AIN’T NO DENYING THERE IS CLIMATE CHANGE, IMPEACHMENT, SCHOOL SHOOTINGS… BUT THERE IS ALSO THIS

angel drawing

AIN’T NO DENYING climate change; impeachment hearings; school shootings; you name it… And there also ain’t no denying that innocence continues to blossom and bloom; that good people are everywhere; that hope flows like blood through our hearts; and that peace beckons us forward.
Thanks to a, so-far, unidentified kid at the Congregational Church of Patchogue who drew this. She/he raised my spirits up, and I can’t wait to say thank you.
Thank you for the reminder that “Jaded” is not a lifestyle; that “Sarcastic” isn’t a birthmark; that “Resenter” isn’t an occupation. Thank you, dear child, for the reminder that I sometimes fall into pits of negativity and bouts of fear voluntarily and mindlessly.
Thank you for waking me from my stupor; for showing me that my relationship to the world is an inherently creative one. Thank you for showing me what I have turned my back on; and what I can choose to turn to face.
Thank you that ~ on my stroll down a barely-lit hallway in a chilly church long after everyone else had gone home as I was preoccupied with my failure once again to save, heal or be of much help to this or that ~
I saw your drawing of an angel with a visible heart.
Thank you for waking me up to see that they are everywhere ~ and that maybe, sometimes, I am one of them. Today I will act, and see and believe… accordingly.

President Jimmy Carter Undergoes Brain Surgery

CarterFORMER PRESIDENT, JIMMY CARTER, 95 years old, is undergoing brain surgery to stop a bleed. Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, has announced that he will not be teaching Sunday School this week. They have also requested our prayers for him. He has mine.

We, as a nation and a world, will come to better know and appreciate what this man has done since he left office. He is simply an amazing person; and yet, not so amazing in that he has done so as a common person, an American patriot, a global citizen, an interfaith advocate, a model of kindness and perseverance and, for almost 100 years ~ a devout Christian. I cannot speak for you, but in this Age of Angst, I am most grateful for this model of awareness, advocacy and action will keeping dignity and decency.

I do pray ~ not for his recovery ~ for that is up to God. I pray, as would he, Thy Will Be Done, on Earth As It Is in Heaven.

Are you catching any fish? ~ No, never…”

 

 

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“ARE YOU CATCHING ANY FISH?” I asked the first time I saw him on the pier. “No, never.” he said as he cast. “Then why do you come here?” I asked. “It isn’t about the fish” he answered. “Then what is it about?” I asked. He pointed to the sky, the water, the horizon, the dimly-lit houses dotting the distant shore. “This is my church, Rev.” he said. Almost every day, except winter, he is there. He has become like a brother to me, as we pass the offering basket of love between the souls of our two-person-congregation. Peace, Dwight Lee Wolter

Religion, Hemorrhoids, Saoirse Ronan & The Spiritual Journey of “Lady Bird”

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If the film, Lady Bird, had been set in a bordello on the border ~ the cruelties and crudities of teenage bordello life would have been front and center in the promotion. If it had been set at a juvenile detention center in a struggling inner city ~ the derelict denial of resources and treatment for incarcerated teenagers would have been banner headlines in the reviews.
However, the trailer, promotion and reviews describe the setting of Lady Bird simply as “in a high school.” Yup. This coming-of-age tale of a middle-class girl, her silly friends, and her controlling mother who just doesn’t understand was primarily set in a high school.
What is not mentioned anywhere that I could find is that the high school is a Catholic, religious high school. Why is that important detail not mentioned? Perhaps it is because religion in general and Catholicism in specific are, well, currently out of vogue.
Religion, in the popular culture, nowadays, is like hemorrhoids. We know they exist out there somewhere and some people suffer under their influence. It is known to be a pain in the butt, but we just tend to collectively not talk about it. Religion and hemorrhoids are simply not the makings of polite conversation.
That said, the setting of Lady Bird in a Catholic high school is very important to acknowledge and talk about because it provides the context for the spiritual journey of young Lady Bird’s soul.
Like the poems of William Blake, Lady Bird is both “The Little Girl Lost” and “The Little Girl Found” ~ not in the context of the transitions from innocence to experience in the late 1700’s ~ but in the context of a girl’s physical, emotional and spiritual transitions in Sacramento, California in the early 2000’s.
In the subtleties and nuances of this deeply spiritual film, we witness a teenage girl desperate for meaning and purpose in a superficial world populated by barely conscious people. Lady Bird yearns to fly and soar but her wings are clipped by well-intentioned people whose own lives never got off the ground and who, unconsciously, believe the solution to the soaring spirit of Lady Bird is to keep her grounded.
Lady Bird yearns to be free. She dreams of going to Yale, but with her idiosyncrasies and mediocre grades; she will, according to her own mother as they argue in the car ~ Lady Bird will be going to city college, and then to jail, and then back to city college where she will finally “learn to pull herself up.” At hearing that (spoiler alert): Lady Bird throws herself out of the moving vehicle.
That, to put it mildly, is a desire to escape that many persons, including myself, can identify with. As a high school teenager yearning to be free of the mass numbness and dumbness I saw in my family, school and society ~ I sought escape, not by hurling myself out of a car ~ but by hurling myself into a drug and alcohol altered reality that I thought was far preferable, until it almost killed me. Tis a far better thing to die interesting than to live boring. Once free of the unquenchable demons unleashed by alcohol and drug ~ I turned to the fairer angels of art through which I continued my quest to create an alternative life above and beyond the muddy wheel rut into which I had been born.
Many religious strands are woven deeply into the fabric of Ladybird. The film begins with vacuous recitations of prayers and petitions for mercy by students assembled in the high school gym as they mouth the words to “Hail Mary” and the “Lord’s Prayer” that start the school day.
I offer no rebuttal to the proposition that Lady Bird is an exceptionally troubled, yet vibrant spirit. We the viewers feel the shackles that the educational and religious institutions place on youth when conformity, not authenticity, is what is valued and demanded.
But beneath the forms and uniforms of religious education that we so readily dismissed as stupid and archaic in today’s increasingly secular world, lies a yearning for meaning and purpose.
One beacon of light in the darkness of school life is a passionate, loving and supportive priest who teaches the acting class. He believes in, encourages and supports the student actors. This priest is one of those rare teachers that can leave a positive, lifelong impression on a young, unformed, insecure soul. The priest, like his students, is deeply human. He struggles with personal grief and is the first to cry in the class he is teaching on “Authenticity.” When the school play is finally produced, he laments, to himself, that the people in the audience “just didn’t get it.” In a room of teenagers and their families after the show, his depression and Shakespearian sense of futility is palpable ~ just as is the sense of futility in Lady Bird and other students in their young lives of angst and doubt.
We later see the priest with his psychotherapist, revealing how he ~ though of a different ethnicity, age and gender ~ struggles with many of the same issues as does young Lady Bird. Shortly after the scene with the psychotherapist, the priest drops out of his job as teacher and director of the young actors and disappears from the film. He is a foreshadowing of what may be the fate of Lady Bird, and is the fate of many others who abandon their call to dream, to hope, to reinvent themselves and to be transformed by remaining faithful to their spiritual quest and journey.
Another memorable character ~ the Mother Superior of the school ~ offers wise and worldly advice to young Lady Bird, even when she is the brunt of Lady Bird’s jokes; such as when Lady Bird tied cans and a sign “Just Married to Jesus” to the back of the nun’s car. Later, when Lady Bird is called into the Mother Superior’s office; the supposedly strict nun lovingly says that she thought the prank was funny, and that she actually does feel that she has been married to Jesus “for over forty years.” It is a touching, spiritual, loving, non-judgmental encounter between two women who seek a bonding to a power greater than themselves.
The film even ends with Lady Bird engaging in a long night of drunkenness, puking, sex with a stranger, and being taken to the hospital. The following morning, she leaves the hospital and goes, with streaked makeup from the night before ~ to a church, listens to the choir in rehearsal, and has a silent epiphany, a spiritual awakening of some sort and emerges from the church with profound sense of authenticity that it seems she had been fruitlessly seeking in family, society, school and in life all along.
Like a Pope who claims a new name upon their accession; like the Biblical character, Jacob, who wrestles with an angel and receives a blessing and a name change to Israel ~ Lady Bird receives a name change as well. Lady Bird returns to her birth name. She is once again, Christine. It is difficult to overlook the first six letters of her name.

This piece is previously and recently published in The Porch Magazine.

Dwight Lee Wolter

We Simply Can’t Afford to Care

I offer the homeless man sleeping on the front porch of the Congregational Church of Patchogue a bottle of cold water and a plastic cup of fruit cocktail with a pull-off lid before I tell him he has to move and there is no public shelter I can refer him to. We simply can’t afford it.

I have no moralizing jeremiad to lay upon anyone this Sunday morning. I simply see another collective, victimization brewing in our never-ending quest to blame. Meanwhile, Kurt Cobain’s “Unplugged” sweater just sold at auction for$334,000.

Amen

https://www.msn.com/en-us/music/celebrity/kurt-cobains-unplugged-sweater-sells-for-record-dollar334000-at-auction/ar-AAJpnBy?ocid=spartandhp

THE DANGER & COURAGE OF PAINTING A BLACK JESUS

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Welcome to “Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie. I met her in Albuquerque at a Father Richard Rohr conference and have been in correspondence with her ever since. Fr. Rohr had included the major exhibition of her work as a presentation on equal footing with the talkers. AND NOW THE BACK STORY: Janet submitted this in 1999 to an art contest asking for submissions for “a 21st century depiction of Jesus.” She received hate mail, death threats, and Westboro Baptist Church planned a protest at her rural, small farmhouse ~ but it was cancelled due to a blizzard. Those are the folk who protest at funerals of gay civilians and soldiers they call fag***s at the gravesite in the presence of family and friends of the deceased. This humble, quiet, private artist has more courage and integrity than any artist I have ever met. Visit janetmckenzie.com

THE WHOLE GOOD VS. EVIL THING SEEMS REDICULOUS SOMETIMES, BUT…

THE HEAVEN vs. HELL, SAINT vs. SINNER, JESUS vs. SATAN THING SEEMS REDICULOUS sometimes. But I happen to very much like the notion that rampant narcissism, cruelty, and indifference to others is not without consequences. Even if “heaven” and “hell” etc. are artificial constructs ~ it is an attempt to call people to a greater good that shall, now or later, be rewarded.

By the way, I am aware that some people take offense to the Euro-looking, Aryan-feature Jesus depiction. Others take offense to this depiction of Satan. They claim he has blonde, blow-dried hair, small hands, and orange (not red) skin. Okay. Whatever. Beauty (or the lack of it) is in the eye of the beholder. All depictions, for me, fall into the REDICULOUS category as well. I am talking about deeds and attitudes, not appearances. So, who do you thik will win this arm-wrestle?angel and Jesus

MEET MY BULLET-PROOF STUDENT FRIEND

Kyra backpack openKyra backpack closed

MEET MY FRIEND WHO RECENTLY STARTED COLLEGE WITH A BRAND-NEW, BULLET-PROOF BACKPACK. Nice, huh? It is designed so that she can even fit an infant or toddler inside that she can grab as she runs for her life. When I was her age, I had a backpack with a peace sign and a Beatles quote “Give Peace a Chance” written on it. In one generation, this is what has become of us. I am not assessing blame. I am contemplating responsibility. This is a gift from my generation to hers. Peace & Purpose, dwightleewolter.com

Are You Willing To Be Blind for 15 Minutes?

ARE YOU WILLING TO BE BLIND FOR 15 MINUTES? (AN INTERACTIVE CHURCH EXPERIENCE) A children’s choir, in blindfolds, will sing about seeing. The adult choir will sing blind. Those in attendance will be invited to don a blindfold (or not) for part of this service. An artist has created a painting that a blind person can see that will be offered to the blind co-presenter. Being unable to see can heighten your senses. Being unwilling to see can deaden them. “Intentional & Unintentional Blindness” is Sept. 22nd at 10:00am at the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island). All are welcome, regardless of religious affiliation, conviction, or neither. Peace, Dwight Lee WolterBlind congregation

The Mass Incarceration of Persons of Color with Substance Use Disorders

Is it acceptable to disproportionately incarcerate people because of the color of their skin, their national origin, or their economic class? Of course not!
Is it acceptable to disproportionately incarcerate people because they have a disease? Of course not! The prisons are not, for example, flush with diabetics who cannot consistently manage their blood levels.
Is it acceptable to disproportionately incarcerate people because they are suffering from a substance use disorder involving alcohol and other forms of drug addiction and dependency? Of course, it is!
The prisons of America are flush with all sorts of people of color; people of various ethnicities; and people born and raised under the influence of a suspicious zip code.
They have at least one thing in common: they very possibly are suffering from addiction. Some people may commit crimes under the influence of alcohol and other drugs who are not addicted in a literal sense. However, according to a New York Times article (Christopher S. Wren, Jan. 1998); illegal drugs and alcohol contributed to the imprisonment of up to 4 out of 5 inmates in the nation’s prisons and jails. And while up to 65% of incarcerated people meet diagnostic criteria for addiction ~ only 11% are receiving treatment.
Why?
Way back in 1956, the American Medical Association declared addiction to alcohol and other drugs to be a disease. Four years later, in 1960, the American Psychiatric Association did the same. But over 50 years later, we are imprisoning people whose crimes may very well be symptoms of a disease that demands to be fed by any means necessary. And yet we still often act as if addiction is a moral weakness, sin, or lack of willpower for which addicted persons should be ashamed. Why? It is an illness. Have you ever tried willpower over a case of diarrhea?
America has a mass incarceration problem. America has 5% of the world population, but we harbor 25% of the world’s prisoners. And of those massive numbers of prisoners in America ~ 60% are persons of color. A staggering number of them are young, African American, Latino, and male. They may not be saints. But they very well may be addicted and thereby, by definition, incapable of consistently making healthy choices. The road to recovery, for a variety of reasons, may be inaccessible to them.
People in prison have often done some terrible things. If you do the crime, few would argue that you should do the time. However, we can, and should, talk about color, ethnicity, poverty, mental illness and their relation to incarceration.
And it is illogical, counter-productive, unjust and downright dangerous to talk about incarceration without also talking about addiction.
We cannot arrest, judge and incarcerate our way out of an opioid epidemic and into a sense of safety. Justice and common-sense demand we do better.

Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of six books in the fields of addiction and recovery; including three on blame, anger and forgiveness.prison 2