Window over Washington:

Ending 'spiritual bypassing’ to build a better nation

vol. 2 issue 39


We have a lot of new patron subscribers, so welcome. Window over Washington is an occasional, but often enough to be considered “regular” feature for patron subscribers; on rare occasions, I make it available to the general subscription list.

Lately, here in the nation’s capital, we have experienced some unusual skies. Last week there was an electrical storm that I imagined reminiscent of the Battle of Gettysburg canon volley. Slow moving and intense, with each lightning flash there was an immediate boom of thunder directly overhead. The full effect of such violence renting the sky was apocalyptic, as though structures were collapsing in heaps around us. Through the window further south were thick glowing spines of forked light shocking the skies above Pennsylvania Avenue and thereabouts for a full hour, until finally, the maelstrom lumbered east.

Earlier this week, it was the opposite: eerily rose-gold skies overhead at sunset, a rainbow bending over us all. Today, the city is enshrouded in fog, blurring the edges of hard things and obscuring much of the view.

If news were poetry, you might consider this a metaphorical news hour: the lightning shocks might be the administration’s surprise removal of more than 12,000 troops from Germany, crippling our response capabilities to threats in or near the Putinsphere, to the dismay of virtually every other US official but the president who has yet to convincingly justify the move. The rose-golden rainbow, of course, the eulogizing on the promised fruits of freedom that compelled the late Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis to serve as he was remembered this week by every living former president yet not the current one.

The obscuring fog? Let me get my list…and there I see at the top, Atty. General Barr’s “testimony” before the House Judicial Committee about how he plans to use unidentified federal agents to quash nonexistent antifa riots.

But let’s focus on the promise of the rainbow.

“Together, you can redeem the soul of our nation” is the headline above an op-ed penned by Lewis days before his death, and published posthumously by the New York Times.

In it, he wrote: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key.”

Lewis suggests how we might redeem our nation’s soul through the democratic process, especially voting. Yes. But a soul redemption can only come if we are in actual possession of our soul. We aren’t. I say we need to retrieve it, to take it back from the prison of hierarchy where it is enchained.

A month ago, I declared that if we were to have a hope of reclaiming our soul rights, we would need first to face our self-hatred first.

It is counterproductive to claim we are not a self-hating nation. We might look as though we hate each other, and we do, but it’s ourselves we loathe most of all. That is the not-so-good trouble that comes from the cognitive dissonance of saying one thing is true, while attempting to hide the fact from ourselves that we live our lives as though something entirely different is true.

We like to say we live in a land of freedom and equality, a place where we are supposed to pursue our happiness, but we have each and every one of us in some way experienced the lie this assertion purports to conceal. We’ve felt it in our lack of agency at jobs where we are burdened with the responsibility of carrying out a “policy” but no authority over how that policy gets made.

We experience it when no matter how much more money we have, it’s never quite enough to cover the cost of saving for that rainy day while also affording what used to be rights we all expected at one point were ours as Americans: the right to a good education, to potable water, to safe and unblighted neighborhoods.

We feel it all the time in the “never enoughs” we’re accustomed to bearing as our burdens: not attractive enough, not clever enough, not fit enough, not accomplished enough, not published enough, not cool enough, not white enough, not tan enough (code for “brown but only by choice and only because I can afford the luxury of days by the pool [or tanning bed]”), not college-degreed enough, not foodie-savvy enough, etc., but in the end, the most shameful thing we can be is not wealthy enough.

As long as the patriarchal hierarchy – where someone is always more than another – is what we prioritize, it will also be what we systemize at every level, through every policy, and see through every lens on what makes for good governance in this country. Doing so keeps us bound to hate ourselves, as evidenced by our ever-upward trends of anxiety, depression, suicide, and anger.

If self-hatred borne of constant pushing and grasping is so awful, why not just be content? Think, though. How would that be possible? If to be content, to believe we are and have enough, equates with having less access to resources, then to be at peace is anathema to survival.

Living peacefully, then, is difficult. Living as equals, then, is impossible.

Consider that Lewis also wrote: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

A nation at peace with itself might just mean discarding the over-hyped and wholly unproven “survival of the fittest” trope that only leads to a nation of citizens that constantly feel discontent. A world at peace cannot be terrorized by a teetering nation obsessed with its discontent while simultaneously perpetuating it through policies that serve the hierarchy.

How we move beyond the hierarchy and what should take its place?

Ending the cognitive dissonance that makes us anxious and crazy is the place to start. When we say the nation is equal and free, and yet our daily experience tells us we are never enough, and that to be free means to be better-than, and to be equal means to be inferior, and that being better-than comes at the price of being at peace with who we are, the price we pay is trust in ourselves.

The doublespeak flows out of us, toward us, and over us until we become subsumed in the waves of self-hate which is insufferable and makes us doubt ourselves. We wonder if we’re impotent by our very nature, not by our circumstance. It’s scary, and it hurts, and we don’t like it so we project it onto others, we construct a house of better-thans. That is what discrimination is: systematized condescension and self-hate. The very existence of “the other” reminds us of what we don’t want to feel, so we hate them all the more.

We’ve accepted the lie that “never enough” is the truth of who we are. We’ve allowed this belief to hold in place the hierarchical systems that harm us all. Perhaps we’ve thought we had no choice, and in many ways, because the power to harm has been held so tightly at the top, we have not. But with so many of us now grieving what we have already lost in this nation – our collective sense of purpose, our sense of being something that is not hateful but is loving and kind and beautiful – we do in fact have more power than we’ve had in a long time.

Ending the cognitive dissonance by seeing it, and acknowledging how much we’ve let it be our default setting is the place to start. The second is to be willing to accept we’re weak and scared.

In the first docu-mental video created in service to our nation’s soul retrieval, I spoke with academic and Pagan High Priestess Gwendolyn Reece, PhD. She used the phrase “spiritual bypassing” in reference to how actually caring about one’s community and then acting on that, was far more constructive than just giving it lip service.

I had never heard that phrase before, and I wish I had asked her to unpack that during the interview.

But now, having educated myself as to what it means, and considering Lewis’s words, I understand.

Spiritual bypassing is another way we make the self-hate tolerable, while justifying our fear of confronting it.

It’s a way to pretend we are taking action, to pretend we are participating in democracy while not actually doing the hard work of taking action, including engaging in the kind of gritty, soul searching spiritual work necessary to meet Lewis here:

“If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.”

And, I would add, we might also ask ourselves what makes it okay for a classroom of 20 five-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary to be mutilated by a military grade assault weapon and left to bleed out and die in a matter of agonizing minutes before it was possible for anyone to attend their wounds. As a nation, we made that okay.

The first thing to understand about spiritual bypassing is that it starts with saying, “Oh, those evil Republicans/Democrats/Black Lives Matter Protestors/White Supremacists/the President/Catholics/Evangelicals/Socialists/Communists/Chinese… they are to blame for what hurts.”

The second component is to cling to the words of one’s chosen belief system, whether it be a brand of religion or politics, and say them but not actually encounter the initial pain we felt that lead us to adopt the promised deliverance of those beliefs in the first place.

An excellent example is Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert berating staffers for wearing masks to protect themselves and others against infection with the coronavirus, because Goddammit, no self-respecting Republican would EVER let someone tell him what to do…which ironically means that the staffers have been stripped of their own agency to make a decision about what protects their own health, safety, and thus happiness, all because of their boss’s spiritual bypassing: clinging to the rhetoric as what makes him right, not his actions. And by they way, as you probably are aware by now, Gohmert has himself just tested positive for the virus.)

It’s hypocrisy, but to say so is bland. What I am talking about is of the magnitude of the Gettysburg-like storms over head: each of us is guilty of hiding something from ourselves and until we encounter it, America is that much less capable of being free and equal.

Democracy is hard. But it’s not impossible, even if I wonder if we’ve yet to actually get it right.

Lewis asked us to search our hearts for what has rooted there to permit hierarchy-induced pain to rob others of their love, that’s my take on it. As Dr. Reece suggested, spiritual pollution is like a noxious fog that occludes the promise of democracy. We must clear it through some kind right action. Could we not see our vote as a right act and voting therefore as a ritual?

I don’t know what is in Gohmert’s heart, but I do know what it is in mine. For me, it was subtle to discover, but I think I have located it: railing on about the corruption in our government, as I was doing until a month ago, was a way to avoid taking responsibility for my part in the hierarchy that led to this presidency.

I also don’t know if what I am doing now by offering this video series and dedicating my opinion pieces to America’s soul retrieval will work, but I am willing to be vulnerable that it won’t. I love this country so much, I certainly want to try.

Democracy is an act, not a state, said Lewis. I say it is a state of mind. It is the title of this online journal. But our state of mind is what directs our actions, so while the words are re-ordered, for Lewis and myself, they belong together.

As do, I suggest, the words “policies”, “governance”, and “beliefs”.

Policies arise from beliefs enacted as governance. If our policies are busted, then we need new beliefs.

If believing in hierarchies delivers us to such a hateful place, in what should we believe instead so that we might build new structures based on better policies and applied through good governance?


Not the rugged individuals who refuse to wear a mask to protect against the coronavirus because doing so would make them look weak and easily subjugated. I’m talking about ourselves who are the individuals who reject the “never enough” and embrace the peace promised in equal but not the same, the contentment found in being enough no matter one’s circumstances. Doing so frees us to consider not whether or not we appear weak and thus vulnerable to attack, but instead allows us to be vulnerable to ourselves and to one another, and thus at peace with ourselves and one another. Accepting the paradox is what makes us strong.

That’s the good kind of trouble I think Congressman Lewis wanted us to get into, the trouble that comes from upsetting the status quo, by living with a sense of possibility, not certainty. Such a state can only lead to better questions, such as: If not hierarchy, then what?

To which I reply: Hierarchies aren’t the only structures nature offers. Matrices exist, too. And for what it’s worth…the root of that word is mater, mother.

I have accepted that this is a nation that won’t heal for a long time, even if soul retrieval is possible. Honestly, I believe it will involve the dying off of an older, entrenched generation whose ossified view of what America is can only be carried out in the way they want it carried out. I am not too worked up about persuading any of these folks to seeing things any particular way, and if I may be so bold and bossy, neither should you. Kindness in your encounters counts as persuasion enough.

Eventually, we will grieve. We will move on. We will heal. But doing so will require honest hearts, a sense of purpose based on clearly stated – and self-tested – beliefs, and good governance. The shape of things is yet to come, but it will come. I believe that in the deepest part of my being because, among many reasons, I trust you and others like you to reject the urge to spiritually bypass, and instead do the soul searching necessary to make it happen.

Like you, I need a vacation and so I am taking one. docu-mental will be quiet for the next two weeks, but rest assured much is underway. Already, I have recorded a discussion about the logic and practicality of reparations with members of the Contraband Historical Society, an historical group dedicated to educating others about the contributions of the Contraband Slaves in the Civil War.

Also upcoming is an interview with opera director Timothy Nelson, internationally recognized for his work that treats performance as public ritual first, entertainment second. Additionally, in the works is a wide-ranging discussion with poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller about many things, including seeing policy through the eyes of poetry as a way to get policy right. And much more.

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Also, do share this post with others whom you think are ready for a little soul retrieval…


And have a damned fine weekend. I will see you soon.


Photos: Lightning by Kevin Ambrose, Washington Post; rainbow by Jim Havard, Flickr; Shenandoah National Park, WikiCommons Media.