Month: February 2020

Contagious solidarity

The coronavirus COVID-19 is seriously contagious–biologically, psychologically and economically. For example, Lufthansa and the Frankfurt Airport have implemented hiring freezes and other cost-cutting measures due to a decline in air traffic.

Yesterday, I mustered some contagious solidarity with the most vulnerable–refugees, caregivers and to those who have been invaded by the virus. Thankfully, hope, generosity and courage also are contagious.

Jackson, Tennessee once had a sizable Jewish population. Dr. Pam Dennis, a former a college librarian in Jackson (now at Gardner-Webb) was curious why the names of many of Jackson’s Jewish families from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were missing from headstones in the Jewish section of the cemetery adjacent to the Lambuth campus.

At a synagogue homecoming in neighboring Brownsville, Pam learned it involved the 1878 yellow fever epidemic that rocked towns along the Mississippi River. A rumor spread among the Jewish communities in St. Louis and Memphis that Jackson was a relatively safe refuge from the epidemic. This led to an influx of Jewish families to west Tennessee.

Late in life as these people prepared for death, many of them returned to their places of origin where they (in biblical language) were “gathered to their people.” Epidemics continue to impact our history.

Ephemeral prices

One of my heroes is Harry Benjamin. He led a Dale Carnegie course that my dad completed over 50 years ago. Harry convenes a weekly group of friends to discuss investments. The group met yesterday, in the midst of a cascading stock market. It’s always fun to visit Harry’s group, which has diverse investment interests. My interest in the stock market is very specific.

For me, the stock market a way to invest in companies with relatively safe, growing dividends. Dividend growth companies typically raise their payout once a year. This focus is less stressful to me than focusing on fluctuating prices. It’s like watching a calendar rather than a clock. Procter & Gamble and Genuine Parts have each raised their dividend for 63 consecutive years.

Vanguard founder John Bogle (1929-2019) focused on the enduring rather than the ephemeral, preferring “the wisdom of long-term investing, based on the enduring creation of intrinsic corporate values, to the folly of short-term speculation, focused on the ephemeral prices of corporate stocks.”

Bogle cared deeply about the common good, which he expressed in The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism. He battled against “form over substance, prestige over virtue, money over achievement, charisma over character, the ephemeral over the enduring.”

While yesterday’s financial news was dominated by falling stock prices, Toronto-Dominion Bank quietly raised its dividend 6.8%. I like calendar news more than clock news.

Harry Benjamin, who does well with both calendars and clocks,
receiving the Americanism Medal (photo from article in The Guardian)


After all these years, much is familiar about Ash Wednesday, even though it’s always new. Joel 2 and Psalm 51 made their appearance. This year, since I wasn’t involved in planning or leading, I could simply relax, breathe deeply and let it soak in.

I was amazed at the many times “heart” appears in the Ash Wednesday scripture and liturgy. From Joel: “Rend your hearts; not your garments” (a traditional sign of mourning). My mental translation: “Don’t tear your shirt; let your heart be broken.”

From Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart….a broken and contrite heart.” Charles Wesley’s sung prayer, Maker, in Whom We Live, included gratitude for “heart renewing power.”

The word “heart” found me several times in the liturgy, each time symbolically representing our essence–as individuals and as a community.

Ashes, olive oil, sackcloth, music, words and silence were tools to awaken our innermost being. In the homily I heard the word “transformation.” The experience was heartening.

Being attentive

Many years ago my friend Ron DelBene said prayer is basically attentiveness. I believe the point of Lent is to be conscious, to be aware.

Lent is not about being more religious by the observance of a ritual or by giving up something or by taking some noble acton. Those are all well and good, but the essence of Lent is underneath it all. It’s to be awake.

Lent is about being alert for what’s going on inside us and around us. It’s a season for self-reflection, for making (in “Twelve Step” language) “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Lent is about engagement with our deepest self, our neighbors and all of creation. Erich Fromm said the Sabbath is about harmony, and in that sense, Lent is an expression of Sabbath.

The Book of Common Prayer includes a Prayer for Ash Wednesday (p. 264). A serious moral inventory leads to some degree of “lament” and some sense of “wretchedness” about our personal pain or about suffering in the world:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Ash Wednesday,” (1855-1860), by Carl Spitzweg
Loyola Press (see interpretive video)

Ready for Lent

I spend some of each day in my universe of 50 dividend companies. My plan to trim some holdings yesterday was complicated by a jittery market. By the end of what turned out to be a fruitful day, I learned that while my brain is lulled–and dulled–by a long bull market, my mind is sharpened by the challenge of dropping prices. Focus brought relief. Now I can enter Lent relaxed and ready with a fresh checklist for this aspect of my daily routine.

I spend some of each day with current events and politics. During Lent, I plan to focus only on the humorous and absurd, of which there is plenty. I’ll be light with laughter, not heavy with worry. The ashes imposed tomorrow will cover and sort out the next 40 days of “breaking news.” I want to open my heart and mind to revisit Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and The Sane Society as we face echoes of the challenges of the 1940s.

I spend some of each day with a cadre of people, of which Richard Rohr is the leadoff batter, who remind me that the most important work I can do is within my body. The journey inward is the foundation for our journey outward. Lent is a 40-day reminder to take a break from doing so much and to simply be. From a restful posture of simply being will flow whatever is right, good and joyful: giving thanks always and everywhere.

It’s Mardi Gras. Be careful out there.

Calling forth gifts

For some people, life in community is made difficult because of pain in one’s early years. If we can recall early good memories of community, it’s easier to receive the gift of community today.

This is why grandparents were invented. A loving grandparent can provide a young child with the priceless gift of acceptance and importance.

Wise teachers know that a word of affirmation, fitly and timely spoken, can make a positive, lasting impact in a child’s life.

I changed schools at age 11. Some of my new friends invited me to join the school’s peewee football team, which had been practicing for a few weeks. One day the coach, said, “If you had joined the team earlier, I would have made you the quarterback.” I was scrawny and didn’t have great arm. I’m sure I looked puzzled, so he said, “You’re a good listener.” I hope I said, “Thank you,” but I may have been speechless. Years later, I understood why someone coaching 11 year-olds would value a child’s ability to listen and follow instructions.

I don’t know if I was a good listener, but from that point I tried to be. I fail many times a day, but I’m a better listener now because the coach had a natural ability to mentor and he called forth a gift he saw in me.

Who has named your gifts or strengths? Whose have you called forth?

Gordon Cosby (1917-2013) quoted by Elizabeth O’Connor (1928-1998)
in Journey Inward, Journey Outward, p. 37

Who? What? I don’t know!

Yesterday was a significant day for our country, revealing yet another way that we are a divided nation, evenly split. After this weekend, some are bruised, some are on tight budgets and some are not in shape for the long haul. Managers are strategizing for ways to break away from the pack.

The focus now is evenly divided between Arizona and Florida. For the first time, fifteen teams are in Arizona’s Cactus League and fifteen teams are in Florida’s Grapefruit League.

Pitchers and catchers reported about ten days ago. Position players arrived a few days later. The first game was on Friday. The score was 5 to 4, but there’s still some question about who won. The umpires hope to post the winner before the votes of 20 Iowa precincts are recounted this weekend.

All 30 teams are scheduled to play on Thursday, March 26, the opening day of the regular season. The All-Star Game is scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Dusty Baker, the new Houston Astros manager, will lead the American League team. Baker, now 70, was on deck when Hank Aaron hit home run #715 on April 8, 1974 in Atlanta.

The Major League Baseball season will end on Sunday, September 27. After the playoffs, the World Series is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, October 20. A potential Game 7 would be played on Wednesday, October 28–six days before the U.S. general election on November 3. Baseball may have a long season, but some things are even longer. “Batter, up!”

Lou Costello (1906-1959) & Bud Abbott (1897-1974)
Who’s On First?”

Ladies first

I’ll end this Presidents’ Week on a higher, lighter note. It appears that the electorate’s choice may be between two elderly, follicly challenged dudes. If this sublime choice presents itself, the campaign rhetoric will feature the “F” word and the “S” word: fascist and socialist. Count on it.

For the sake of the Republic, what if we elected Co-Presidents in 2020? What if we elected a “national unity ” ticket of Laura Bush and Michelle Obama? They’re both younger than the leading men that appear to be headed for a nasty, divisive campaign. They both have better hair.

They could share the White House. It’s big and they know how to get around in it. They respect each other. They actually like each other. They could negotiate who would hang out in the Oval Office on Mondays and Wednesdays and who would be there on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

There would be less campaigning, less posturing, fewer (if any) tweets, genuine collaboration and actual bi-partisan governance. Press conferences would be substantive, humorous and gracious rather than petty, pouty and petulant. There would be competent adults in the room at all times.

This would answer the question of which party would be the first to elect a woman President. The bi-partisan answer would be “Yes!” The country would discover a new civility, a way past our dysfunctional state of the Union and some healing from our present polarization.

Count me in. Let’s Make America Smile Again. 🙂

Ladies First: A National Unity Ticket

The “shallow state”

The career civil servants and career military personnel who testified at the House Impeachment hearings were inspiring. Marie Yovanovitch was noted in a prior post. Fiona Hill and William B. Taylor, Jr. were among those who made me proud to be a U.S. citizen, exemplifying patriotism and leadership.

Dr. Hill was born in England. A graduate scholarship to Harvard led to a Ph.D. in Russian history and U.S. citizenship. Though disparaged by some, we need immigrants. Our low birth rate is not replacing those of us who die. We benefit from immigrants’ energy and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ambassador Taylor was brought out of retirement to serve in Ukraine. He served with courage and integrity in the military and in his assignments as a U.S. diplomat. At several points during the hearings, I thought: If this is the “deep state,” we need a double portion.

A link in yesterday’s post included a quote by former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin: “What people think of as the ‘deep state’ is just the American civil service, social security, the people who fix the roads, health and human services, Medicare.”

I’m more concerned about the “shallow state” of today’s politics, where soundbites and tweets rule and self-interest regularly is placed ahead of the national interest. Those civil and military witnesses put the nation first. We are indebted to them.

Hill and Taylor

The “deep state”

Mike Lofgren first encountered the term “deep state” in John le Carre’s spy novel A Delicate Truth. Lofgren spent 28 years as a Congressional staffer working on budget issues. He said, “”I was on the Republican side my whole career. I wasn’t a culture wars Republican, basically a fiscal conservative in the manner of say, Eisenhower.”

Lofgren was turned off by Tea Party Republicans who were elected to Congress in 2010. In 2011, he decided it was time to quit. Three years later, he wrote a non-partisan essay entitled “Anatomy of the Deep State,” which he expanded into a 2016 book, The Deep State: The Fall Of The Constitution And The Rise Of A Shadow Government.

The “deep state” concept was first picked up by progressives who criticized Republican efforts to thwart Barack Obama. Then, Breitbart began using the term as shorthand for Democratic-leaning bureaucrats who want to undermine the current president. In November, 2019, NPR traced the rise of the term “deep state” in a brief report that includes a 3-minute clip with Mike Lofgren: The Man Who Popularized The “Deep State” Doesn’t Like The Way It Is Used.

Lofgren says the term is like a “virus,” used by the very forces he hoped to weaken. After 28 years as a Republican congressional staffer, he says. “I am an independent who will not vote Republican until they demonstrate to me that they’ve purged Trumpism and that they’re a sane party.”

Tomorrow: the “shallow state.”

See Common Dreams for links to Mike Lofgren articles