Category: Community

Holy water

The Democrats did exceptionally well for an incumbent party in a mid-term election, which was a victory for moderation and common sense. The large turnout, particularly by young voters, was very encouraging.

Prior to the election, attorney Robert Hubbell calmly counseled patience as we wait for the results in his November 8 post: “Have faith in democracy!

Joyce Vance’s election day Civil Discourse post cited four living Pennsylvania governors, three Republicans and a Democrat, who asked candidates to commit to abiding by the results of the election, no matter who wins, to “accept the results” of the election and ensure “a peaceful transition of power.” Vance asked, “How did we become a country where this needs to be said? But thank goodness we have people from both parties who are willing to demand that would-be elected officials comply with the rule of law.”

(If you use Twitter, the two above pieces include insights about changes Elon Musk is bringing to his new toy.)

Josh Shapiro’s win in Pennsylvania points to America’s better angels, as opposed to the parochialism revealed in the Texas Observer article sent to me by our son Rob: “Christians Must Publicly Denounce Christian Nationalism.”

Richard Rohr’s November 8 meditation, “The Holy Water We Share,” is a powerful reflection inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor and Raimon Panikkar.

From Heather Cox Richardson’s November 8 post at Letters from an American.

He thought everything was over

Yesterday, on CBS Sunday Morning, historian Jon Meacham reflected on the election of 1864. The war had been going on for more than three years and no end was in sight. President Abraham Lincoln didn’t think he would win re-election.

Lincoln wrote: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration.”

Meacham commented: “A president devoted to justice and to the rule of law. A president willing to cede power graciously should he lose. A president who put the Constitutional experiment and the good of others above his own self-interest.

“Such words can seem nostalgic, even naïve, in our own time.”

And, “Perhaps 300 election deniers are on the ballot across America. At stake is … the viability and the durability of American democracy itself.”

From “Abraham Lincoln and the preservation of democracy,” by Jon Meacham, CBS Sunday Morning, November 6, 2022 (a 3-minute video, with transcript)

Freedom from, freedom for

Colonists came to America for many reasons. Some sought freedom from poverty or debt. Some sought freedom from religious persecution. It’s a good exercise to ask: “What do I seek freedom from and what do I seek freedom for?” “Can I be truly free if I don’t wish for everyone the right to be free?”

Some January 6 insurrectionists said, “This is our 1776.” They were “taking back” their country (from those perceived to have taken it away from them). I draw a direct line from the 2017 Charlottesville chants, “You will not replace us” (aimed at Blacks and Jews, etc.) to the 2021 storming of the Capitol.

Thomas Hughes sought freedom (a fresh start) for English gentry’s “second sons” when typically all the estate went to the eldest son. His utopian vision was expressed in an 1880 east Tennessee settlement he named Rugby after his beloved alma mater. Like many utopian experiments, Rugby fell short.

But the vision of an ideal community lives on in “Historic Rugby,” which we visited last week (a few miles west of US Highway 27) from Elgin, which is between Oneida and Wartburg. It’s now part of the Big South Fork National Park and Recreation Area. It’s easier to imagine utopia than to create it.

The quest for democracy may begin with a personal quest for freedom from something (such as poverty or tyranny). But democracy endures only if those who have found, won or created freedom are committed to freedom for everyone. Today, All Saints’ Sunday, reminds us that we’re all in this together.

Steeple of Christ Church (Episcopal), from a 5-minute video, “Historic Rugby Revisited,” Tennessee Crossroads Episode 2740.1, available on YouTube

Margaret’s wisdom

Aunt Margaret has taught me by example. She faced the searing pain of violence with steadfast love and grace. She made something positive out of that pain by learning about mental illness and volunteering work in that field.

At 91, her current challenge is living with decreasing memory. After 35 years as an independent single, she is adapting admirably to community life that must feel like communal life to her. She’s taught me that brief visits are best and it’s best to talk about memories of siblings, parents, grandparents and her time at Hiwassee College.

After a brief visit in her apartment on Saturday morning, we returned to the day room shared by 12 residents. She introduced me by saying, “This is my brother, Ray Hicks.” Ray (1922-2013) was her older brother. I was honored by the promotion. He was a WW2 veteran and a retired Marine Corps Colonel.

Margaret wrote notes to herself, many of which were quotes she read or heard. I found one of her notes this week:

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Live your life and forget your age.

Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.

From a touching 3-minute conversation with mutual respect and understanding by Scott, who suffers from memory loss, and his daughter Bailey, via YouTube

Piranha politics

Continuing yesterday’s post … Independent Angus King caucuses with the Democrats. That’s my position. In 2020, I contributed to Doug Jones’ senate reelection campaign and to Joe Biden’s campaign. When Alabama traded Jones for Tommy Tuberville it was like the Yankees trading Aaron Judge for me,

My 2020 contributions put me on Democratic email lists coast-to-coast. It’s a diverse party with close-knit computers. “Every Democrat has asked for your help and you haven’t responded.” This year I’ve made one gift, to Doug Jones’ Right Side of History PAC. The endless requests are numbing.

Donald Trump’s fundraising tactics are well-known. Republican appeals are as intense as Democrats’. Once labor intensive campaigns are now capital intensive. Costly TV ads and the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision have made public servants and office-seekers continuous fund-raisers.

With apologies to the Piranha, today’s urgent fund-raising feels like being surrounded by a school of Piranha. It’s a dehumanization and commoditization of democracy. Many potentially great leaders quit, disillusioned by the central role of money in politics. The soul of the nation is up for sale.

From “Piranha,”

Piranha culture

The 1978 movie Piranha stereotyped our understanding of more than 60 widely-varying species of fish known as Piranha. In 1992, I was part of a group housed for a couple of weeks at a church-related school in Panama. The school’s mascot was the Piranha and they proudly wore the name, the Piranhas.

So, at risk of furthering this stereotype, I think of our current social and political atmosphere as a piranha culture. Meanness and frenzy are not new to American culture or politics. But, we’re in a season of extremes, made worse by disrespect for institutions a willingness to flaunt truth and advocate violence.

The chants of Donald Trump’s rag-tag army at the 1/6/21 insurrection included, “Hang Mike Pence,” and “Where are you, Nancy!” The assault against Paul Pelosi during an assailant’s search for the Speaker echoed the January 6 violence. What can we do? What can I as one person do?

I have countless Republican friends and several office-holding Republican friends but I’m boycotting the Republican Party until it repudiates Donald Trump and its 2020 election deniers, of whom more than 200 are on the ballot this year. It’s painful because I identify with much of its history as the Party of Lincoln.

Now, though, it’s the Party of Trump. For its leaders, “silence is complicity.”

From “Election Deniers Already Are Disrupting the Midterm Election,” by Matt Vasilogambros, Pew Charitable Trusts, October 27, 2022

We learn from each other

The above sentence has become my mantra. Rita Clagett is one from whom I learn. She practices and teaches mindfulness. Her Morning Rounds blog post “Courage” poignantly describes a visit to her dermatologist, including this closing paragraph:

In mindfulness practice we consider relaxation to be a skill. It was only by pushing well beyond my comfort zone into overt psychological discomfort that I was able to recognize how far I’ve come in relaxing: It amazed me to realize that I used to spend much of every day enmeshed in this same level of anxiety that assailed me this afternoon. What a relief! It’s no longer a steady state for me, but only an occasional trait.

Rita eloquently personalizes a dermatological experience familiar to those of us who are privileged to live into older adulthood. We need not “spend much of every day enmeshed” in a high level of anxiety. We have the power, the agency, to move anxiety from a “steady state” to an “occasional trait.”

From “Courage,” by Rita H. Clagett, Morning Rounds, October 27, 2022

Wednesday’s timely event

Wednesday evening’s panel discussion about Christian nationalism is available at the YouTube page of the Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice. Here are some of my takeaways:

Samuel Perry said he has resisted the term “Christian nationalist,” because for many people it has racist connotations. He has preferred to talk about Christian nationalism as a continuum from “patriotic citizen” to “violent insurrectionist.” However, his recent research indicates that the movement has gained widespread respectability in some circles and now more and more people are self-identifying as Christian nationalists.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was founded in 1936. Amanda Tyler is BJC’s executive director. Tyler and the BJC are building a broad network that is calling faith communities to publicly commit to religious liberty for all.

Michael Curry repeatedly pointed the audience to “the texts,” as a way of getting beyond today’s political polarization. He said, “Let the words of Jesus” do the teaching. He said, “Jesus is actually very helpful” in confronting the world’s injustices.

Jim Wallis said because Christian nationalism is now “mainstream” in the Republican Party, “This will be a long struggle and it will be costly.” He said, “Secularism will not solve this problem. It’s up to people of faith. The antidote for bad religion isn’t no religion, it is good religion.”

From “How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy

Annie, a graying lab

Hair color is partly a function of age. I went from blonde to brown to gray to white. It’s my Combs genes. Grandma Combs (nee Mullins) lived to be 104. I only knew her as white-headed. She produced a flock of white-haired descendants. It could be the Mullins genes, but all my white-haired kin are or were named Combs. Sadly, some folks don’t live long enough to experience this trichological trajectory.

I feel a trichological kinship with Annie, a black Labrador Retriever, age 19. She’s pushing the age envelope for labs. She was featured on Today. I learned about Annie shortly after spending a memorable afternoon with my aunt in her new memory care facility. My aunt’s caregivers inspire me. They understand the world of those whose memories are slipping away. Annie’s inspire me, too.

Annie’s new adopted friends were told she might have a month to live. They are now into month four and Annie is enjoying an impressive “bucket list.” Love is about helping others sing their song, or experience their bucket lists–looking beyond wrinkles, limps and trichological transformations.

From “After a 19-year-old dog was surrendered at a shelter, two best friends took her in,” by Liz Calvario, Today,

Kellams Bridge

If you find yourself in a late-life crisis and think you’d like to criss-cross the continent towing a camper, I’m available for a pro-bono reality therapy consultation. We’re compiling a travel journal of things to do (or not do) next time. In Pennsylvania we learned to consult Siri but not depend on Siri for directions.

The Australian Siri, Karen Jacobsen

We learned this valuable lesson In northern Pennsylvania, specifically 41.8234° N, 75.1138° W, on Kellams Bridge Road, which spans the Delaware River that separates the Keystone State from New York. We programmed the map app to avoid Interstate Highways. Sometimes, Siri interpreted this as desiring to be a Daniel Boone trail-blazer. We were directed to Kellams Bridge Road. The road was narrow, winding, not entirely paved, with tree limbs dangling from power lines and nowhere to turn around. After more than a few minutes of amazement, concern and (finally) self-doubt, we came face-to-face with…


Kellams Bridge, one-lane, 384-feet long, was originally built in 1890 and updated in 1936. The 8’0″ clearance sign was troubling. Our camper is 7’8″ high. We inched along and made it past the beam on the Pennsylvania side. As we approached the Empire State side, we saw an immediate steep incline and a railroad track. In retrospect, it may not be as steep as I remember and the track may not be as close as I remember, but I envisioned the camper getting stuck with the car sitting on the railroad track.

The Delaware River is scenic. Kellams Bridge was (literally) breath-taking. Whew!