I have just finished reading Philip Short’s long but concise history of the rise of Mao and the great Chinese revolution of the last century, Mao: A Life (Henry Holt, 1999). The revolution arose like so many others of its time throughout the world – Spain, Russia, Germany. And many of the same elements are present excepting the cultural setting and history leading to it. What begins under the banner of a freedom movement comes to resemble fascism more than anything else.

In the case of Mao and the Red Army much of the preexisting power vested in national government or culture itself had to be destroyed. That included not only battle against national military power but actual governmental authorities, past cultural signs of authority like religion, and especially the educated. It is the last category – the intelligentsia or intellectuals – that fascinates me the most.

To assure their absolute dominance Mao and his movement had to socially belittle, exile, imprison and kill any semblance of intellectuals who could think for themselves or raise educated objections to the regime. It was essential to cut at the root of the tree, to remove educated resistance.

This was also the model used in other iterations of Maoist revolutions, such as in Cambodia and its killing fields. The educated elite were marginalized and sent to “reeducation camps” which were camps of hard labor. The former teachers, scholars, artists and journalists were separated so they could not influence the proletariat, the working classes (who were really dominated by the revolutionary elites, like Mao). Their voices were silenced so that Mao’s propaganda could not be contradicted by other opinion. Then they were quietly murdered.

In terms of Mao’s priorities on the way to securing absolute power he had to first smash the military, then the governing powers, and then the intellectual elites. All had to be vanquished.

When we consider what it takes to create and secure a vital, free and democratic society, we find the elements of protection ensconced in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech and assembly assure that a variety of voices will be heard. Laws prohibit the cavalier disposal of those who differ with the regime. And even when anti-intellectualism rules the land, we have safeguards in place that insure a free and continuing  voice of reason, thoughtfulness and intelligence. That is protected.

We don’t read history so much as it reads us. Every time we hear strains of a new anti-intellectualism in our time, when we hear someone or some group disparage our intellectuals, artists, writers, journalists, and prophetic religious voices, it may behoove us to bring the picture of Mao’s reeducation camps to mind. Purging the educated by labeling them troublesome elites may feel good for the moment. But it is like the body chopping off its own head to make a point. Headless bodies don’t navigate well, at least not for long.

the-mocking-of-the-educated

The mocking of the educated

The Matrix is not just a movie

Posted: November 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

I have just received certification as a Matrix Reimprinting Practitioner. Matrix is an advanced specialty of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). Matrix work involves going into the subconscious, past memories and energetic selves where we may resolve that which still operates beneath the surface of our awareness. Through a variety of techniques we clear the painful and troubling emotions and thoughts affiliated with past trauma. It is a wonderful extension of and accompaniment to EFT.

Healing the Divide

Posted: November 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

Required viewing … right now:

When the fog rolls in

Posted: November 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

Some of you know that I have delved into liminal studies for many years. In fact, my doctoral work centered on this and a second edition of Liminal Reality and Transformational Power has just been published (Lutterworth Press, 2016). I’ve been invited to Leicester, England next May to present on liminality at a conference.

What is liminality? It is the state of being between what is known and the unknown that is yet to appear. When we cross the liminal threshold we leave the assumed structure of our lives and enter a territory that lacks all the familiar coordinates. We are “inbetween” and all the balls are in the air.

Liminality comes in many forms, some voluntary and some not. Various cultural “rites of passage” are voluntary and prescribed – the tribe escorts the individual or group through a transitional passage as they move from one state of being to another. Rites and rituals accompany these passages and the society is often involved in the process of transformation.

There are also involuntary times of liminality that crash upon us through calamity or dramatic unanticipated shifts in the world. The twin towers come crashing down, or my marriage, or my health. An unanticipated accident changes my life forever. I am plunged into a foggy “no man’s land” in which the past is gone and I can’t see a future. I become a liminal person in liminal space.

It is also the case that entire families, groups and even nations enter such times. We call this social liminality. A recent example is the shock and disbelief that many in the UK felt when the seemingly impossible BREXIT occurred. The people as a whole were escorted involuntarily into the domain of uncertainty.

As of November 8, 2016, the United States has been swimming in a new liminal domain. With a highly unanticipated election outcome our society has, by and large, entered into a whole new liminal space. People find themselves without anchor and are filled with uncertainty or dread. There are several factors that have created the dramatic liminal domain, conditions more dramatic than the typical transitions affiliated with an election.

Throughout history large systems have passed through times of transition in which the energy and form of those systems eventually give way. When that happens many of the old familiar structures dissolve and even disappear. At the least they are reformed and that change takes place in the midst of great uncertainty. It does not yet appear what we shall become.

This election – and developments several years preceding it – has led to the dismantling of assumed structures, like the dominance of existing parties and presumed leaders. Mavericks and outsiders often appear in liminal times and that adds to the consternation of the people. It is also a sign of the dramatic shift that has taken place.

The rapid ascendancy of President Elect Donald Trump fits this pattern to a tee. When the collapse begins it is often a very rapid one. Once it happens and all those balls are in the air many things shift. People become anxious and afraid

Liminality simultaneously contains great danger and vast opportunities for hope and transformation. It is dangerous because the old familiar structures are not present to reassure everyone that life is safe and predictable. A dramatic unbuckling may lead to a positive transformation or its opposite. Much is at stake when many of the structural rules have been suspended.

On the other hand, liminal reality allows for a new time of creativity and transformation. Depending on the “ritual leadership” – those who are able to lead through the wilderness – the trek may lead to new and unforeseen ways of being. That is exactly what the supporters of Donald Trump have been banking on. Whether that happens is yet to be seen but at a minimum this liminal moment will not resemble anything that has preceded it.

Quite apart from any of our personal takes on the character, policies or style of leadership of any elected leader, the liminal domain and passage is fraught with potential. However dangerous it is, there is a new opportunity to discover and create a new way forward. One does not dispose of principle, values or spiritual foundations to do so. Those become more important than ever. In fact, they are clarified in the liminal domain. Much is revealed in the struggle to transform. The essence of the Constitution, for instance, will become more important than ever before. But the ways that we evolve as a people will require experimentation, novelty and creativity. Old alliances will be reconsidered. New ways of accomplishing cherished values will be attempted. Some things will disappear.

This is the danger and promise of the liminality through which we are now passing. The initial disorientation will last for about six weeks or so – forty days, the Biblical symbol of liminal transformation. As a part of it we should expect disruption of the familiar. And we who rely on deep spiritual foundations will turn to those even more. We are needed now more than ever before. Our people need our calm, forthright and hopeful presence as we remain a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, a lamp on the lamp stand, and leaven in the lump.

It was the year 1865 and Abraham Lincoln was preparing his 2nd Inaugural Address. He had prevailed in the 1864 election to a second term of office, but just barely. On the heels of the long civil war this very unpopular president was faced with a divided and polarized nation. And the completion of the election would in no way lessen that strife and conflict.

For example, in all of Boone County only twelve people voted for Lincoln. And those twelve were white men who held property. The rest voted against him and many of those were slave owners. When the election results were announced there was a mass demonstration on the University of Missouri campus. Imagine, students protesting! Have you ever heard of such a thing? This demonstration was different than the most recent one.

The students – children of those same slave owners who voted against Lincoln – gathered to demand that Missouri succeed from the Union.

This most recent election season through which we have passed may have been the oddest in recorded history, but it has not been the hardest. We have had harder times.

Against a backdrop of division, polarization, strife and conflict, Lincoln prepared his words.

They are the words of a statesman in a time of deep adversity. They are the words of a man who was reviled by many, as would soon be evidenced by the assassin’s bullet. They are the words of a man who had suffered as his nation suffered.

They have such a strange ring, these eloquent words from a real statesman, and they stand in stark contrast to what we have heard in recent months. That is exactly why it is important to share them, to hear again these strange sounding words, to remind ourselves that there is a different way of speaking in the worst of times:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (Abraham Lincoln, from the Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865)

And those are the words that haunt us, that ask if it is possible for us to do the same, or approximate the same or even attempt the same:

“With malice toward none, charity for all … to bind up the nation’s wounds…achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace …”

How difficult it is to not have malice! When contention is the way of the day it is difficult to have charity for all!

As we know from Lincoln’s time, striving for justice and truth creates conflict and division and often drives people apart. The abolition of slavery was just such a cause and necessity.

What Lincoln knew is that even though such collateral damage was often required when justice prevailed, there was also an equally important necessity to bind up the wounds, to tend the unity of the people. This hard work had to be done or else the center would not hold and all would be lost.

It seems to me that, though not in the same degree of strife or despair, we have passed through parallel times of political division. There has been malice toward all and charity for none. Unlike Lincoln’s time, though, we do not have to wait for news or propaganda to arrive; as an angst-laden people we are surrounded, barraged with it from sunup to sundown.

Many of us have contributed to this spirit of rancor, each in our own way. We have not been the solution, but added to the problem. Or we stood passively by, feeling quite helpless to affect or change anything. But now, it seems to me, it is time to take up a different mantle, even as Lincoln took up a different mantle after the long battle.

Much of the same could be said of the apostle Paul, who rarely turned away from a fight of principle. Always insisting on the highest vision of being a Christian he contended with many and found himself cross-ways with many. But Paul also knew that in the beginning and the end we are one body of Christ, one people with one head, called to be peace-makers and agents of reconciliation.

To do this difficult work we must put the good of the nation first ahead of any allegiance to political party. And to do that we will have to rely on the spiritual principles that guide us as a Christian people.

What will be required is a language unlike we have heard as of late, a vocabulary that exceeds the drone of hatred and selfishness. What will be required for this work is a substantial and deep language, the words of a statesman and apostle, words that look toward a future we must create together. What will be required for this moment is a sound unlike the noise that fills the airwaves.

And who are able and willing in the spirit of Lincoln to speak words of malice toward none and charity for all? Who are able and willing to bind up the wounds? Who are able and willing to achieve a lasting peace?

Who are able and willing in the spirit of the apostle Paul to be humble, gentle and patient, forbearing with one another and charitable, sparing no effort o make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives?

It’s easy to be a peacemaker when things are peaceable. Anyone can do that. The real nerve and metal of a peacemaker is known in the midst of conflict, contention, divisiveness and bitterness. Who are able and willing to speak the truth in love then? Who are able and willing to beat their swords into plowshares then? Who are able and willing to judge not lest you be judged then?

Who, I ask you? I will tell you: We are.

Who will accept the commission to go forth in the spirit of Lincoln and of the Apostle Paul to do the hard work of binding up the wounds?

“I would,” you say, “if only I knew how.” Well, let me give you a hint as to how. Let me share a real life story about a father and his son.

One day a dad passed by his son’s room only to hear voices coming out.

“Ethan, whatcha doin’?”

“Dad, “I’m practicing.”

“Practicing? What are you practicing for?”

Ethan was in the second grade. He said, “Dad, you know how tomorrow is Halloween?” Yeah, he knew that.”Dad, you know Timmy?” He did know Timmy. Timmy had just moved into the neighborhood and Timmy was kind of different.

“Dad, Timmy still really likes Barney.” Dad knew the purple dinosaur. “I’m afraid Timmy’s going to get on the bus tomorrow wearing a Barney costume, so I’m practicing. I’m practicing what I will say to the big kids if they’re mean to him.”

Dad left work early the next day and when the bus pulled up and Ethan popped out he said, “Ethan, how was your day?”

“Dad, it was good, it was Halloween.”

“I know, so … how did it go with Timmy?”

“Good, he wore Superman.” Whew.

And at that Dad asked his son, “Ethan, tell me, why were you, a second grader, practicing to help a kindergartner who might have made the fatal error of wearing a Barney costume?”

And this is what Ethan said: “Just once, I wanted to see what it would feel like to do something someone in a story would do.” (Storytelling Magazine, October/November/December 2016)

You see, our children are right. When things are hard we need to what the heroes in our stories would do, who are, after all, our own highest selves. We need to practice to do that. That’s what the world needs from us when it needs us most.

When things look like they couldn’t get any worse and Timmy really might wear the Barney Costume, you need to practice what someone in a story might say and do, what our heroes would say, who are really our highest and best selves. And you never know. You might say something strange sounding like “with malice toward none and charity toward all … we need to bind up the wounds … and find a lasting peace.”

Light as a Feather

Posted: October 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

Just recently I traveled to Nova Scotia to attend the Celtic music Festival, Celtic Colours, on Cape Breton island. This long-standing festival brings in the best from the Celtic music scene and gathers them in one place and time. It was outstanding. Until the hurricane moved up the coast and inundated us, that is. But that is another story.

We stayed at a B&B on the northern coast of Nova Scotia on the way. The innkeeper, June, had just lost her husband little more than a month before. She was a descendant of those hardy Scots who immigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries to Canada. June did it all. She tended the property and grounds, cared for the guests and fed them.

In the morning I arose early before any of the other guests and made my way downstairs, book in hand, searching for a little space for quiet time and a cup of coffee. What I found was June already up and preparing the breakfast. The big cast iron skillet held the frying bacon on the stove top at the same time that bread was baking in the oven. I pulled up a stool to the kitchen counter and warmed my hands around the coffee cup as I breathed in the smells of breakfast on the way.

Since I noticed June wearing a cross and had seen some other spiritual themes in her home I felt comfortable in sharing a bit of what I was reading with her, a book that explored finding the mysterious presence of God even in the midst of adversity. After I read a short quote June thought for a moment, looked out the big double doors that led to her back yard and the marshy bay beyond it. “You never know what’s out there,” she said. And then she shared a story.

“I lost my husband about a month ago and my three grandchildren took it really hard. But of the three the one granddaughter was just inconsolable. There is nothing I could say or do to comfort this sad little girl. Then one day, maybe two weeks ago, she was with me at the house when we heard this loud screech from the back.

Being situated on the seacoast June was used to the calls of birds, but this was different.

“I asked my granddaughter to come with me and we went out into the back yard. We heard another screech, looked up, and in the tree twenty feet above us perched a bald eagle. We just stood there, looking, frozen, and he looked back at us.”

What the family knew was that her deceased husband was a free spirit, and his totem, his animal mascot on this planet, was the eagle.

“We just stood there for maybe a minute and then he lifted off with those powerful wings and screeched as he flew out and away toward the sea. We just watched him and my granddaughter lifted up her arms as though giving some hug to the sky. As he departed he left behind a down feather, that silky wisp of down under the feathers, and it began to slowly, slowly waft down toward us, floating earthward, twirling, and gentle as a breath it came to rest in the palm of one of my granddaughter’s outstretched hands.”

They took it inside and June placed it in a shadow box that would reside in her down-feather-in-handgranddaughter’s bedroom. And that was the end of her grieving.

“You never know what’s out there,” June said. “You have to keep watching and waiting and trusting.”

You remember the old Chinese tale:

Once upon a time a horse wandered into a village and a farmer thankfully took him as his own. All the villagers said, “How wonderful!” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

When the farmer’s son fell off the horse and broke his arm all the villagers said, “How terrible!” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

When war came and they were drafting young men into the army the boy was spared because of his broken arm and the villagers said, “How wonderful!” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

There is too much randomness, unanticipated variables and chaos to really know if something is going to be good or bad in the end. You often don’t know until later and even then the whole story is yet to be told.

We just returned from a holiday in Nova Scotia and it was wonderful. But a storm came and we had to escape and that was terrible. But we ended up going other nice places we hadn’t planned and that was wonderful. But we ran into lots of people who were baffled and amused with American politics of the moment and that was terrible. Maybe.

I don’t have a glass ball to predict the future. Unanticipated consequences are always presenting themselves. But I have the idea that Donald Trump has been a gift to everyone involved in this political process from top to bottom. Now he’s a strange gift. In fact, most everything he is and says and encourages is like the negative of a photograph; by viewing the negative the positive is seen by contrast.

For the Democrats Donald Trump is a gift because he appears to be handing them the election. Whatever weaknesses Hillary Clinton possesses are simply eclipsed. The Dems haven’t earned this; they are being handed this like the team that wins because of the errors of their opponents.

Donald Trump is a gift for the GOP for a much more complex reason. He is actually handing them their future … if they will take it. For a host of inexplicable reasons he became their nominee. But because of that they are having a moment of painful clarity. Like the negative of that photograph they are already asking what they need to become in contrast.

This is very important to the health of the whole country. We need two or more dynamic parties to provide balance. Donald Trump may actually be helping the GOP to rediscover their party of reasonable principled conservatives. We have many examples of those leaders from history. There are future capable conservative politicians – especially those from the next generation – who can fill that bill. Because of Donald Trump they may choose to move away from the precipice and, though they don’t know it yet, Donald Trump may be their painful future gift.

This should give all of us pause. We need to consider a way out of this ridiculous polarization. I have a friend who has a bumper sticker for one candidate on her car. Just this week she pulled up to a stop light beside a vehicle bearing the bumper sticker of the other candidate. Because their windows were down on the nice day the other driver took the liberty to shout at her at the intersection. That’s the atmosphere we have now. It’s toxic.

We need to find the moral will to move forward with the best good for the most people, to be true to our ideals and garner the best from all our principled leaders. We need to cultivate a new generation of pragmatic problem solvers who know how to work together, get it done, and make balanced and wise decisions with integrity.

At our best we really do fine things as Americans. We must remain committed to to creating a more perfect union. I am confident we will. I hope that in retrospect we will look back and see what important part this strange political season has played in making it so.

But, as the Chinese farmer said, “We’ll see.”