Sunday, October 03, 2004

Prayers, Politics and Hurricanes

Because I am sometimes a liberative and sometimes a conservatal, I get mail from both sides of the aisle. Today I got back-to-back emails, both political and both concerned with that-which-is-called God.
The first one was an article by SF Gate columnist Mark Morford, entitled "Does God Hate Florida?" The gist of it was that evangelical Christians had better wonder whether the Florida hurricanes are a sign of God's wrath against the state that "elected" George Bush in 2000.
"Because as God surely knows, BushCo's swiping of the White House quickly led to an unprecedented and incredibly violent mauling of the planet, the rolling back of 30 years of environmental protections and the rejection of global warming as a major life-threatening issue, as the Almighty could only sit there, stunned and appalled as the rest of us, as BushCo turned America into this heartless warmongering wildly disrespected global thug who seems to care about as much for Mother Nature as Dick Cheney cares for butterfly sanctuaries. "
Tongue-in-cheek, but angry, Morford aped the type of rhetoric lobbed by Pat Robertson who, after 9-11, pointed the finger at "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America."
The second email was an article by Bruce Vincent, who received an award in the Oval Office in May and had a personal moment with President Bush. After Vincent requested prayer from the President for his stepmother, who had cancer, Bush took that moment for an on-the-spot prayer:
"With his left arm on my mid back, he pulled me to him in a prayerful embrace. He started to pray softly. I started to cry. He continued his prayer for Loretta and for God's perfect will to be done. I cried some more. My body shook a bit as I cried and he just held tighter. He closed by asking God's blessing on Loretta and the family during the coming months. I stepped away from our embrace, wiped my eyes, swiped at the tears I'd left on his shoulder, and looked into the eyes of our President. I thanked him as best I could and told him that me and my family would continue praying for he and his."
I found myself resonating with both Morford and Vincent, and I need to stop and sort out what that means.
We seem to be more polarized as a nation than we have been in many, many years. Much of this polarization finds its espression in religious language -- or even more specifically, Christian religious language. From the right, I get these "heartland" type of stories: warm moments of prayer, flower gardens planted in the shape of American flags; from the left I hear accusations of moral vacuity among the big-guns/big-bucks Republicans. If I sent the Presidential prayer moment article out to my liberal friends, they would say that it was political posing, that Bush knew exactly what he was doing with the cameras clicking behind him, that he was gathering 10,000 more votes from America's Baptists. That, in essence, there was nothing "real" about the gesture.
If I sent the Florida Hurricane = God's Wrath article out to my conservative friends, they'd experience it as one more slam against their intelligence. How stupid of them to believe in a God of any kind!
Now that I hear myself, I can see that I feel defensive on the part of the Christians. I guess that old evangelical conservative charismatic is still in there after all.
Yet I'm so angry at this administration. Everything Morford has said about them, I agree with. I get all emotional about it: look what they're doing to our beautiful planet! The arrogance! The loss of human life! The loss of ecosystems! This bloody war we SHOULD NOT BE IN!!!
I am a Christian. I've chosen to be one after all, even though I discarded "American Christianity" for its shallow legalism. But what a minimalization: "shallow legalism." It was easy for me to say that. Just as easy calling the president an oil-hungry warmonger who hates the poor. Just as easy as calling liberals a bunch of smartypants atheists.
How can we talk to each other? We're longing for the same thing. We want peace, both within and around us. Can we look at each other and see individuals: the grandmother who sent me the Prayer Hug article, the mom of three who sent me the Hurricane one, a man whose stepmother has cancer, a man who loves the forests?
I think our anger helps us. It can clarify what we need and move us forward. But it can blind us, too. It can blind us to one another's humanity as we rush to accuse and label.
But I started out talking about that-which-we-call-God.
I read recently at a poetry gathering. The poet who coordinated it googled my name and probably came up with a bunch of children's stories I've written for conservative Christian publishers. She asked delicately whether I was a liberal, because people might speak of liberal things at the reading and someone may say "fuck."
I understand why she asked the question. I write all these Jesus stories and she thought it may be awkward for me to be there with the radicals. Besides, I might become a frothing-at-the-mouth problem. Religious people do that sometimes. Really. I have stories. (But that's for another day.)
Lately, I've been calling myself a liberal. But I don't really know what that means. It's one more defining label I can put on myself. It is, however, inaccurate, if you count the fact that I'm pro-life -- that means anti-war, anti-capital punishment, anti-euthanasia and anti-abortion -- and that I think when President Bush prayed for that man, he did it sincerely and that God heard him and that it meant something beyond a photo op. Will I vote for him? Not on your life.
What I would say to my conservative friends is this: Here is what I value. I value life and the defense of life. I value international cooperation. I value children. I value "this fragile earth, our island home." I value honesty. I value open communication. You probably value those same things. I've shifted my political views to bring them more in line with what I value.
Now, did I just say anything? That sounded like a lot of mush. So what do I say to my conservative friends? Um. Okay, I try to stay away from politics with them. I'm already enough of a heretic. Also, there are no clear answers in politics. Ultimately, I'm voting against Bush because I don't trust him. And that's like saying I don't trust my good, kind, warmhearted friends. And I do. Just not to run the country.
What would I say to my liberal friends? Turn down the anger, just a little, and see the individuals. We're not gaining anything by this namecalling.
It's God we all want, when we slow down and think about it. Or the Divine or proper planetary alignment, or the Goddess, or Nirvana. We are all longing for that-which-brings-us-into-being, that-which-is-light. We all want to know our true name.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Opening thoughts

Well, I've never blogged before. Maybe I'll start with a poem.


My word for son is gleam,
Like money,
Like his mouth right before a joke,
Like black piano keys.
It is also startle
And secret
And stands-up-in-his-shoes.
Sometimes it is

I wrote that one while I was teaching writing camp a couple of weeks ago. We were writing poems after Li-Young Lee's Words for Worry.
Sometimes what keeps me writing is to think of all the writers who've been brave enough to publish their work and have influenced me. Where would I be without Madeleine L'Engle, Dylan Thomas, A.A. Milne, Julia Cameron, Chaim Potok, Jane Yolen, Katherine Paterson, Beverly Cleary, Lewis Carroll, Barbara Kingsolver, Philip Yancey, William Shakespeare, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence? They have, each of them, grabbed me by the hand and taken me somewhere. Is that what literature is? A change in location? A wrinkle in time? When I begin to believe that my words mean nothing, that they are only useful for ordering my own disordered mind, I remember how the words of others have transformed me.
When I was a child, books were my favorite hiding place. Books contain something we need. Something good. Is it that they have the power to bring us back to our truest self? Are books in some way a sacrament?
We Orthodox would say a mystery.
I said the same think about Liturgy the other day that I'm thinking about books right now. That it takes me somewhere.

Bread and Roses

Tang in the mouth
The first miracle
Of biting.

Have you questions
About bread?

1) At twilight the girl with blue braids
Bangs downhill on her rusty bike.
She always has a loaf tucked
Beneath the rat trap.

Do you believe in blue?

2) When the phone rings
It is his dead grandmother,
The cord snaking into the ground.
“Only crumbs remain,” she says.

Is it all right to bake a little more?

3) The girl with blue braids
Adds yeast and waits,
Foot propped against her bike frame.

The bread rises higher than white clouds.
The boy with the dead grandmother
Plants rosebushes under the window.
The scents drift in and out.

May we make a shrine
Of the windowsill?

That is one of my odder poems. The dead grandmother part is from an episode of Twilight Zone. I don't know what the rest of it means. I wrote it the year I went to Centrum on a writing scholarship. I spent the whole week there writing poetry even though I was actually there for fiction. Then I came home and abandoned my novel.
Now a new novel is coming. Maybe. Characters have been talking to me. I've always said the difference between a writer and anybody else is that a writer listens to the voices and writes them down. It has been a long time since I've allowed myself to think novel. I can't talk about it much. I've promised the voices.

Blogging is rather strange, isn't it? I wouldn't write all this on my website. I feel as if I've stumbled into an alternate dimension populated by under-25-year-olds. I love under-25-year-olds. I'm not one. I once was. I'm a great deal happier now.

This is fun.