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The Delusion Delusion

The PT Barnum of “ Fake News”

The last four years of the Trump anti-leadership era have amplified the delusion that those with facts and data are delusional.

What is real and verifiable is called “fake” while irrational conspiracy theories are touted as the real. When the chief conspiracy theorist is the President, an unstable accelerant is poured out on the perpetual fires stoked by crackpots and political manipulators. The Bully Pulpit provided Trump a vehicle for continuous reinforcement of hatred, vitreol, and conspiracy theories

Since the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the majority of Americans are profoundly distressed and appalled at the bloody insurrection founded on “ the Big Lie” of Trump’s imagined victory. Nonetheless, recent polls show the majority of the Republican Party still believing the election was stolen. They hold tenaciously to this stance despite all evidence to the contrary. More striking still, Trump’s approval rating, though very low in historical terms, remains essentially unchanged even after the Capitol assault.

How can so many hold onto these bizarre views in the face of more than 60 court cases, most all thrown out by the courts as lacking any merit, and the numerous repeated official pronouncements of a fair and secure election, many from Republican state officials ? After the repeated and compelling refutation of their narrative, one can only conclude it is a case of malicious and willful ignorance.

What we are witnessing is the mutation of a lie into a presumed dark truth elevated to the level of a Creed. The believers are Americans who have either become part of a systematic brainwashing given their emotional susceptibility (and a President that made the lie into a truth), or members of extremist groups newly empowered and activated by an unhinged President and his sycophantic party. Either way, they represent a danger to the Republic and need to be managed with a firm, focused and strategic hand.

All of this is the outcome of a highly successful PSYOPS campaign likely funded by both foreign and domestic adversaries of democracy. The Co-conspirators include congresspeople and extremists with voices undeservedly amplified by the megaphone of social media.

PSYOPS is said to be of three kinds: white (mostly truth) , grey ( a mix of truth and lie), and black ( overt and covert propaganda of deception). Grey and black forms have been at work on our country on steroids since Trump was “elected”.

Republicans are now even talking of civil war as belief in the Lie snowballs into a toxic creed. Bans of Trump (and many of his more rabid supporters) from major social media platforms have afforded us a moment’s reprieve, though the insurrectionists are fleeing swiftly to encrypted sites. The challenge ahead becomes more complex as the evil finds its way to the back alleys of the internet.

Beyond the critical need for an aggressive, coherent multi-agency strategy of domestic counter-terrorism, what more can be done? Those fully brainwashed, the hardcore conspiracy theorists, are likely beyond recovery. They will need to be countered by a strong offense of surveillance and targeted police action.

Treatment for the “lemming” caucus and the corrupted citizenry will need to be informed by what we have learned from the Skinnerian radical behaviorism of the 1950s and 60s. Speeches and appeals to truth (attempting reasoned argument) will go nowhere as this audience lack “ears to hear”.

While Biden stresses American foundational values (unity, civility, equality under the law and decency), there must be a clear and consistently applied reinforcement schedule implemented by the Justice Department: an extinction schedule, a special case of non-intermittent reinforcement.

The incentive for the behavior we are watching has been a continuous positive reinforcement (largely via Trump’s social media following on Twitter, Facebook and Parler). Air time on demand gave a lunatic executive as much space as he wanted to pollute the thinking of the confused, marginalized and disaffected.

Legislation will now be needed to ensure that social media companies clamp down fast and hard on hate speech and incitement to violence. A consistent and aggressive campaign of flagging what is the actually fake news ( i.e., aggressive fact checking) must become the standard.

Hate groups promoting violence should be outlawed. Nazis should not be allowed a voice in America ( and they should never have been given one). Spokespersons who recover from their addiction to hate and who speak out for rationality, on the other hand, should be positively recognized and celebrated ( like congresspeople who feel shame and offer apology).

Invoking one of the core principles of learning theory, behavior lacking a linked reward, and/ or receiving punishment, will lead to a significant reduction ( if not extinction) of the offending behavior.

This social project takes on critical importance as we open a new corrective Administration. In the meantime, the rest of us, the majority, need to role model the values of civil discourse, listening, and respect for those who are inclined toward healthy debate.

Our only recourse, in the case of those who wrap themselves in the “delusion delusion,” is to deliberately shun them, walk away, and relate to their behavior as we do any noxious noise to be squelched. It’s the behavior we must denounce while wishing them speedy recovery from the disease of extremist delusion.

Clear reinforcement contingencies are the only way to restore right order when it comes to anarchists, fear-mongers, liars, criminals, cheats and misanthropes. Walking away in such cases, while holding them fully accountable for misdeeds, is an authentic demonstration of caring.

Appeasement and effortful attempts to convert them to the truth simply feeds the beast. Better to starve it and treat it with clear consequences. This is what we do in all other instances of acting out and misguided, malicious action.

What we are seeing today is the outcome of a pernicious moral relativism. Now, facts are considered to be relative to the person’s experiences ( i.e., all in the eyes of the beholders). In giving credence to this distortion, we fail to assert the unarguable dignity of what is verifiable fact.

We created what we are seeing by tolerating the intolerable. Now is the time to return to the basics of clear boundaries, decisive definition of acceptable and unacceptable community behavior, and the fundamentals of democratic governance. Otherwise, the American experiment will devolve toward dictatorship.

The times call for a vision of hope to be sure. However, hope must be supported by clear contingencies for adherence to rules of decency and mutual regard. Provisions for unrelenting punitive measures for the corrupt and mean -spirited is the flip side of the coin of civilized society. At the same time, we need to insist on competent and accountable leadership at all levels that models the way.

Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm”

Joe Clark

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A week ago, we attempted to get the first of two vaccinations here in Lake County Florida.

A text from the the local Health Department said it was a first come, first serve process beginning at 9 am. The published site was about 30 minutes away.

We were advised to arrive early, so we awoke at 6 AM and joined a line of cars already forming by 7. In a matter of minutes, a police car pulled up behind us flashing his lights. Using his cruiser’s bull horn , he blasted a stern command: “ driver, put down your window so you can hear what I am saying”. Frankly, the dead could hear it.

I complied. He followed with “ continue on route 27”.

In other words, get out of line and leave. With so many in line in front of us, I concluded he just didn’t like the “cut of my jib”.

Driving on, it was then that I noticed the large digital sign at the front of the line: “ No vaccines today!” Passing by, now in the opposite direction, I saw the officer repeating the same disconcerting and aggressive process for each car in the line ahead. Clearly, he was suffering an enlarged spleen on this particular morning!

For the life of me, I can’t imagine why drivers at the front of the line remained there waiting in spite of the obvious signage that no vaccine was available! I guess we might chalk it up to the incredible power of denial.

For a good hour thereafter, I was just out of sorts and my thoughts and mood were, shall we say, less than fraternal. Everything about Florida irritated me, and I confess having spent a fair amount of the morning maligning the intelligence and competence of my Floridian brothers and sisters. It was a personal demonstration of the highly contagious nature of negativity and aggression.

Contrast that with our experience yesterday. Linda and I received another text, out of the blue, that we were eligible to receive the vaccine by appointment. We chose the Orlando Health site in Wintergarden.

We arrived a few minutes early. We were cordially ushered in and given a seat on a line of other folks with earlier appointments. We were offered bottle water with apologies that they were about 30 minutes behind.

The site was very busy but everyone was wearing masks and social distancing. Within 30 minutes, we were invited to a vaccination station where a delightfully warm and pleasant nurse went through the intake process: confirming our age and suitability with focus on possible allergic reactions.

With everything in order, we were invited to a separate station for the vaccination. We received the first of the two shot protocol required by the Moderna vaccine. We were then asked to remain in a seated area ( complete with a large screen TV) for an additional half hour to make certain we had no adverse reaction. Afterwards, we were free to go.

People waiting in line were patient. There was an almost jovial mood in the air. The gentleman following me was a pleasant octogenarian with genuinely amusing little quips. His demeanor helped further brighten the spirits of the nursing staff.

The intake nurse was warm and generous. She was apparently doing three jobs at once but without complaint or sense of irritation. [We are scheduled there for shot two in early February. ]

We returned to our car and signaled another incoming driver that our parking space would be available shortly. He smiled and waved back at us. We were both in a giving and caring mood looking forward to the chance to offer someone else a little kindness.

This is a small tale of the great power of kindness to change the world. It is also an example of how all events, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, are food for our enlightenment.

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Beyond the Rhetoric

More than ever before in my lifetime has there been such a profound need for reflection on this well known scriptural passage.

Demagogues among us are legion and they are brutal masters of subterfuge. They take a lie, weave a tortured narrative around it, and then amplify it through hermetically sealed echo chambers so often as to dupe the casual and inattentive reader and listener.

The insurrectionists in Congress, and the growing choir of fascist voices among us, create a sticky web of propaganda meant to ensnare the unsuspecting or the intellectually and emotionally vulnerable, impressionable and unprepared. It is a demonstrable fact that we are largely an ahistorical Nation with a citizenry overwhelmingly oblivious to basic civics let alone the lessons of history. This has certainly helped set the stage for what we are now seeing.

Watch what they do and what they produce. Ask who it is they serve. Examine the central propositions. Do they pass the smell test?

What are their sources of information and are they reliable and verified? How so? We need to take apart the narrative that fuels the propaganda machine. Case in point: a member of my own family recently challenged my eagerness for the Covid 19 vaccine with the warning that it causes sterilization.

Above all, we must examine our own hearts. If what is being said arouses our passions and reflex acquiescence, we need to start with what’s going on in us. What about the argument being advanced (or the story being told) speaks so loudly to us? On what emotional basis are we inclined to take in the message without a healthy skepticism as to its veracity without any further examination?

Propaganda has no force or command whatsoever if we avoid lazy regurgitative thinking. We are imprisoned by ideas only to the extent that we avoid an examination of their roots and the dynamics of our own motivated reasoning. The only way to avoid the slippery slopes that lead to dystopias is to really think!

Accept nothing without a search for convergent truth: a conclusion arrived at only after seeing things from different perspectives, sources and methods of fact gathering.

Through the prophetic imagination of acclaimed writers of dystopian fiction the likes of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Anthony Burgess, or CS Lewis (to name just a few), a few things emerge as common causes of a nation’s slide toward fascism:

– “might makes right” politics and the erosion of civil discourse, true debate, and mutual regard as shown in resorting to ad hominem demonization;

– a rise in class warfare and fear of the loss of privilege by the “ majority”;

– erosion of a social contract upholding clear standards or right and wrong ( ethical fuzzy logic);

– weakening of the centrality of the dignity of families;

– fear of diversity and loss of a sense of homogeneous national identity;

– rapid increase in the use of depersonalizing technologies;

– deterioration of the rule of law;

– erosion of accountability and governmental checks and balances;

– a war on competence, expertise and intellectual rigor;

– insatiable social appetite for passive entertainment ( reality tv), or the love of spectacle that eclipses thoughtful reading and analysis;

– assault on the dignity of a free press and the decline of journalistic integrity;

– punditocracy.

Even this partial list of diagnostic signs ought to make us tremble a bit.

Fiction often becomes fact.

We have seen a great number of dystopian movies, books, screen plays and TV series in recent years ( e.g., Hunger Games, Wall-E, Jericho). Modern art also has seemed to move toward ever greater celebration of banality, anomie, materialism and crassness.

There are numerous sociopolitical and cultural signs of a slide toward mediocrity, superficiality, lean edutainments and a will to rest on the laurels of the past.

We are witness to a gathering storm. Are you troubled by it?

Are you seeing it and the enormity of the threat to the values that our fathers and mothers fought so very hard to secure?

Our country is in desperate need of principle- centered, high-integrity leadership, an engaged and inquiring electorate, and a call to restore the vision the Nation was founded upon. The new Administration coming into Washington is a start, but we each must do our part as true patriots to help solidify a return to right order.

My father in law served at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when it was bombed by the Japanese Zeros. I am thinking a lot about him these days and of all those men and women that fought so bravely for democracy, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. He would be appalled by the events we are witnessing. We owe it to them to stand up to the march of fascism in this country.

The more difficult enemy is always the one within. Domestic terrorism is on the rise because we have allowed it to rise. To right the ship of state, we need to remove the counterfeit “ leaders” in Washington that cave to the pressure from white supremacists, or who are themselves of that ilk. We either own this democracy or risk losing it for our children and grandchildren.

2021 is the year of the Call to democratic stewardship of a badly wounded Nation after the disgraceful last four years of a tortured and lethal dance with a dictator in the White House.

Never again!

By our fruits we shall be known!

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

Hosea 8:7

This verse from Hosea is echoed in the events of this week. Having encouraged sedition and insurrection, Trump and his acolytes have “ sown the wind”. Now comes the whirlwind.

We will be visited by all manner of demons and innocents will be sacrificed to the insatiable unholy appetites of anarchists and antiChrists. Trump and the Republican Party have much blood on their hands, including the many Covid-19 related deaths owing to an absent National strategy to combat the disease.

Rather than an all-hands full court press focus on saving the country from a raging pandemic, these hollow men and women are obsessed instead with preservation of power in the face of certified election results. The events of this week are tragically only the beginning.

The perfect storms of Covid 19 and a pandemic of hatred and rage have combined: a recipe for ongoing suffering. I suspect that there will be further violence perpetrated against our country especially now as the unthinking Trumpists feel betrayed by their dark lord.

Among Biden’s tall challenges is grappling with the problem of political echo chambers serving as instruments of motivating propaganda. The “ free speech” provision needs to be re-examined to nullify the unsubstantiated and hate-soaked rhetoric that incites violence. The majority in our society is demonstrably unskilled in telling the difference between facts and fictions.

The psychology of propaganda becomes an area for high priority consideration. Social media companies need to educate their users and exercise far greater oversight. Banning Trump for life is a good start along with flagging sites containing disinformation. Fresh legislation is needed this year once the new Congress is seated.

Fantasy has no place in governance and policy making. It has its place in the exercise of creative imagination and entertainment. It has its place in fashioning fresh hypotheses for testing. Beyond that, we need to forcefully reassert the dignity of empiricism and call out anything that violates the fact-based canon of methodologies.

It is now a matter of life and death. We are all entitled to our opinion, but not our own body of unverified “ facts”.

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Events of the last few days have brought to mind an observation made by the renowned essayist Jonathan Swift: “There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake.”

After the all too predictable deadly assault on the Nation’s Capitol, ( a culmination of celebrated white supremacy over four years by a racist President), quite a few of Trump’s Republican enablers appear to have miraculously located their long-lost moral compass; well, at least as reflected in their majority vote to accept the results of the electoral college.

We listened to some lofty speech making this week. It was suitable for legacy-making and clearly crafted to project noble intent and statesmanship. Even Mitch McConnell, the self declared “ grim reaper” of the Senate, gave a seemingly heartfelt speech on the need to “do what’s right.”

It would all have been downright moving were it not for the last four years of defending the criminal madman at the helm and his corrupt and corrupting crime family of misanthropes. I suspect that these seemingly sudden expressions of Constitutional stewardship are but artful devices intended to spin a “ CYA” counter-narrative for what comes next.

While I am certainly glad they finally got down to what their limited proforma Constitutional task was really about, counting and declaring the winner of an already confirmed electoral outcome, the late post- insurrection pontificating was appallingly too little too late. People were killed and injured and we came close to a far more horrific catastrophe.

Besides this one class of artful dodger feigning integrity, there is the even more grotesque monsters of unmovable arrogance who delight in modeling Trump-styled narcissism. Men the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Mo Brooks are yet another even more poisonous species of political con artists.

Undeterred by the rampaging assault by the mob of Trump worshipers, these political hitmen proudly resumed their objections to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Their own egoistic agenda was simply more important than the common good. It “ trumped” the well-being of colleagues, democracy, their oaths to the Constitution, and the security of the country. They should be sanctioned and then impeached.

As of tonight, the House will likely move to impeach Trump a second time in a matter of days. They must. There has been a slow trickle of Republican voices who have “seen the light,” as it were, ( e.g., Ben Sasse, and Lisa Murkowski), but McConnell has made clear that he has no intention of convening a trial in the Senate before the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Despite his high-minded rhetoric on the need to acknowledge the results of the election, the clear and present danger of Donald Trump, commander of an anarchic militia of white supremacists and Nazis, still has not risen for him to a level warranting urgent action. He can certainly move articles of impeachment to the floor for trial quickly if he so chose. But, he still fears the Trump voter more than a threat to the well-being of our Republic.

The Nation is in a more dangerous and fragile place than I have seen in my lifetime. The risks are especially high over the next 12 days before a new administration is sworn in. We need to remove Trump immediately.

Trump has leaned out all departments. He has filled key positions with incompetent puppets. Our adversaries recognize this time as one of weakness. Outside of the House and the few Republicans who are sounding the alarm, the Republican base and leadership appear profoundly unconcerned. Even now, they voice satisfaction with the job Trump is doing!

All of this underscores for me why character is prerequisite to any special leadership competence. The pain we are suffering as a country today is a consequence of the ascendancy of men and women of poor character with Machiavellian proclivities.

The principles and values alive in a person’s actions should always be primary assessments in considering them for leadership roles. Forever hence, Trump will be the go-to example of what happens when character is set aside and considered incidental by an uninformed electorate. Consider how many voters chose Trump despite his peccadillos, dalliances, and longstanding record of corruption and self- aggrandizement.

As Jonathan Swift opined, the 11th hour epiphanies are quite likely a continuing deceit of political theater: a projection of calculated repositioning. What they are not, with only a few exceptions, is genuine contrition and humble recognition that the Republican Party made a Faustian bargain with the devil and its time to pay up.

“Let Trump be Trump” was the Republican meme that has nearly killed the soul of this country. This logic is no less inane than would be tolerating a toddler’s penchant for biting people. Trump has not changed one bit in four years though Republican Senators, who are just now changing their tune, are acting as if he just lost his mind this week.

They chose to back a psychopath for four years. They and those who voted for and continue to support Trump ( a large percentage of the Republican Party) are complicit in the assault on our democracy. They are tantamount to a collective “Frankenstein” now expressing regret about the misguided reasoning that led to unleashing their dark vanity project on the world.

Spiritual integrity is impossible absent intellectual and emotional integrity. These events are real-time morality plays. They are challenging us to true citizenship for the sake of the future.

We are also called in such times to examine our own sinful estates and look to the spiritual work needed to ensure that we become parts of the solution.

As an act of personal leadership in troubled times, may we reflect on:

– the authenticity we project in the world

– what weakens or undermines it

– what strengthens it

– and how we can bring light to the task of chasing away the shadows.

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.

Jonathan Swift

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Metastatic Rage

Imagine doing nothing for four years after a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. That would be the height of folly, right? That is the metaphor that feels apt this morning of January 6 as we examine the state of our democracy with focus on the unvarnished facts.

The Capitol insurgency was engineered and fueled by a virulent Commander in Chief who has trashed all norms of Presidential behavior, decency, public service and the rule of law. It was, in so many ways, a predictable lame duck action after four years of build-up to the full flowering of “the Donald’s” dark passions.

The Republican enablers have now definitively redefined themselves as a nationalist American fascist party. One hundred twenty members of the House and an unrepentant misguided group of senators continued to press their preposterous grievances well into the early hours of January 7. All of this took place after the brazen and barbaric assault on the temple of our democracy.

This political indignity was perpetrated by an unhinged and narcissistic few that even the likes of Lindsey Graham, the chief Trump whisperer and enabler, could not abide!

Pandora’s Box of horribles have been unleashed on our democracy since day one of this incompetent and diseased administration. Trump has certainly been the locus of the malignancy, the tumorous mass projecting a debilitating poison. His immediate removal after yesterday’s acts of sedition is essential (if unlikely).

The question now revolves around what I regrettably see as a poor prognosis for the country. This is the case despite the good news of democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, and the welcome and desperately needed ascendency of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

If we are to restore right order, civility and norms of true leadership, the treatment ahead will need to be very aggressive indeed and unrelenting.

Firstly, those responsible for the rape of the Capitol must be held accountable and brought to certain justice. This includes inquiry into the massive security failure by the Capitol police.

What’s called for after that is no less than the equivalent of whole body radiation for the Nation given the widespread reach of the disease. The beast that lurks among us must be loudly named with consistent vigilance, and countered with a laser -focused servant leadership.

Role models of decency and dialogue need to keep a firm hand on the tiller of enlightened and intelligent governance. In effect, securing a sustainable rationality and resumption of behavioral normalcy will need an intensive, long-term “light” therapy.

That the violence at the Capitol occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany is a case of synchronicity. It was, after all, into a politically fraught, violent and despotic time that the Prince of Peace appeared. The Holy Birth was made manifest in retrospect only after recognition of the Nazarene’s extraordinary destiny through the mystic foresight of the Magi.

At the opening of this new year, we are each tasked with examining ourselves and asking what we are being called to do in the broken country in which we find ourselves. Two things emerge for me as a dual call for an engaged spirituality embedded in the events of this Epiphany: radical discernment and radical hospitality.

We need to hone our capacity to spot false prophets and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” On spotting them, we need to denounce their malfeasance emphatically while being swift to seek authentic reconciliation.

Our new year opens with a compelling urgency around the real- time meaning of discipleship in action. We must renew our commitment to authentic resonant leadership at a time when those qualities appear in far shorter supply than was the case in years past.

I look forward to embracing the role of informed and involved citizen in support of the new administration with a passionately engaged Franciscan witness.

May we see the promulgation of wisdom, humility, integrity, accountability and pursuit of the common good.

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

St. Francis of Assisi

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or distribution of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

It’s New Years Day 2021, and we mark it’s arrival with the Times Square countdown . We celebrate it with champagne, dance, music, fireworks, kisses and best wishes.

Some still make resolutions that are, for the most part, high-minded intentions with low probability of fulfillment. Nevertheless, it is a time when we look to turn the page. But, really turning the page is a far heavier lift than is the ebullient declaration of intent.

January 1 on the church calendar is also the day on which we commemorate the naming of Jesus in the Temple. The name “ Jesus” derived from the Hebrew verb “ yasha,” meaning “ to deliver, save, or rescue.”

Naming is a profoundly sacred act. There is synchronicity in it that so often correlates with the nature of the child as s/he grows into adulthood. My wife and I saw this very early in the lives of our two children: their differences and the degree to which they embodied their names.

Though they were named prior to birth, their names uncannily captured something of their character, personality, and temperament. The name “ Marc, ” for example, traces back to the Latin “Marcus” connoting “a warlike visionary with keen leadership qualities”. People with this name tend often toward competitiveness: aspirational, serious and goal-oriented. They are quick to challenge and debate. Our son has consistently shown these qualities from day one.

Kristen means “anointed” in Greek, and “ follower of Christ” in Latin. Our daughter demonstrated natural empathy and social intelligence very early in life. She is drawn to the helping professions and forms strong and enduring bonds. Creating moments of deep feeling and an affirmation of the dignity of other people has always been among her signature qualities.

Looking into the history of names reveals clusters of attributes that mirror the archetypes that undergird and inform them. It is interesting that in many religious traditions, second naming accompanies significant life passages.

In Zen Buddhism, one is given a new name by the Roshi upon receiving the Precepts. Traditionally, Confirmation was a time in the Roman Church when the confirmand would select a “ confirmation name”. Upon taking vows in Religious orders, monks and friars take on a new name that signify their sense of spiritual calling alluding to affinities for certain aspects of their chosen spiritual path.

Naming is both inspirational and aspirational. It focuses on the gift inherent in the Call to celebrate our uniqueness and work continuously on uncovering our true natures and best destinies.

I find myself wondering about the Call to become more truly ourselves with each passing year. I do so at the close of this “annus horribillus” in particular. Our life’s mission is to uncover our central tendencies from among the panoply of virtues (along with the shadow that accompanies them).

This is a good and meaningful focus for the New Year: an inflection point at which to look back at the pages we’ve written in our life book so far. Then, after honest recollection, we can ask:

1. What do the pages I’ve already written point to as things needing pruning, and where are my growing edges in answering the Call?

2. Are there better questions worth asking as I lean into this New Year?

But then, this annual discipline begs the question: why not engage in it more often?

Why mark time against rotation around the Sun when we can punctuate each 24 hour rotation of the planet with the same reflection?

This way, the annual summation will indeed be rich and fertile ground for new growth.

I wish you many illuminating new dawns and revelatory night watches that unpack the mystery inherent in your naming.

A Blessed New Year.

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The theater of the mind comes most fully alive in stories. The myths of all cultures are magnificently rich deposits of the many-layered projections of mind. Much as great art has the voice of the artists deeply embedded within it, so too do the repetitive storylines that we tell ourselves and each other with endless creative variation.

Myth is a phenomenon of passionate fascination for the analytically-inclined psychologist. Whether examining our dreams, or listening intently to the stories we tell over and over with idiosyncratic flourish, the evolving currents of consciousness can only truly be understood at the points where essential threads converge.

Psychic complexes have long been named after the dysfunctional machinations of the Greek pantheon. Freud personified psychic complexes with allusion to Greek myths such as Elektra, Oedipus, Adonis and Cassandra. Jung further codified the archetypes as patterning forces of the soul that shape our sense of meaning.

Jungian analyst and scholar, Marie Louis Von Franz, following Jung’s example, made a comprehensive study of the psychic roots of fairytales, number and even the place of matter in the world of psyche. The dynamics of consciousness give shape to our lives through emergent stories. They shed light on our perpetual quest to make sense of it all.

The science of psychology struggles to explain the rationale for human behaviors and our complex, conflicted, and paradoxical ways of being. While our experimental and neuroscience brothers and sisters offer interesting perspectives, it is only in entering deeply into the full theater of the soul that life can be understood. It is for this reason that fiction is crucial. The stories created out of our imaginations contain the essential tensions that seek resolution.

A return to the stories of Greek Myth can shed light once again on what we are living through as a country.

2020 has been a year of living on a razor’s edge, defined by an out of control pandemic, on the one hand, and an unhinged, megalomaniacal executive on the other. Making matters exponentially more horrible, we have been trapped in a cultural cult of Trumpian madness: a derangement we might well refer to as an Eris Complex.

Eris ( or the Roman equivalent, “ Discordia”), was the goddess of chaos, and strife. According to the myth, as told by Homer and Hesiod, Eris was the only one not invited to the Olympian wedding feast for Peleus and Thetis. She was excluded from the festivities owing to her reputation as the ultimate drama queen.

In an act of vengeful rage, she showed up anyway to toss a golden apple into the crowd. It might as well have been a hand grenade. Inscribed on it were the words “ to the fairest”. In spotting it, the other female Gods, (Aphrodite, Athena and Hera) began fighting over who deserved the Apple.

This gave rise to the famed “ Judgment of Paris” who was asked to adjudicate among them. He awarded it to Aphrodite. The Trojan War is said to have thus been set in motion. [ This is of course the archetypal inspiration for the story of “ Snow White” with evil personified by the poisoned apple given to her by the evil witch. ]

Trump (and those who have come under his toxic spell) is the all time grandmaster of tossing apples of discord into crowds to divide and foment war. Many of our fellow citizens took the fatal bite and are now seemingly locked in a state of perpetual and inconsolable quarrelsomeness.

There is no practical cure from this distemper save the need for the full throated arrival of Harmonia, Eris’s opposite. This is the spirit that clearly sets Biden’s promise apart. We need the counter-balance for all things Trump/ Eris recognizing that these oppositional forces will forever be engaged in a misery-producing tug of war.

The psychic milieu of Donald J. Trump replicates that of Eris. Trump’s only solace on losing the election is relentless rage. The only effective salve for his wounded ego lies in successfully hurting anyone and everyone he can that doesn’t enable the delusion that he won ( and by a landslide).

The most important question to ponder is whose voice inspires us ( the cries of Eris or the encouragements of Harmonia)?

Absent a true eradication of the dis-ease, we must rely on our daily spiritual practice to throw light on our own story and examine the dynamic forces at work in shaping it.

We need to watch out for the seeping poisons of pride and enmity that taint Trump’s endless supply of noxious apples. Even having these apples anywhere nearby is a problem. We have to choose wisely in deciding with whom we should spend time. If they have an apple and, like Gollum in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, they start referring to it as “ my precious,” run as fast as you can!

The best way to defeat the chaotic and discordant spirit of Eris is to not take her bait. This isn’t easy because the apples are just so shiny and inviting. Let us recall the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

When presented with a golden Apple designed to inspire pride and divisiveness, our prime directive must be to simply walk away.

Who is the fairest of them all?

We are when we celebrate our community together and embrace one another; when, to quote a favorite holiday movie of ours ( Love Actually) we see that “ love really is all around”.

A blessed and harmonious New Year to us all.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplications of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

… the student appears.

This inversion of the customary cliche comes to mind on this fourth day of twelve-tide ( or the 12 days of Christmas).

An apocryphal meme has it that this day commemorates the gift of the gospels ascribed to the four Evangelists of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John ( the four “ Calling Birds” of the popular carol “ the 12 days of Christmas”). While factually untrue, it does provide a timely heuristic for reflection.

The actual authorship of the Gospels themselves is still a matter of scholarly debate. What is crystal clear is that their authors were passionate about weaving a compelling narrative that would faithfully embody the heart of the ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

In their retellings, parable is the frequent device attributed to the Teacher. Allegory, analogy, and symbol are prayerfully hewn from relatable local agrarian and sociopolitical experiences. These were explanatory allusions to the ordinary everyday situations that punctuated peoples’ lives in the time of Jesus and his Apostles.

What particularly strikes me this evening is how often the twelve apostles ( the students) are portrayed as just not “ getting it”. They were, like us, not altogether ready to take in the full import and substance of lessons offered.

Many Gospel teachings struck them (as it does us) as counterintuitive or even in conflict (at least on the surface). Over the years, I have come to appreciate the teachings as more akin to Zen Koans intended to reach well beyond reasoned thought to intuitive or tacit knowledge.

Christianity is at its core an initiatic tradition. The teacher endeavors to arouse the knowledge of the Heart in the penitent seeker. While the teacher is an essential and great gift to the student ready to learn, s/he is as great a gift to the teacher ready to share his or her experience of the Sacred. The teachers understanding challenges the student whose questions help clarify the teacher’s narration.

A profound revelation has little meaning if it is left unspoken. Teaching is also the surest way to gain clarity oneself about what one is attempting to impart.

I recall complaining to a university undergraduate physics professor after a particularly abstract lecture that I understood very little, if anything, of his lecture. He responded: “ I understand. So, come next week ready to teach a 20 minute segment on it to the class”.

I honestly thought he was joking! Wishful thinking, I suppose.

My startled reaction made clear to him (and anyone within earshot) that I thought he completely misunderstood me. On the contrary, he suggested that preparation to teach it would be the surest way get me over the hurdle.

Well, I feverishly worked for days to put together a 20 minute lecture. When the day came, I nervously advanced to “ teach” the material. He added much to my explanations but, bottom-line, I was in a far better place and recall to this day what he added to make my explanations clearer and more complete.

Famed physicist, Richard Feynman, suggested that the best way to learn anything is to teach it to a child without jargon of any kind. So, indeed, when the teacher is truly ready then and only then will the students who can receive it fully appear.

Our society celebrates the contributions of great women and men who seem often to find their genius in their 30s ( if not younger). Regrettably, we see way fewer celebrations of experience and knowledge that finds its full voice much later in life ( after age 60). This of course says more about our cultural expectations than it does about wisdom.

Our elder saints have a treasure trove of accumulated life experiences and reflections to impart if only we work to tap it. In reaching out to our elder saints in the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, we have been calling on them ( many of them octogenarians) to tell their stories. The depth of the well of talents and insights has been awe-inspiring, and we are still skimming the surface.

Chronological age is an impoverished metric in itself. After all, one often tells a story many times in a lifetime before we get it just right. Each retelling raises the odds of revealing a nuance missed in an earlier rendition that makes all the difference. This is the power of the oral tradition.

It opens toward revelation resident lying many fathoms deeper than accessible on a first hearing. Consider the practice of reading scriptural passages many times over yet never exhausting their power as lenses on life experience.

When each teacher is truly ready, their stories sample from the swiftly moving currents of the river of life. It is a great blessing indeed for the teacher, uncovering some delicious epiphany, to find a student eager to embrace and ponder it.

Only by giving voice to a shift in one’s understanding can the sacred spark that flows among us be made truly alive. I recall Thomas Merton’s autobiographical Seven Story Mountain, a tale of a young man’s conversion. While compelling, Merton himself critiqued it years later for its obvious triumphalism and overly abundant certitudes.

These are the usual symptoms of youthful autobiographical writing . One can clearly see the deeper layering and nuance in Merton’s later writings (such as New Seeds of Contemplation).

Let us be telling and writing our stories often and allow them to ripen with time like fine wines. In this way, we can acquire the gifts awaiting us on the fifth day of Christmas: “five golden rings.”

Tradition has it that these represent the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or the Pentateuch. May we come to plumb their greater depths through the lens of the Four Gospels to better appreciate the sacred subplots running though our daily lives.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplicationsd of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Yuletide Expressions

A Humble Christmas 2020

“ Deck the halls with boughs of Holly, fa la la la la, la la la la,‘tis the Season to be jolly …”

This oft played classic Christmas carol captures the secular tradition of decorating our homes, businesses and main streets with brilliantly colored lights and ornaments. In almost every town, there are those that go “ Baroque” with as many sometimes award winning displays of lights, inflatables and even animatronics designed to awe passersby. It is an annual expression of the American appetite for competitive flamboyance.

I am always struck by the juxtaposition of the luminous eye candy against the humble beginnings of the “ Prince of Peace” in a cave. St Francis of Assisi embraced Lady Poverty and celebrated simple joy in all creation as it is naturally adorned. Nothing fancy was needed, just the recognition of the delicious surprises of sacred Presence.

Rather than happiness, Francis and his brothers and sisters pursued “ perfect joy”: the inexhaustible delight that transcends the character of events that occur. As followers after the example of Saints Francis and Clare, we are drawn to the simple and we find in it authentic liberation.

On Christmas Eve, we were blessed with quiet time with my daughter, son in law and granddaughter, Zoey Ava. Owing to Covid 19, there was no travel agenda as might usually be the case. We had a lovely day of being together accented by a smorgasbord of painstakingly prepared delights for Christmas Eve. Her wonderful dad, Stephan, labored for hours to prepare a spread of scrumptious hors d’oeuvres.

We had creatively prepared meatballs in a balsamic glaze reduction, French Brie with an onion cumin and coriander marmalade, cream cheese stuffed baked jalapeños ( seeds carefully removed) and air-fried eggplant. It was indeed a grand feast!

Surprisingly, Zoey seemed to really enjoy a few bites of the Jalapeños. Then, asked if she wanted more of one or more of the specially prepared treats, she took a few moments of quiet thought and then enthusiastically declared:

“ I want Mac N’ Cheese for Christmas!

We all had a hearty laugh at her honest and simple request for a favorite food, and her Dad promptly complied. Children have an arresting and endearing way of bringing us back to light-heartedness, the beautifully simple and unadorned. They are honest, spontaneous, direct and uncomplicated.

On so many occasions these days , I find myself reflecting on the words of Jesus captured in Matthew 18:3 – “Truly I tell you,” He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Special holiday foods are, of course, great fun. What I walked away with was a sense of the sheer joy of even sharing the simplest foods with loved ones. That sharing is the quintessential transformational spice as a moments reflection back to our own childhood Christmases attests.

This is the true and living Eucharistic repast. With love as the principal ingredient, the simplest food and activity enjoyed together becomes a storied memory. As our hearts are converted, the whole world becomes radiant.

I hope you too have many such moments in this sacred season and in the year to come.

Christmas Blessings.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplications of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.