nothing more than that, at least I have this fragment of mercy, something I routinely depend upon for my own somewhat selfish, frequently unrighteous, and partially broken ten year old.



Section. 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.