Why are Women who speak Truth to Power called “Nasty”?

This morning I woke up to the news that President Trump called the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico “nasty.”  This does not surprise me because he has no tolerance for powerful women who speak their mind, especially when it involves his ego.  And believe me, Trump’s ego is bruised this week…even more than normal…after his Health and Human Services Cabinet Secretary had to resign in disgrace because of abuse of power.

Yesterday, as I watched the CNN interview  with Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, I realized that she was being goaded into speaking the truth to power.  The reporter asked the major if she had heard that Trump’s acting Homeland Security Director (also a woman) remarked that what was happening in Puerto Rico was a “good news story.”

Mayor Yulin Cruz just stared at the camera for a few seconds.  I felt that I could read her mind.  Do I tell the truth or do I hold back and hope that Trump will send the help that my people need right now?  She opted for the truth.

She made a few remarks and then said: “Damn it, this is not a good news story.  This is a people are dying story.”

Her people lacked housing because their homes were either damaged or destroyed.  Their hurricane supplies such as food and water were running out and could not be replaced as stores and businesses were shut down or not able to be restocked.  Medical care was in short supply as hospitals were damaged, and those still up and running depended on receiving more fuel for their generators.  Diabetics who relied on refrigerated insulin and kidney patients who needed dialysis were going without the treatments that were keeping them alive.

Bridges had been washed away and roads were blocked by fallen trees.  Fuel was in short supply to run generators or drive cars and trucks across the now dangerous roads.

Hampering emergency responders were two things: 1) lack of communication because cell towers were down, and 2) electric power had been knocked out across the country.

And this morning Trump responded like a bully as he tweeted from his golf course in New Jersey.  I will not repeat his comments except to say that they were unpresidential.

How long, O Lord, do we have to suffer his disparaging remarks?  When will the GOP establishment say “enough already”?

And when will women who speak truth to power be applauded rather than put down. It will happen when the general public rises up and says enough…”Enough!”

 

 

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Time to Overcome Fear and Get Out of the Boat

As events in Charlotte unfolded, I was studying the gospel lesson appointed to be read aloud and preached on in many Christian churches this weekend. It is the story of Jesus’ disciples being stuck on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a terrible storm. Suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water right towards them. They cried out in fear. Jesus said: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27b)

This gospel story goes on to say that Peter, at Jesus’ invitation, got out of the boat and began walking on the water too. But when fear overtook Peter, he began to sink. Jesus took his hand and saved him from drowning, and they both got in the boat and went to shore with the other disciples.

This weekend, I felt like I was drowning in the news coming out of Charlotteville, VA. I saw videos and photos of mostly angry white men carrying torches and chanting slogans that were reminiscent of what I thought were the bygone days of “night riders” terrorizing their local communities. At first I thought it was a lynch mob headed towards a diverse group of people who had gathered to pray at a local church ahead of the planned “Unite the Right” rally the next day. Everyone knew that the upcoming march would be racially charged. People of faith had gathered to worship and plan a peaceful strategy to stand up to the “alt right” who were invading the town. I was convinced that the night would end in bloodshed. But that would wait until the next day when a white supremacist terrorist rammed his car into a group of peaceful protestors who were there to stand up to the neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacist groups. It was an act of domestic terrorism.

One young woman was killed and nineteen others were injured in this attack…in broad daylight, with police presence, in a normally quiet Virginia college town, with the world looking on in horror.

Many people went to church the next day to pray for those who were killed and injured, and for our country, and for our leaders. Enough is enough. We are in the midst of a racial storm that is tearing our country apart. It is being fed by “fear of the other.” It is not a matter of Left versus Right, or White against Black, or about “Making America Great Again.” Racism is about fear and hatred.

Throughout the weekend, my newsfeed was bursting with stories about Charlottesville and people’s responses to the hatred and violence they were seeing. Among my clergy friends, one personally knew of a young woman who was at the protest and was now lying in a hospital with her skull split open. Almost immediately, a Go Fund Me page was started to cover her medical expenses as she was fighting for her life. In a way, she was an innocent bystander who had decided to get out of the boat and stand up to the hatred that was filling the city she loved.

I personally know of many preachers who tore up their prepared sermons on Saturday night in order to preach a new sermon on Sunday’s gospel that would address the events in Charlottesville. At the heart of every sermon, there was a call to overcome our fears and get out of the boat and to speak up against the sin of racism. And yes, racism is a sin.

It is time for all people of faith to take a stand and to speak out against the “alt right,” the neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacist hate groups. We need to overcome our fear of speaking up and keep marching, protesting, and making our voices heard. It is time for real moral leadership and courage. “Take heart…and be not afraid.”

 

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OpEd Published in Tampa Bay Times

imageWhat a thrill it was to have my OpEd published in the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.  Here is a link to my column.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/column-the-good-samaritan-and-the-health-care-debate/2331462

Here’s a shout out to all those who gave me so much advice and encouragement at the Beyond Walls intensive, interfaith writing conference this July at Kenyon College.  Without your knowledge, expertise and support, I would not be a published “guest columnist” in the Tampa Bay Times which has a weekday circulation of 240,000 readers.

Thanks to all who have supported me in my various “careers” over the years.  I continue to work on updating my skills and keeping my writing fresh and up-to-date…whether it is in columns, sermons, essays, stories, letters or family histories.  Who knows what’s in the future.  Just enjoying the moment.

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Holy Cartography!


Whether exploring new parts of the world or traveling up and down familiar roads and interstates here in the United States, carefully constructed maps can prove to be invaluable.

Recently my husband and I traveled to India and the Middle East. Our itinerary included visiting historic places like the magnificent Taj Mahal in Delhi and the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. I kept checking several maps to pinpoint where we were located and to see where we were in relation to other cities and countries. This was especially important to me when traveling through troubled parts of the world. At times, I was even able to consult interactive maps on the internet so that I could pinpoint our current positions and relay that information to family and friends so that they would know we were safe and well.

This month we took a road trip from Florida to Delaware & New Jersey and back. I can’t tell you how many times we have made this trip over the past fifty plus years. When we started driving up and down the East Coast to visit my parents in the mid-1960’s, the interstate system was not yet completed. I can remember driving many hours on two and four-lane roads in an unairconditioned car with little toddlers secured in primitive seat belts which they quickly figured out how to escape! I can also remember the hot air blowing through the car and at one point having one of the kids “sippy cups” flying out the window somewhere in the Carolinas. How did we ever survive those family trips!?!

Fast forward to 2017. During this month’s road trip, we were now visiting those little “toddlers” and their families. We were in Delaware for their childrens’ high school and elementary school graduations. Time flies! But I still rely on maps to help us on our travels. This month, my daughter taught me how to use the Google Maps app on my i-Phone. Now I can use these interactive maps to pinpoint my location at any given time. The app will also tell me exactly how many miles and how long it would take to reach our destination plus local restaurants, hotels and attractions. I still marvel at everything my smart phone can do. If I only knew how to use all its features!

Now that we are home, I’ve entered into a time of discernment, trying to figure out where my writing is leading me. Wish I had a map! As a journal prompt, I decided to check on “Seasonal Inspirations” from “The Way of Belle Coeur” by Sibyl Dana Reynolds…for June (p. 350):

“Before the invention of the GPS, a printed map was the primary tool for guidance from one place to another. There is a quality of mysterious beauty within the pages of a world atlas. Exotic names of faraway countries set atop the colorfully portrayed network of roads and highways assumes the appearance of a topographical crazy quilt, while an unfurled road map inspires the desire to set out for an adventure to explore new destinations and terrain. “

It goes on to read: “Belle Coeur spirituality…incorporates a circular form of cartography, a template with four pathways, four chambers, and compass at the center. Your sacred practices, life experiences, and relationships create your personal cartography. You are the cartographer of your life…. The invitation for June is to travel inward to explore the map of your life…. What map will you create to chart your course for the months ahead?”

These quotes are followed by various prompts and exercises to help me map out the way ahead. My goal for this summer is to practice “Holy Cartography!” Won’t you join me on this quest!?!

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Double Major 

This cartoon reminded me of my college graduation in May 1984.  I began my studies at Neumann College (now University) in January, 1981 with a double major in Religious Studies and Behavioral Science.  At the beginning of my senior year, I dropped Behavioral Science as a major because I couldn’t complete the requirements that year and I already planned to begin seminary studies in the fall.

I could have “settled” for a B.A. in Religious Studies, but for some forgotten reason I still thought it was important to graduate with a double major.

Since most of my elective courses were in the Humanities, my guidance counselor and I figured out a way to adjust my schedule and add two Humanities courses so that I could earn that second major.
Looking back, I have no idea why I felt the need to do that!  I added a French class and set up an Independent Study in “Art: Theory and Criticism” with the Department Chair  in order to complete qualifications for the “Arts & Letters” major.  That meant I would have to carry a class load of 16 credits and they would all be challenging classes.

If I were to be in a college graduation cartoon, I guess my bubble would read: “She is a Student of Religion and expresses her beliefs through Arts and Letters.”  That would be a pretty good description of how my studies at Neumann prepared me for a lifetime of using creative arts and writing skills in both my personal and professional life.

How have your studies helped you develop your gifts and talents?  What major or majors would you choose to study if you went back to school for continuing education?  Remember: It’s never too late to learn and grow.

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My Gold Star Family “Leap of Faith”: Kissed by a Dolphin

Kissed by a dolphin?  It started innocently enough.  First we were introduced, then we were holding hands/fins, next we were dancing… and then Tashi poked his head out of the water, looked right at me, and planted a big kiss right on my lips!

All this took place at Island Dolphin Center in Key Largo, FL as part of a Gold Star Family “Leap of Faith Program.”  That is where I met Tashi, a male Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, who is part of a “family” of dolphins that love interacting with military families and with children and adults with special needs.

There is something therapeutic about being “up close and personal” with dolphins.  The experience strips away fears and anxieties and replaces those feelings with pure joy and excitement.  The dolphins know how to bring us out of our comfort zone by allowing us to become part of their world, as we in turn give them our full attention.

On a beautiful, sunny, winter day in Florida, my sister and I sat on a dock and dangled our toes in the water as Tashi and Fiji swam back and forth and gave us a little “foot massage.”  The trainer said it was good for them as it helped exfoliate their skin.  But for me, it was this gentle movement that made me want to reach out and touch them.  Their skin felt smooth, and it shimmered in the Florida sunlight.  Soon we were talking with the dolphins.  The trainers taught us some hand signals/commands, and before we knew it we were waving our arms and clicking our fingers and communicating with our new friends.  Then it was time to say goodbye to Tashi and Fiji, but not before feeding them some fish and then having them wave their tails at us in a fond farewell.

We moved on to the other side of the large pool where we would meet Bella.  She is a teenage beauty!  The trainer asked my sister and I if we would like to get in the water and play with Bella, and we jumped right in.  Bella was shaking her head at us as if she was asking us…”Are you ready?”  Before we knew it, the trainer asked Cathy and I to hold hands, and said that Bella would give us a push.  All of a sudden, Bella was giving me a foot push… and this sent my sister and I into a circling spiral motion as if we were on a water merry-go-round.  Everyone watching erupted in laughter as they had never seen anything like it before!  Even the trainer was surprised!!!

Swimming with Bella was such a thrill in so many ways.  This gentle water creature showed us how to play…how to have fun together…and how to heal.

Fifty years ago, our brother Jerry died while serving his county.  At that moment, our family was changed forever.  Looking back, I now realize that his death impacted each member of our family and influenced how we interacted with each other…how we dealt with pain, worked through differences, and spoke about our feelings or kept them buried.

Our encounters with the dolphins at Island Dolphin Care touched our wounds and helped heal them in the best way possible…by touching our hearts and our lives so gently and lovingly.

Sometimes a “Leap of Faith” might mean entering the water and swimming with dolphins.  Or it might mean doing a tandem jump with one of the US Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team.  Stay tuned for my next blog on this experience.

Spoiler alert: my sister and I did not do the jump, but we watched how others in our group were changed by the experience, and our lives were changed vicariously by being part of their “cheering section” as their parachutes opened and they floated down to earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Gold Star Family “Leap of Faith”: Telling Our Stories

Today I begin a series of blogs about being a Gold Star Family member.  My story began on February 7, 1967.  On that day, I picked up the phone, and received the shocking news of my brother Jerry’s death.  My parents, through their tears, told me that  that the Navy had just notified them that their son died in a freak accident in Iowa.  It all seemed surreal.  We all knew that Jerry was there receiving advanced training in military intelligence in preparation for his next tour of duty in Vietnam where he would be in harm’s way.  But Iowa?  Wasn’t it safe there!?!

Events unfolded swiftly and yet it felt like we were all moving in slow motion.  Family members were notified and we all awaited news from the Navy about final arrangements for my brother’s funeral and burial.  In the meantime, my parents and twelve-year-old sister Cathy made plans to fly from Florida to Delaware so that they could travel with my husband and I to Washington, DC when the time came.  My older brother Jim was still living in our hometown of Chicago, Illinois, and he and his wife were awaiting the birth of their first child at any moment.  Our lives seemed “suspended” yet they moved forward.

In a matter of days, my parents learned of their son Jerry’s death on February 7th and then the news of their first grandson Jimmy’s birth on February 10th.  Just two days later, on February 12th, my brother Jim had to leave his wife and newborn son back in the hospital in Chicago in order to fly to Washington, DC to bury his brother.  How could so much be happening to our family all at once!?!

A great blizzard of snow came down all across the Midwest and moved swiftly to the East Coast, from Chicago, to Delaware and Washington, DC.  It seemed to me like the heavens opened up and what came down was a great white blanket of snow trying to cover our grief.

On President’s Day Weekend, my parents, sister, husband and I made our way to Washington via Amtrak where we were met by Navy personnel and escorted to the funeral home for my brother’s viewing.  It was difficult to leave behind my two little girls, Carin age 2 and Chris age 1, but it was even harder for my brother to leave his wife’s bedside after her difficult cesarean delivery.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law Jan’s parents could care for her while Jim was away, but what should have been a great time of joy was overshadowed by the sadness that held us all captive.

My sister Cathy later wrote a moving tribute about our brother Jerry’s funeral and burial on February 13th: “It was a cold, snowy day in Washington, DC during the record breaking snow spectacle of February, 1967.  The motorcade left St. Thomas’ Church in Arlington, VA just moments after [his funeral mass ended] at 11:30 am.  It proceeded at 15 mph in the direction of Arlington National Cemetery, led by police and military escorts, the hearse, and a government limousine bearing solemn looking relatives….  Before the onlookers at the gravesite, the priest gave the family his sympathy and began the ceremony…a three-gun salute was performed, and the American flag which was draped over the casket was presented to his mother, who graciously accepted it.”

All of this happened 50 years ago, but our memories of that time still seem at times fresh and raw.  And so it is fitting that we remember and honor our brother: Radioman Second Class Gerald Martin Soens, United States Navy (1943-1967).

My sister Cathy and I shared some of our family story last weekend at an event sponsored by Operation Support Our Troops America (www.osotamerica.org).  This was a “Leap of Faith” Seminar/Retreat for Gold Star families, described as a three-day, intensive grief seminar done in partnership with the US Army Golden Knights.  During this time, family members (widows, parents and siblings) were offered grief counseling, a chance to tell their family stories, and the opportunity to tandem sky dive with the Golden Knights parachute team at Homestead Air Force Base, Homestead, FL and also to have an up close and personal therapeutic dolphin experience at Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, FL.

On each of the three days, Gold Star Family Members were lovingly cared for by supportive staff and one another.  Our losses may have been fifty years ago or less than one year or somewhere in between.  But we all shared one thing in common: our loved ones gave their lives for our country and their sacrifices will never be forgotten.

(During the rest of this series, I will describe our interactive, therapeutic program at Island Dolphin Care, our experience with the US Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, and ways that we can support Gold Star Families.)

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