Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ash Wednesday: Mortality Too Close to the Surface

I was going to write a post yesterday noting that Ash Wednesday this year landed on Valentine's Day and my 50th Birthday. Fifty--the Jubilee Year--a year to celebrate freedom and returning to one's roots.

But I made the mistake of looking at Facebook. And there was the live stream from one of the south Florida TV stations doing coverage of the 18th shooting at a school in the United States, this time in Broward County at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

Two dead. Then seven. Finally, the number climbed to seventeen. The shooter, a 19 year-old former student, was captured after initially eluding police. The details about his life and what was known, and not known, about him are coming to light and will continue to surface over the next several days.

And then, the story will fade from the headlines. People won't be talking about it. News crews will leave Parkland, Florida. Nothing will change.

One of the most striking images I saw from Parkland was that of a parent holding her teenager, arm around her, rushing her away from the scene with the unmistakable black ash of a cross on the mom's forehead. 

Wow. That's right: it was Ash Wednesday. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." But do we really believe that a child at 14, 15, 16 years old or even an otherwise healthy thirty-something year old adult are going to return to the dust? Does a parent really think that kissing their child good-bye and sending them off to school is akin to sending them to a war zone? 

This sobering thought was on my mind for the rest of the day and into my own trip to an Ash Wednesday service. I couldn't stop thinking about the image of that mom, the terror that must have filled the hearts of both the kids and the adults. Tears came to my eyes as I watched a family go forward for the imposition of ashes. As the rector traced the sign of the cross on the forehead of the toddler, it felt like a punch to my gut. I looked at that and thought, "Newtown." 

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a 40-day journey into self-examination and reflection. And while I can't do the spiritual work of anyone other than myself, it seems we are dying--literally--to examine our political leaders inability to do anything to address the wide-spread availability of semi-automatic weapons and reflect on whether we want something different. 

The Broward County Sheriff, the Governor, and several politicians described Wednesday's massacre as "evil." I agree. And a mentally-disturbed person armed with a semi-automatic weapon is more dangerous than a mentally-disturbed person who is unarmed. Refusing to acknowledge and address the issue of guns is like Peter in the courtyard pretending he doesn't know Jesus in those hours before his execution. The good news about Peter's betrayal is that he felt remorse and he had the opportunity to undo his denial by affirming his love for the risen Jesus. Perhaps this could be something for our political leaders to contemplate while they are down on their knees praying for the victims of gun violence. Maybe if they listen closely they'll hear a call to stand for something other than the money they receive from the NRA.

Lent would be as good a time as any for lawmakers to change their ways and take this issue seriously.




Sunday, February 4, 2018

Going Quiet, Remaining in Love

It has taken me awhile to get to a place of writing this particular piece. I have had to take a week of processing the experience of, once more, having to face-off against Nazis masquerading as simply loving their Southern heritage. I'm talking about the League of the South. When they were here in Tallahassee two years ago, they were proudly displaying their confederate battle flags. This time, they were flying their black and white Southern cross, and displaying their SS symbols on the colors of their black shirts. When I say they are Nazis, I mean it. When I say that I have to face-off against them, I mean that, too.

There were no guns present at this rally, except for the hundred or so police officers from different law enforcement agencies. State troopers, Tallahassee and Capitol Police, and the Sheriff's Department put their bodies between the two groups and made sure everyone knew that they could hold whatever demonstration they wanted, if everyone kept to their quarters and didn't attempt to attack each other. Luckily, unlike what happened at Charlottesville, everyone complied.

There is a spirit that is deep within me that says that these ideologies that promote racial superiority for whites and extermination of Jews, Muslims, and LGBT people cannot be ignored or pretend that they aren't out there. This is especially true since the election of our current president who has defended people who are bigots as "good people," has advocated divisive policies that ban Muslims from entering the country, has attacked the military service of transgender people, and is threatening to deport the children of illegal immigrants back to countries they've never known. To remain silent, or turn a blind eye to this is simply not possible for me.

At the same time, I can't meet the hatred of the fearful bigoted Nazis with anger and rage. Yet there I was, amidst people screaming, "Nazi Scum: Fuck you!" I needed to be there, but there were certain things I couldn't shout. Singing? Yes. I could even join in chants of "Shame!" and "Read a Book!" (which I actually thought was a funny answer to some of the whackadoodle things being said back at us from the other side). But as I was holding my handmade protest sign made from the brown cardboard flat of LaCroix club sodas with it's simple message of "One Love," I couldn't bring myself to yell obscenities or descend into anger.

Next to me was a very tall black man. He was wearing the traditional colors of African nations...with black, green, red, and gold. He never said a word. He just stood and stared at the smirking and taunting white men and women on the other side of the line of state troopers. I decided that he was going to serve as my guide. If I felt myself slipping into mean-spirited snarkiness, I would glance up at his face, take a breath, and then join him in staring back at the bigots. Another young man was on the other side of me with a bouquet of flowers. He wanted to offer them to the Nazis, but the police wouldn't let him pass. So instead, he shouting to them, "I love you!"

I had been live streaming the demonstration on Facebook. At one point, I looked at one of the comments left on the stream from a stranger, informing me that one of the main screamers on the Nazi front was named Ken Parker. He had been banned from the University of North Florida's campus. I shared this information with the young man with the flowers.

"Ken Parker! Hey Ken!" 

Ken looked in our direction, and seemed a bit surprised that someone knew his name.

"Ken," the man continued. "Why are you so angry?"

I watched Ken's face. For a few seconds, it changed. He probably had never contemplated that question before for himself but having it posed to him in this moment by a stranger holding flowers  made his face soften. For this brief moment, Ken's face revealed that he, indeed, is one of the many wounded people of the world. Whatever has happened to him, whatever has influenced him from the time he was in utero to now, has shaped him into a screaming, Dixie-playing angry young man. And much as Jesus had compassion for the people who were executing him, I found myself looking at Ken with a sense of sadness and remorse for him. What in the world took place in his life to make him adopt such hate-filled and nasty disposition? What fears have forced him to think other people inferior so that he can feel better about himself? I looked at all of the LOS people. Some appeared to have faces that were deformed from carrying so much anger. Others looked like they could be the white guy in line behind me at Publix. Every one of them needs love.

And the same applied to the compatriots I was standing alongside at the Capitol. They are young and they are refusing to let an older fear-filled philosophy hold them down. For some of them, that heads in the direction of anger because that's a powerful emotion that shows they won't stand for any more racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic crap. But while anger rages like a wildfire, it doesn't have enough fuel to sustain the fire needed for this long haul struggle for the soul of our country.

My spouse and I have talked about this some. The answer for me...and for her...is the need to get spiritually grounded before we head out to the next one of these demonstrations. Because, sadly, there will be a next one. Less shouting. More quiet. More singing, less screaming. Remain in Love because it is the love that drives out hate.

 
 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Resistance is Spiritual Work


One year down.

That is all I really want to say about the first year of the Donald Trump administration. 

One year...one very long, difficult, sometimes demoralizing, quite often maddening year. Lies became rebranded "alternative facts." And they were abundant. One newspaper kept a tally and found that the president lied more than 2,000 times and that doesn't even count this past month. He lies when the truth really would be acceptable. His spokespeople...he has had three in the course of the year...rattled off one fairy tale and fib after another from the crowd size at his inauguration to whether or not this man, who expresses sympathy for Nazis and refers to Africa as a 'shithole,' is a racist. He's fickle. He's reckless. And his constant provocation of another loose canon leader, Kim Jong Un, leaves many of us concerned about the possibility of nuclear war. Hawaiians got a scare when a false alarm of an attack on the island state sent people scurrying to find shelter. We live in "interesting" times.

It would be easy to throw in the towel, or curl up in a fetal position as the things I hold dear get trampled on or destroyed. But I'm not about to do that. What keeps me going, and what makes me resist the temptation to give up is Love. 

Today, on this anniversary of this presidency, I chose not to rally at the state Capitol building, but instead to take with me a group of faithful Christians to the Episcopal diocese of Georgia's tent revival with our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. (Yes: Episcopalians under a tent for a revival. Will wonders never cease, right?). I knew I needed to be there along the banks of Honey Creek more than anywhere else. I have been longing for how to express my faith in this work I am now engaged in with others "to hold fast to that which is good" and was created for good in this world. And our church leader provided the words:

"On a biblical level, the opposite of love isn't hate; in the New Testament, the opposite of love is self-centeredness. It is the mother of hate...Jesus was executed by an unholy alliance of religious, political, and economic establishments, oriented toward self-centeredness...Always be careful when religious, political, and economic interests come together.  It was trouble in the first century and it’s trouble today." - Bishop Michael Curry

This. THIS. The work of the resistance, those of us who are visiting our elected officials, writing post cards, sending emails, making phone calls, going to rallies, donating time, money, and sweat to campaigns for various candidates in an effort to stem the tide of backlash against the progress we've made since the 1960s is holy work. Self-centeredness is what makes politicians do the bidding of their corporate donors because they are allowing money to tell them what is good, right, and just rather than serving the needs of the people who are the least, the lost, and the disaffected. Self-centeredness is overshadowing the work of the spirit when Christians can look away from the horror of Roy Moore's behavior that gets him banned from the Gadsden Mall or shrug off an outrageous statement made about African nations and people from Central America and Haiti because the party or the person is more important to them than the greater good of God's creation. Self-centeredness is the key ingredient to the greed that is causing more painful disparities that affect people of all races and making the income gap greater and greater. This self-centeredness is the wages of sin. Resisting the temptation to serve self, and not others, is the holy work of the Resistance.

Now, most of the Resistance movement is areligious. Not necessarily anti-religious, although there is a lot of that, too. When you believe that religion is about bullying people or belittling anyone who doesn't measure up to some mythical idea of perfection, I wouldn't want to be part of that either. That's an entirely different blog entry and I've written on it on this blog (you can search my "faith journey" and get a sense of my Queer Christianity). Most people in the resistance don't see themselves as doing spiritual work. 

I do. I see how when one grounds their work in Love...whether they want to call that Love by the name of Jesus or not...it is still a work in Love. And when we do works that are grounded in that Source we are necessarily doing the work of what Bishop Curry calls the transformation of The Nightmare of this World into God's Dream. I have many times in my activism looked to the example of Jesus to give me the boost and the hope that I need when I find myself faced with what seems like an impossible and intractable opponent. I let myself go into that experience of his arrest on Maundy Thursday, and the chaos and the fear and confusion that must have been present in that moment and--as the old hymn says--"it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."  I look at how Jesus, who had moments of private confession of his fear at knowing what was coming at him, and still he overcame his own concerns because his mission was not a self-centered one; it was for all humankind. Maybe my own struggles aren't quite that big and lofty, and yet taking a stand for justice and mercy for Dreamers, for my trans siblings, for people of color is plenty big. I visualize a future where we care about not leaving the planet in worse shape than when we were born. The way to make a country great is to educate children and to invest in improving the lives of women, especially women of color. This is what I believe the words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" are all about.  

Time to count resistance as a spiritual work.    

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ask Not What Country You're From

I had the privilege this week of attending a countywide forum called "Created Equal." It was an opportunity to gather with others to look at issues of race and discuss them in table talk sessions, and to hear the stories of those who feel their differences constantly. There was a panel made up of Leon County men and women of different ethnicities and religion. The one representation missing from the panel was a person who is LGBTQ+ identified, but the truth is, when I listen to someone of color and someone of a minority religion, I hear the echoes of my own experience both as a lesbian and as a woman.
There were definitely things I was hearing that touched me at a visceral level because I know what it is to be made to feel unwelcome or suspect. The black man returning from a visit to his native Nigeria described that feeling of being free from "feeling black" when he was in Nigeria and having it shoved in his face when he landed at JFK in New York. I have a similar experience when I travel between my native New Hampshire and where I live now in the south. I don't feel my orientation when I am in the northeast, but here, I can't go a week without being gender misidentified because of my more masculine appearance. I see the looks. I feel the stares from people. And I know the issue is not so much with me: it's the fear inside the other person of me.
One of the "a-ha" moments expressed during the evening was the increasing tribalism in America. And it's that tribalism that is helping to tear us apart. Our diversity of color, religion, ethnicity, orientation, identity is being seen as something that divides us to the point where we can't get along. Our history of Europeans taking the land away from the native indigenous people and enslaving Africans and other minorities to farm and build the country is full of torment and murder and wounds we have ignored. Unlike the "Created Equal" evening, we, of the white majority, haven't really listened and understood the depth of the injury to people. And when those pains have been raised up, the tribal response has been to lock down and see all non-white people as "others" who need to "get over it." Similarly, I have experienced the feeling of my whiteness being the reason to exclude me from a group of predominantly black activists. It hurts, and yet I understand the suspicion.  
Unlike this tribal mentality that breaks us up into silos of sameness, I see the cultural diversity of our country as patches of fabric that add to our national quilt. We are different. We have different experiences. We have different languages. But if you're living here, working here, paying your taxes here, then as far as I'm concerned you're from here...the United States of America.
Which brings me to the soundbite of the week from our president.
During a meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders on Thursday to discuss the looming issue of deporting children and young adult immigrants here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), our leader asked why were we trying to keep people from "shithole countries" such as Haiti and the continent of Africa in the United States? This comes after the president's decision to expel El Salvadorans and Haitians still in the country because of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Furthermore, he wondered why we didn't accept more people from places such as Norway. 
It really doesn't take a whole lot to figure out why the president would prefer people from Norway over Haiti...and it isn't for the lutefisk. 
Once again, our president is promoting an image of our country where what will make us "great again" has to do with white supremacy and treating people whose ancestry is not Northern European as "not one of us." 
Interestingly, our daily office and Sunday readings have been taken from the Gospel of John. And as I thought about the president's insulting-half-the-world comment, I thought of the evangelist's story of when Philip tells Nathanael about having found the Messiah and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’--John 1:45-50

If this were today...and in our tribal America...I suppose Nathanael could have wondered if anything good could come out of Nazareth because, afterall, it's a shithole.
But then that would be the point. 
Nathanael had his own tribe and it definitely didn't include those from Nazareth. And the answer...as it always is in John's Gospel...is that something very good has come out of a place seen as a backwater pit by Nathanael: Jesus. That should tell us today a lot about how we might view people who come from nations that have endured oppressive regimes and natural disasters and famine. Just because a country is impoverished doesn't mean that the people are not just as worthy and capable as people from wealthier nations. The reason most people come here is to seek opportunities or because they are in danger. The immigrants coming here bring with them skills, knowledge, and resiliency that benefit all of us and they become part of that patchwork quilt. 
"Jesus" or "God" is within every person, so the answer to Nathanael is "Yes. Good things do come out of Nazareth." Human potential and the ability to contribute to society has nothing to do with skin color or what language you speak or what your spiritual journey looks like. Instead of trying to kick people out, we ought to 'come and see' and discover the benefits of a multicultural society and expand our notion of what it is to be an American. This was the vision Dr. King was laying out there and inviting white America: to experience their tribe could be so much more if they would recognize and respect the dignity of every human being.
Perhaps other nations are looking at us now and asking "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Moving on from 2017

I had been planning to write a blog entry centered on the Gospel for today, which is John's prelude in which he tells about "In the beginning was the Word." There is actually a lot to say about the incarnation of Jesus, the importance to us...still...in 2017 to remember that God actually entered into our experience as a human being with human flesh and bones. But I'm going to hold that discussion to go directly to the secular or cultural discussion of the end of 2017. 

I posed a question on Facebook to my friends to describe 2017 in a word or a phrase. The clear favorite among them is "shit show." There are many variations on that theme, but that is the two word answer that seems most popular. And, on the whole, I would have to agree. I really do hope there are people, or at least more people, in the United States who are realizing that electing a totally self-absorbed man with a strange love of Nazis as president of the United States may be the the most colossal error we have ever made since we took up arms against each other to defend the inhumane institution of slavery. I am not going to be deferential or attempt to find some neutral ground here. The man in the White House is a terrible buffoon. Worse, however, is that there is a Congress which is also largely run by cynical, greedy twerps who wrap themselves in the flag and place a Bible out on their coffee table to feign a faith in the Messiah who encouraged us to look out for the lost, the lonely, and the persons who were in need. If they actually read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested Scripture, they would be hard-pressed to continue punishing the poor and middle-class while giving away our tax dollars to corporations and extremely wealthy people. 

I do know that part of my charge if I am to live into the Love that is unconditional is that I must be able to still feel compassion for those with whom I disagree to the point of truly despising them....which is where I am now with the president and his lapdogs at the Capitol. The only way I can successfully muster anything close to warmth for these individuals is to remember that they are human and, just like me, they want to be happy and free from suffering. That latter part has been the most helpful because I'm pretty convinced that Mitch McConnell and the others must be suffering. There is no other logical explanation for being OK with taking away people's health insurance coverage, despoiling our planet with more drilling, and giving middle-income people a few hundred dollars in tax breaks for a couple of years while slashing the tax rate for corporations forever. There must have been something that warped their sense of right and wrong, or they must be so miserable that they have to take down other people. I'll never know because I doubt I'll ever meet McConnell or any of them.

So I will pray for the leadership of our country. And in 2018, I will be doing all I can to help them move out of Washington, DC, forever. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Purify Our Conscience: A Prelude to Christmas Eve

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.--Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

For many of us, today is going to be a crazy and dizzying day of two different church services. This morning is Advent 4 in which we hear the annunciation and we learn that a young girl, Mary, agrees to be the mother of God. This evening, we will all reconvene in a church sanctuary bedecked in green and white to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In church liturgical time, nine months goes by rather rapidly!

Real time, of course, doesn't move so fast. So let's slow it down for just a moment...and stay in this moment of the morning with annunciation. This is a special mission, this idea that God will be manifest in the world in the form of a human baby and born in the same fashion that all human babies of the time came into the world. I imagine that this was also a method that was fraught with lots of danger in those days. Childbirth is dicey medical business and there were no incubators or sterilized surgical equipment. Heck, the mythology of Jesus' birth is that he came into the world in a stable with animals and hay. Talk about poor and lowly!

And that's really the main point: the Christ child, the one who was born to lead his people with Love as his sword and shield, was not born into comfort. Even the times of that day were hard and difficult for the Israelites. Their temple had been destroyed, they had been conquered and scattered, and the Roman Empire was notorious for being every bit as harsh as the Egyptians had been to the Jews many centuries before. The Jews were permitted to have their religion, but were heavily taxed, and were expected to keep their heads down and not disturb the balance of power...which was against them. Those who did attempt to revolt were killed and their deaths were on display as a reminder to anyone else who dared to question the Emperor or his subordinates. And yet....

The angel Gabriel comes to a teenage girl and doesn't pose a question: Will you bear a child who you will name Jesus who will be Emmanuel--God with us? Instead, the story the evangelist Luke gives to us is that Gabriel basically voluntold Mary that she had been chosen to take on this incredible responsibility. Mary, like anyone who has experienced a call from God to step out and do something they weren't prepared to do, is mystified and does some push back: how is this possible? I've never had sex? Look at me: I'm barely in my teens! And, just like anyone who has experienced a call from God to step out and do something they weren't prepared to do, the answers come back to her: trust this. Nothing is impossible with God. Girl, you're gonna be alright. You are exactly the one and this exactly the time and place. 

We are living in a time so many thousands of years later that still has extreme poverty and cruelty and oppression where those with means and money work to crush the hope of those without the capital. I suppose then as we celebrate this story of how Mary trusted in God enough to allow herself to be a main player in the story of his birth, we need to look at our own selves and see how perhaps God is searching out the people who will embody Christ and give a figurative birth to that one who will lead us back to Love in these times of despair. And this isn't going to happen in those places of comfort and fancy houses and mansions  on a beach in Florida. It will be coming from the many who are meek and lowly of our world...the 99-percent. Prepare ye the way.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Hear What the Spirit is Saying

Jerusalem Window in St. John's Episcopal Church's Carter Chapel.

We are finishing out the First Week in Advent, and I can say this has been a week like no other Advent that I can remember in recent years. Past Advents have felt introspective and--how to say this--a little more private in their impact. But given our current state of affairs in the world with this particular administration and Congress in Washington, D.C.,  this season with its emphasis on patient waiting, self-reflection and examination, repentance, turning around and preparing for the return of Jesus Christ into the midst of our human condition, the words in the daily office spoken by the prophet Amos are echoing loudly. 

A phrase repeated in one of the Amos readings this week has stuck with me for a couple of days. Amos is listing out calamity upon calamity that have befallen the people of God. Prophets do that sort of thing and in the past, I might have heard these words and shrugged them off as what we always hear from the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures to make their point. But as I listened to the lector going through one natural disaster after another as God's "punishment" for Israel's transgressions, there was the repeated mantra:

"Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

Tears began to well up in my eyes as I stared at the Jerusalem window in the chapel. So many truly terrible things are happening now because we have a president who is a liar, thief, and abusive man. Our Congress is run by even smaller tyrants operating out of a place of greed and shamelessness. And the height of all that is wrong from my perspective could be seen staring into that window depicting the landscape of the Holy City, and knowing that it was destined to be a scene of bloodshed and terror once more after our feckless leader announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel only. Our president, and Vice President, are catering to the extremists of Christianity who believe that the events foretold in the Book of Revelation can only happen if all the Jews return to Jerusalem, while also pandering to the crazed Zionists who oppose the presence of Palestine. This, of course, has led the Palestinians to rebel, and will egg on extemists in Islam who want to kill all the Jews and have hated the United States for our attempts over the decades to broker a peace that includes Israel, not to mention the corporate dealings we've had that have polluted water ways or backed oppressive regimes around the world. Attacks will happen, people will die...Muslims, Jews, and likely Christians, too..."yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

I contemplated the new sexual ethic we are living in where, after centuries of ignoring the voices of women when they say they have been harassed, abused, or raped, we now say "We believe you." As a woman, I am happy that there seems to be a recognition of the wrongs that have been done to us. Seems to be a recognition. What seems more like the reality of this new found belief is that we only seem to care if it is politically expedient to care. U.S. Senator Al Franken, who had been a very effective leader for the Democrats and was showing signs that he might be a potential presidential candidate, has been drummed out by his own party because of allegations that he sexually harassed women. Long-time Detroit U.S. Representative John Conyers, also a Democrat, was similarly forced out of office for having paid off claims of sexual harassment. Many praise these moves as "the right thing to do." Because we seem to care about women now. In fact, we care so much, that the Republican National Committee is funneling money to support the campaign of a man running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama who has been banned from the Gadsden Mall in that state because he was a child sexual predator. We have a justice serving on the U.S. Supreme Court who we learned from Anita Hill during his confirmation hearing is a porn-addicted sexual harasser. And then there is the president who bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, admitted that those comments were wrong, but we were told by his wife that it was all "boy talk." Twenty women...with names...have come forward to say that the man who is now president acted inappropriately with them. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

I prayed for all those in Southern California surrounded by a ring of wildfires, for the people in Puerto Rico who are stuck on island that still has less than 50-percent of the population with electricity after a hurricane, for all of us here on the mainland who are bracing for what type of future we'll have if the tax bill that was so hastily pushed through gets to the president's desk for his signature. Among the many purported problems with the legislation, losses due to natural disasters such as a wildfire will not be counted as a tax deduction. Graduate students will see their tuition waivers taxed as "income." And already the talk of how to pay for all of this comes back around to more cuts to Medicare,  Medicaid, and Social Security. Those programs, by the way, are often all a family has to work with when their parents become too frail or become otherwise so dependent that they must be moved into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Without those, families would be out thousands of dollars a month. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."

Indeed, this First Week of Advent is bringing home to me more and more the chaos and the desperation of the world we now live in here in the United States. The warnings of the prophets of old are sounding more current than they ever have before. So the question is: will we repent and return to the Lord? What does that mean?

For me, it means what it has always meant: we take care of the planet. We tend to those that are dependent on us, be they animals, children, elderly, people with special needs for assistance. We treat everyone with dignity and respect in the same way that we wish to be treated. We honor one another. "Returning to the Lord" is about restoring relationships and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe.

When will we return to that?