Love, kindness, and leading from the inside out
An open invitation to join me as I leave religion, politics behind to 'save' America
vol. 4 issue 18
It reeks of unseasoned wood smoke in these parts lately. The land-owning locals, a sizeable chunk of them anyway, are burning up their acreage so lickety-split, it would bogle the mind of any Brazilian bureaucrat trading fistfuls of dollars for rain forests.
Fire is faster than chainsaws and bull dozers, but along with the flames, these mechanized monsters are wrecking the peace around here, too.
More like: What takes?
And there is no way all this taking could end any other way but in tears unless we name the root of our ills, which is that we are in the midst of a spiritual crisis.
That’s why I have decided to emphasize creating community around content published for my patron (paying) docu-mental subscribers.
But first, let’s finish this story about the alarming destruction of southeastern Tennessee wrought by its own inhabitants, because that observation, plus reaction to my letter of last week addressed to my Christian friends and neighbors, together form the foundation of my decision to emphasize paid subscriptions.
Booming for business — and annihilation
What gives and takes here lately is that Americans born between 1945 and the late 50s, yes, that generation, even ones from the blue state of California, have discovered the relatively untouched and thus inexpensive tracts of land still tucked away in this dripping red state. And these folks ain’t interested in moving here to preserve it, apparently, because that is not the kind of rhetoric they grew up with, even if they want us to think they tolerate such talk from the rest of us.
As previously reported, these retirees and covid-era refugees are moving here to own it goddammit, because that is their right as Americans — born around about the time Eisenhower was face-palming the future vision he had of an insatiable military-industrial complex running this nation — to relax and look at the pretty view unencumbered by you and your problems that require ponying up a little cash for things like infrastructure and education.
It’s so tedious, I am bored just thinking on it, but I have already given you a good idea of how it’s all playing out amongst these tinkering kings, so here is the link to that.
The net effect of so many new-to-here folks exercising their God-given right to move where the taxes are low and the fun factor high (I reckon that is a right clearly spelled out in the Bible somewhere), is that they need lots of secure places to shove their stuff (unless it’s the stuff belonging to the people who got here the day after them, then it’s just a bunch of shit).
That means if you are a local who happens to hold the deed to a bunch of land your daddy left you from the original 640 acre parcels so many Scottish-Irish (Scotch is a drink, not a people, people!) immigrants grabbed up when they got here just after the Hiwassee Purchase in 1817, not long before that deal led to a Trail of Tears for the brown skinned folks who’d been here for about 10,000 years before your people (some of mine included) rolled off them big ol’ boats, then chances are high you have designs on burning through the pines almost as fast as you plan to burn through those Benjamins when they wad up in your pocket, because you just can’t build storage lockers quick enough to still the demand.
Plus, it’s better to get the land cleared and the structures up before the local legislators catch on to how this Boomer boom will lead to a hot mess of fights over all the self-styled surveying, and the floods and mud slides already starting to spill over the state highways, and so come around waving land use ordinances in your face.
Three years ago, when I was here last (pre-covid), there were just as many storage facilities, that is to say: three. Since I got here early this June, three more are in varying stages of construction and now, in a 10-mile radius, there are 15 storage businesses, and counting.
At first, I thought it was just a money laundering scheme, but an afternoon spent sitting in the pedicure chair chatting with the local ladies dispelled that right quick. It’s all the RVs, motorboats, third and fourth cars that won’t fit in the garage, plus the shiny chrome crotch rockets and motorcycle sidecars — irrefutable proof of late-life, leather-clad, bad assery — and all the other assorted carpet bagger curios that are filling up the space where the forests used to be.
Or, as the woman to my right, the one having charming little palm trees painted onto her tiny toes put it, “Rich people got a lot of stuff,” (I reckon she was too polite to say, “shit”).
And that’s just fine, if you are okay with the ultimate cost, which I am not, and since I and a hella lot of others, as in everyone, has to ultimately pay the price of all this “recreation,” I have thoughts.
Early this morning, making my way through an eerie (and smelly) combination of mist and smoke, I was considering that cost, and how to make it less precious.
My solution is to get right with our Holy American Spirit as I referred to it last week. That notion then developed into a loose plan.
But before I share that plan, I’ve got three things to say.
Addicted to ‘growth’
The first is to just, using the gift of our imagination, play out the scenario I described above to its natural conclusion.
We have history and current events to help us do that.
The plotline will ultimately feature diminished resources, a few “winners” as defined by the notion that whoever has more access to what is most in demand, and a lot of losers as defined by their loss of access to the resources that currently are more abundant than they will be when this trend peaks. It will be that scarcity that will make those resources – land, water, beauty – more expensive, and less accessible.
And that tenuous condition we will call “growth” and treat it like it’s desirable and a sign of health. Growth will be invoked as the domain of the job creators, and since jobs mean income, and income means more money to buy more stuff, we’ll say, Hell yeah! But where will we put all the stuff?
To be didactic, more stuff means less natural resources because we will need more space for more stuff, and more resources to make more stuff. And stuff for “recreation”? Well, isn’t that just a load of horse puckey, because what’s so recreative about whacking down resources you don’t plan on replacing?
So, while the lot of you who used up all your old beautiful places (even if you think it’s everyone else’s fault for needing things like schools and roads) are recreating in a new beautiful place — beautiful because its natural resources haven’t been fully scorched up and hammered out yet — there are increasingly less natural resources to burn and bang, so they’re about to get more expensive.
Who gets to be a winner in this ‘growth’ scenario? Whoever can scramble to the “top” and amass the most access to resources.
Who gets to have access to resources?
Hint: it’s not whoever gets there first. If that were the case, I’d be writing to you from the Cherokee Nation. It has more to do with who has better powers of persuasion (and often weapons, economic or otherwise) to convince one group that another group does not deserve as much access as the most persuasive group.
But it’s not your fault
The second thing I would like to do, then, is to suggest that “growth” as we understand it as an economic target is less an inevitability, more Capitalist agitprop. So many of us just think it’s real because of all the decades that have been spent telling us that it is.
In actuality, it’s a justification for giving over our sovereignty as citizens who all have an actual God-given right to clean air, potable water, enough resources for shelter and food, in exchange for the right to have more shit, I mean stuff. The longer we are in the thrall of “growth” as an economic inevitability, where someone has the absolute right to turn natural resources into commodities, then the faster we will speed toward wrecking any chance to live in peace.
Put another way: if we constantly set up fights over who deserves access to resources, we will continue to make collective, and yet unconscious, decisions about who deserves to die first. Yup, die. Because the more natural resources you consume without providing a way for them to adequately replenish, the sooner those with the least access to them dies.
Which is why the sooner we reconceptualize growth, the sooner we will actually grow the hell up and start finding routes to peace. And I am assuming peace is what you want. It’s what I want. If it’s not what you want, why on earth are you reading this?
I mean, you’re welcome to stick around, but the mission of my message is for us to be kind and loving to one another because that leads to the most possibilities for real growth. And growth leads to evolution. Especially where soul and spirit are concern.
I am all for evolving, and not in the least for stagnation or even stagflation (which is just weird jargon to distract us from what it actually is: corporate manipulation of markets with help from governments run by idiots and crooks).
That’s why although I find it maddening to listen to all the griping about “other” people and how they and their “shit” are making things worse in (Fill-in-the-blank-town, USA), there are far too many of us in this country who have been so entrained to think freedom equates with consumption equates with democracy equates with Capitalism equates with Godliness, such that I am willing to just say that there has to be an acceptance of this misapprehension of how successful systems operate because the relentless grooving of this paradigm into our collective consciousness served those who profited from keeping it in place.
Starting there is pointless because it will only lead to stupid fights. Instead, let’s find ways to meet and mutually bless what we still can share rather than smash, grab, and blame so we can work on creating a new system that actually does function. And that is why I believe…
The path forward starts from the inside out
This is the key to everything.
After 30 years of observing, and especially these past four of thinking and writing “out loud” about this country, I am firm in my conclusion that “growth” that is applied from the outside-in rather from the inside out is doomed to fail. It is false. It is the slash and burn approach to quick gratification, but not conscious stewardship of what could evolve into an entire landscape, lush with enough for all.
The Holy Spirit of America as I see it, defined by me here as our ideal self as a nation, lives within us. If we let it, the Holy Spirit of America dwells in that place where we have commerce with it and with our God, however we say his or her or its name, as well as where we engage our imaginations and thus our future selves, brilliant with the luster of our dreams.
We can all believe in it, but we don’t have the right to define it for one another. It is both fully present and yet elusive. It is a private affair, frankly. But one in which the more of us who are actively engaged, the better for us all collectively.
And so the third, and most important, thing I would like to do is issue an open invitation to anyone who sees the logic in my argument posited last week (vol. 4 issue 17) that what we lack in this country isn’t God so much as spirit, and that if we engender more discussions about a way forward as a nation that calls upon that spirit, holy as I believe it is, to unite us and inspire us, we can start generating some different outcomes than the depressing one that will most certainly play out as the result of the current paradigm of slash and burn.
This invitation is especially to those of you who consider yourselves Christians first, Americans second, but I also encourage participation from atheists who are not given over to cynicism, because atheists who have elevated humor over cynicism seem to me to be expert at leveraging hope.
I would like for you all to please join me in a discussion of my plan as I share it, which I will do over the next several weeks in successive posts.
Here is the backbone of my plan:
America, the nation, is poor in spirit. America the land, is not. I believe we can resuscitate the former by nurturing the latter. I also believe that “from the inside out” means we need to approach this plan by way of spirituality, not politics. Politics are what we do to coerce others into doing what is in our best interests, not theirs. Spirit is what we experience when we are in communion with what sustains us all.
It will be our spirituality as Americans, and not our religions or our politics – and most certainly not our current crop of dunderheaded politicians – who keep Americans united, if that is to be our destiny. And if it isn’t, then it will be our spirituality that surrounds whatever new and more beautiful country we do create, whatever its shape, if we are to create anything new and beautiful.
Access to the posts will be by way of a paywall.
I’ve created a special offer for this:
A place to be accountable and actually grow
Until now, I have been pretty mushy about having a pay wall, but I have come to see the sense in it, because I have felt the call to create a community of people who are willing to expose themselves, even just a little, to the potential vulnerability of stating what they really think and feel in order to transcend the pain of what draining our American Holy Spirit has led to, which includes hating each other for being “other” and for being closer to resources than we think they deserve to be.
But there are so many other ways we sin against ourselves, and we can discuss them – and because what Christians do best, unless I am mistaken in my admittedly limited understanding of the Gospel, is to forgive and love. It is in that space of compassion that I want to breathe life back into our communal, American Holy Spirit.
Charging admission not only ensures I work hard to give you value for your investment, but also demands your own accountability. I can’t control what you think or how you perceive the messages delivered by me and others who choose to comment, but I can control the tone of the room by insisting that the price of admission is a pre-paid commitment to kindness and civility, especially if what we are discussing is emotional for so many of us.
Put another way, I would like to create a community of people who will start using the comments section to talk not just to me, but to each other. I do love all your emails, and I received some meaningful ones after the last post, but I am just one little gal here, and we got lots to get taken care of, folks, and I don’t want to be diminished by looking like I’m hollering into the wind all by my lonesome.
What I envision is a gathering of souls who can demonstrate love and patience, respect and humility, and can apply friendship creatively, in search of wholeness and resolutions in search of a whole fabric knit out of many threads (e pluribus unum).
Why the appeal to Christian evangelicals?
I am asking Christians in particular because between one quarter to nearly one half of this country’s population identifies as evangelical Christian first, American second, or so it seems anyway.
Another reason I am interested in hearing and learning from evangelical Christians as a demographic is because amongst yourselves, you seem to struggle with defining who you are or what your priorities ought to be. This ambivalence is itself interesting to me, and I think worth exploring. Maybe I as an earnest outsider who is willing to respect and learn from – not study and classify -- you can help facilitate that.
Here are some links to sources that piqued my interest in this conundrum:
Analyses | Baylor Religion Survey | Baylor University
What is Christian Nationalism? - Christianity Today
Evangelism Leaders Fellowship - Wheaton College Billy Graham Center (wheatonbillygraham.com)
For everyone, everywhere: Essential ‘next steps’ to summits and ministerials to advance religious freedom for all - Religious Freedom Institute
(This last one is especially interesting because of the attempt to create metrics out of religious activities – religion has become science, in effect; but that’s for another future post.)
I do not want to hear platitudes or even your sermons. I want to hear your actual, interrogated, examined truth. Come here with the assurance that you can share why you love Jesus without fear of being denounced, or without the expectation of being rewarded for your piety, because I find piety suspicious until proven otherwise.
Still, I am taking you at face value. If you say you love God and Jesus, then what a waste of one third of our population, entrained to forgiveness and compassion, it would be if we couldn’t ignore the noise in the media and just talk to one another.
I figure, let’s find a way to put all that goodness to constructive use.
Be advised, however, the plan I will offer and ask you to comment on is predicated on a read of our Constitution I believe to be closest to any notion of actual “originalism”: a separation of Church and State. I believe in that as hard and fast as you profess to believe in Jesus.
I’m kinda nervous, folks!
I am nervous about this decision, I admit. But, in all the years I have been publishing docu-mental, aware that I was “on to something”, it hasn’t felt as much like a calling as it does now.
I also am excited because I have faith in people, and yes, in God, too, even if my God is Nature. But overarching all, I believe in the Holy Spirit of America. I think the spirit of this land is real, and that it has been waiting patiently for us to invite it to work with us rather than subvert it to less than holy aims, no matter what we might think about our intentions.
So, let’s challenge each other to ask ourselves, and each other, better questions as spiritual Americans.
Here’s the subscription button again:
As the month goes on, and as I sadly have to leave Tennessee to return to Washington, I will be adding more features, and planning the return of podcasts with leading voices in spirituality that will make you think. I will be closing the archives to all but paid subscribers, and I will be developing a number of ways to foster community such as zoom interviews and chats, and other audio and visual media.
But for now, I hope that you will join me in this conversation. We have a lot to learn, a lot to do, and yet we don’t have to do it all alone.