Month: October 2020

From separate to true

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) wrote about the struggle between the false self and the true self. In a September meditation, Richard Rohr said he sees it as movement from the separate self to the true self:

“Our separate self is who we think we are…. a social and mental construct that gets us started on life’s journey. It is a set of agreements between us as individuals and our parents, families, school friends, partner or spouse, culture, and religion. … It is largely defined in distinction from others … as our separate and unique self.” It’s good and necessary, but, as Rohr says:

“…it becomes problematic when we stop there and spend the rest of our lives promoting and protecting it.” My separate self’s instinct, unchecked, is to criticize, condemn or fight anyone or anything that challenges my ego.

Movement from the separate self to the true self is liberating. Rohr says, “All our hurts and feelings of being offended come from our separate selves.” When I hang on to my separate self, I’m insecure and defensive.

I agree with Rohr that “The True Self cannot be hurt.” I also agree that, “If we do not let go of our separate/false self … we remain stuck, trapped, and addicted. (The traditional word for that was sin.) Unfortunately, many people reach old age still entrenched in their egoic operating system.”

More about this tomorrow.

Little lives, big problems

About six weeks ago, I read the prayer below by Howard Thurman (1900-1981), quoted by Richard Rohr. As Election Day drew nearer, I found myself returning to these words as I claimed the underlying grace we need across our nation and planet:

Our little lives, our big problems—these we place upon Thy altar!
The quietness in Thy Temple of Silence again and again rebuffs us:

… We do not know how to do what we know to do.
We do not know how to be what we know to be.

Pour out upon us whatever our spirits need of shock, of lift, of release
That we may find strength for these days—
Courage and hope for tomorrow.
In confidence we rest in Thy sustaining grace
Which makes possible triumph in defeat, gain in loss, and love in hate.
We rejoice this day to say:
Our little lives, our big problems—these we place upon Thy altar!

Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission

Without a platform…

On October 27, William A. Galston, opinion columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote “Without a Platform, Trump Falls.” Some excerpts from this reasoned, non-partisan analysis of the president’s re-election campaign:

The GOP decision “for the first time since the Civil War” not to draft a party platform “symbolized Mr. Trump’s takeover of the party.”

“The president’s instinct was to treat Covid-19 as a temporary interruption” but “many voters have a different view… and they looked to the president for leadership.”

“The president’s derisive skepticism about wearing masks … complicated the efforts of governors and local leaders.”

“Stamping out the pandemic, it turned out, was a necessary precondition for getting the economy and society back to normal.”

“This was a poor time for Mr. Trump to attack the Affordable Care Act.” He “has promised an alternative to the ACA” but “has never offered such a plan.”

“Mr. Trump’s trade policies have been controversial” and “drafting a platform could have been the occasion for a midcourse correction. Instead, Mr. Trump is likely to do worse in the business community … than any other candidate in the history of his party.”

From “Without a Platform, Trump Falls,” by William A. Galston, Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2020


In The Conservative Sensibility George Will said the “judiciary is perpetually poised to scrutinize the content and application of the laws.” And, this “makes the judiciary the epicenter of constitutional government.” This is why we’ve seen Congress fight-to-the-death over judicial appointments in 2013, 2016 and now in 2020.

One of my heroes was republican Frank Johnson, the federal judge who was the only throttle on George Wallace’s authoritarian rule in Alabama during his segregationist heyday. As long as I can remember, I’ve respected the independence of the judiciary and been thankful for judicial review, established in 1803 by Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison.

Honorable justices rise above politics and ideology. Of republican Earl Warren’s court, George Will said: “Deference to the court’s decisions is a tradition, a practice hallowed by reiteration (and) strengthened by … the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka school desegregation decision, which was far in advance of public opinion…. The … court acted without reference to public sentiments, and by doing so addressed an injustice with which majoritarian institutions could not then cope.”

Strong, intelligent jurists put aside party and ideology when interpreting the law. The Honorable Amy Coney Barrett is strong and intelligent. May she join a long line of justices who earned the title “Honorable” by operating independently from their party of origin, from their appointing president and from the “majoritarian institutions” that led to their confirmation.

From “How Supreme Court Appointments Work,” by Ed Grabianowski, updated October 9, 2018, HowStuffWorks

W-shape recovery continues

Bob Dieli is one of our most scientific and least political economic analysts. He has spent a long career studying jobs reports and business trends. When COVID-19 sparked our dramatic economic downturn in March, I subscribed to a year of Dieli’s monthly “No Spin Forecasts.” I wanted to learn how he analyzes data and read first hand his tracking of this pandemic recession.

Yesterday’s post gave a possible timeline from McKinsey & Company for the “epidemiological end of the pandemic.” What about the economic impact? Dieli continues to think we are in a “W-shape” recession. This differs from Larry Kudlow’s view (for example) that we are in a “V-shape” recovery. Kudlow works for President Trump. Dieli works for his subscribers.

Dieli’s judgment is based on experience with economic cycles. He projects where he thinks we’re headed and things to look for. So far, he has been right about this cycle’s economic direction and the duration of current trends. He’s looking for a short-term peak, followed by a November downturn before we get a sustained recovery.

From No Spin Forecast, by Robert F. Dieli

When will it end?

My friend Stephen gives me a window into science, such as a recent article by McKinsey & Company, “When will the COVID-19 pandemic end?

The variables are many. Here are some highlights:

“… we estimate that the most likely time for the United States to achieve herd immunity is the third or fourth quarter of 2021. As we wrote in July 2020, one or more vaccines may receive … a Biologics License Application (also known as approval) during the first quarter of 2021.

“Vaccine distribution to a sufficient portion of a population to induce herd immunity could take place in as few as six months. …

“Herd immunity could be reached as soon as the second quarter of 2021 if vaccines are highly effective and launched smoothly …. see ‘An optimistic scenario for the US response to COVID-19.’

“On the other hand, the epidemiological end of the pandemic might not be reached until 2022 or later if the early vaccine candidates have efficacy or safety issues—or if their distribution and adoption are slow. At worst, we see a long-tail possibility that the United States could be still battling COVID-19 into 2023 and beyond if a constellation of factors (such as low efficacy of vaccines and a short duration of natural immunity) align against us.”


This is from my cousin Ed. The earliest attribution I can find is an April 24 Facebook post by Cincinnati’s Eve Center, attributed to the center’s founder, Cinny Roy:

A while back I read a story of a visiting pastor who attended a men’s breakfast in the middle of a rural farming area of the country. The group had asked an older farmer, decked out in bib overalls, to say grace for the morning breakfast.

“Lord, I hate buttermilk”, the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wonder where this was going.

The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now the pastor was growing concerned.

Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, “And Lord, you know I don’t much care for raw white flour”. The pastor once again opened an eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn’t the only one to feel uncomfortable.

Then the farmer added, “But Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So Lord, when things come up that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits. Amen.”

Within that prayer there is great wisdom for all when it comes to complicated situations like we are experiencing in the world today.

Stay strong, my friends, because our LORD is mixing several things that we don’t really care for, but something even better is going to come when HE is done with it. AMEN!

The art of the heal

Thursday’s debate reminded me of a 2017 conversation with a friend. I complained that Mr. Trump was (as James Comey would later say “untethered to truth.” My friend said, “He’s a puffer.” My puzzled look prompted her explanation: “He’s a salesman.” (With apologies to everyone in sales, including my late father, I see her point.)

Many times during the past four years, my cynical self thought Mr. Trump’s book should have been The Art of the Con. My diplomatic self would suggest instead The Art of the Sale. There’s a fine line between exaggeration and falsehood, the blurring of which Mr. Trump has developed into an art form, as, ironically, he rails against “fake news” and “hoaxes.”

I wish Mr. Trump’s statements that we are “turning the corner” on the coronavirus were truthful. We’re not there yet, in part because he has not embraced or exemplified the importance of masks and social distancing. I’m trying to move past my many selves (O’Connor), my false self (Merton) and my separate self (Rohr), so I can live into my true self (Keating).

Beyond a “deal,” or a “con,” or a “sale,” my true self wants for Mr. Trump what I want for you, for me, and for everyone–healing. I won’t try to diagnose the president. Suffice it to say that we all need healing. I wish for him healing (as my friend Joe Elmore would say) “at the point of his deepest need.” Each of us, and our country as a whole, needs the art of the heal.

From “Reading James Baldwin can help heal the wounds of racial division,” by Stephen G. Adubato, America Magazine, June 3, 2020

Changing the way we vote

Like a laundry attendant, the coronavirus has turned our world inside out, revealing the rough inside of our britches. (I smiled as I wrote these words, remembering my mom’s term for my childhood underwear: “little britches.”). I keep finding ways the virus has changed the way we do things.

Yesterday, I found a helpful resource by Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida. His website is United States Electoral Project. Among the resources is a page called “General Election Early Vote Statistics.” He updates the data frequently and he provides commentary about voter turnout, voter demographics and precinct data for every state.

For example, as of October 20, in Texas, 5,352,333 people have already voted. In 2016, the total of all votes cast in the presidential election was 8,969,226. The Texas vote has already reached 60% of the number of 2016 votes cast. Across the country, people are voting in record numbers. You can follow Michael McDonald at Twitter: @ElectProject.

Some people in America openly seek to reduce the number of citizens who vote, but the “genie is out of the bottle.” Early voting will become more common, due in part to the coronavirus.

The source of all creativity

Thomas Keating (yesterday’s post) co-founded a movement of Centering Prayer, a term picked up from Thomas Merton’s version of the ancient Christian tradition of contemplative prayer.

Cynthia Bourgeault (also from yesterday) said Keating saw all creativity as “the diffuse shining of God,” a phrase borrowed from Merton’s prose poem, “Hagia Sophia” (which means “holy wisdom”).

A page from the website of the Dominican Retreat Centre in Dublin quotes three excerpts from “Hagia Sophia.” Here’s the essence of this treasure:

“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity… a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all. There is in all things… a silence that…. rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being…. speaking as my sister, Wisdom. …The Diffuse Shining of God is Hagia Sophia … experienced only as mercy and love….”

Sonia Petisco’s essay about Merton’s “Hagia Sophia” is entitled “Sophia the Unknown, the Dark, the Nameless’: Questioning the Male-Female Dichotomy through Thomas Merton’s Poetry.”

From, the story of the ancient architectural marvel in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia.