Monday, September 30, 2019

Review for the book Democracy in Chains.

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for AmericaDemocracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is readable, articulate and eye-opening. I have read Dark Money by Jane Mayer before this, a couple of years ago, and this is a follow up of sorts by a different author.

The book talks about Libertarianism. This is a frightening political POV. As I understand it, the main
tenant of Libertarianism is liberty. However, liberty to this faction means liberty from government. The ability to make their own decisions without public obligation, without environmental constraints, without public schools, social security and Medicare, without anything that takes money out of their pockets to benefit community.

I can't imagine that there are too many poor Libertarians. Instead this political POV has no hesitation to stripping basic help away from people who they deem unworthy. Note the recent headlines that the 45th administration will pare down the food stamp program, SNAPS. I think that the Public Charge regulations that have been in the headlines are also of the Libertarian ilk. The 45th administration threatens to "make it harder for immigrant persons with legal status in the United States to obtain a green card if they use benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or other public benefits. U.S. immigration law already screens out those that might become a burden on society, but this new rule greatly expands the definition of public charge and who might become one. While use of cash assistance has traditionally been a criteria that might disqualify someone from legal immigrant status, it has now been expanded to include Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps, and housing assistance like Section 8 housing vouchers." From the Witness in Washington from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness.

While Public Charge regulations are not cited directly in this book, it is certainly where my mind went when I read about the Libertarian philosophy. A synopsis of this POV would be: "If someone has failed to save for their own retirement, tough luck. Why should I put money towards their care?" There is no sense of civic duty, no compassion. Many of these people have inherited wealth but, like Donald Trump, believe that they are self made million/billionaires and do not see how our society has enabled them to grow their wealth. There is no understanding, or desire to know, about systemic poverty that comes from racist and other policies that are intentionally designed to keep marginalized people marginalized. i.e. redlining African Americans to prevent their ability to purchase homes which is a traditional method of investment.

The book is indeed deep. However, it is well researched and the author writes well. I strongly urge those who read this "book report" to obtain your own copy (library or purchase, including used which is how I got mine) and read it. The end of the book cautions that at some point these values will become irreversible and will change our American society permanently. Just seeing what is happening under the 45th administration is a foretaste of what that change could mean. To me, it is unacceptable.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 4, 2019



It has probably been at least a year since I have written here.  I know because recently it was the one-year anniversary of Senator John McCain’s funeral and Aretha Franklin’s funeral.  At the time of the funerals (the general time, not specifically when the funerals were happening) my daughter and I were spending time at the family storage unit that is about 20 minutes away from the community in which we live. 

I was going to write some things that came to me while we went through some family things and I had written a list, and guess what?  Somehow the list got lost and I never did get around to writing. 

I am going to recall some of that and segue into why I decided to post on blog today, which is somewhat thematically the same if not a different content.

I retired from the Presbyterian Church (USA) on August 31, 2018, it has been just a year.  It was a poignant time for the United States, and it was a time of reflection for me.  Unlike a private company that gives material gifts to people when they retire, the church does not give things like a gold watch.  I don’t know if that is the go-to gift anymore, but that is what as I grew up seemed to be the marker for that major event in someone’s life.

My daughter and I were going through family belongings including many pictures of deceased family members.    She and I, and my son are pretty much the family that we have left.   Joyfully she is married and I have a granddaughter, so the next generation of the family has arrived.  I do have living cousins and am grateful for their presence in my life and for the gift of technology that enables us to stay in touch.

Frankly it was hard to see pictures of so many that have gone before us.  I was certainly glad to have my daughter’s company during that time.  It was intensified as our country focused on the preparations for and the funerals themselves of two beloved people who were and will continue to be so important in the culture and history of the United States. 

I also reflected on how different those two funerals were!  One the funeral of a Statesman.  The other the funeral of an iconic singer who not only touched our hearts by her music but also led a colorful and inspiring life.  A picture of her casket that I saw showed high heeled shoes that had been placed above the top.  John McCain’s funeral was much more dignified and special in its own way.  Don’t think I am insulting Aretha by saying that JM’s funeral was more dignified.  The two people and the two funerals were just significantly different and that is how the United States is!  We are diverse and colorful and somber and ceremonial. 

So all of these ribbons were floating around in my heart and head and life at the time of my retirement last August.  The joy of knowing that I had served well and loved my work in China and Africa tempered the feeling that something significant in my life was ending.  When I left South Sudan, the circumstances were such that neither I nor the Nile Theological College where I served nor World Mission in the Presbyterian Church (USA) knew that I would not be returning to my post.  There was no going away lunch at a South Sudanese restaurant by the Nile River as had happened for other colleagues, so there was no real sense of closure.  I couldn’t give hugs and in-person good-byes.  I lost a precious opportunity to let the community that I participated in know how much they meant to me, in the flesh.

I am retired.  I see the pictures of those in the family who have gone ahead of myself and my children and now my granddaughter.  There is such an awareness of life ending and new people coming in and both the continuity and also the endings.  And at the same time all of this is going on in my heart and my head there are two important national figures who have died and the country is in mourning and their endings are being celebrated and the closure is on the television set for all to see.

I remember a commentator at the JM funeral saying, so many of know that when we die this is not the kind of funeral that we are going to have.  Yes.  My belief, as a retired Presbyterian pastor, is that God gives each of gifts and mission.  Some are well known on the public and perhaps even world stage, and others are well known and loved by a small band of people known as their community.  Sometimes it can lead to a person feeling somewhat insignificant.  That is not the truth and yet a person can be forgiven for feeling such.

So now today the 2020 Democratic Presidential Climate Town Hall on CNN is taking place.  I am being discerning in who I watch on this particular stage as I am also doing other things today, dishes, laundry, you know, the normal stuff of life that one does when one does not have household help.  (Which I did have when I lived overseas.)

I watched John Yang and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar.  I will turn the TV on again for Elizabeth Warren and some of the others after her. 

I must say that I really like Amy Klobuchar.  She is from the Midwest and I always think of something that I heard in seminary as many of us were preparing to discern calls in specific churches by God and the larger church.  There is always such a mix of people who are geographically limited and people who know that they will have to relocate in order to answer a call. 

In the mix of all of this I distinctly remember someone telling a group of us that women in ministry in the Midwest would not be impossible.  “Men and women are used to working in the fields together.”  Amy is down to earth.  She feels to me connected to the pulse of the place where food grows, the earth that we walk on, the earth that Jesus walked on.  She has very practical solutions for things and I like that.

As she talked I realized that there is going to come a point where I will no longer be here to see how her, or someone else’s vision, plays out in the United States and from there, the globe. 

I recently went to a beautiful and informal memorial service of a woman who had been for years in a church I attended as I went to college and was called to seminary and then was ordained and began a call to another church.  It was essentially a picnic with tables and chairs on one of the islands that we have here in the Pacific Northwest.  I was grateful that another church member had called to ask me if I would like to go.

I can’t remember exactly when it was to be honest.  What I was so aware of on the drive were the leaves of the trees.  They were so green and it was a beautiful day.  I had a time of being in what is known as a “thin place”.  As a thin place it was one of those times of experiencing the feeling that comes when there is a perception that the distance between heaven and earth has shrunk and time and space seem to be in a different dimension for a period of time.

 I kept thinking about generations.  I now know people who have great great grandchildren.  Amazing!  This will likely happen less and less as people in the United States seem to be having children later and later in life.  For much of the country the days of having kids at 19 or 20 and then the next ones doing the same where there really could be five generations at once, possibly six?  Is not probably going to be something that we see very often.  While there is a continuity of generations the modeling and mentoring and sharing among older and newer is not going to be as common. 

So there was that.  There was also a sense, not in a morbid way, that someday I won’t be here any longer.  The generations will pass on.  Someday my daughter will be a grandma and so on and so forth.  I have a place in this continuity, and at the same time, my place gets vacated at some point and a new person takes that spot. 

I am still fairly young.  I have been told that my life expectancy is for another twenty years.  I also am facing the possibility that I may be facing some health issues and that is a little bit scary.  In awareness of that I am realizing that for so many years I knew that of course people die, but it seemed so far away.  Now, not so much.  Twenty years can be a long time, but not so long when you know it is the last twenty years.  So I know that the awareness of my mortality is sharpened now and is a real thing. 

I also have realized as I contemplate these things that I feel for me facing death squarely in the here and now, whenever that is, would seem to be a little bit easier when one is of a perhaps more expected age for death.  In other words, at 64 I don’t feel like this would be a natural time to die.  Twenty years later it would be seem to be more so.  Of course, in twenty years I might not feel like that at all!  But it does have to end sometime.

I certainly know that I am not ready to leave right now even though, ironically, it is not my choice when God would choose to call me home, so to speak in Christian parlance. 

I wrote in my journal recently that perhaps when one is closer to death one is more ready for it to occur.  By that I mean, at this moment (not withstanding what results of medical tests may be in three weeks) my body is reasonably healthy and my mind is reasonably present.  In twenty years perhaps this will not be so and I will be more ready to let go of this earth and the people I love, in order to join the generations who have gone before me and have someone else, another generation, fill that hole, that space, that was once me.

I hope that some of this makes sense.  I also hope that perhaps someone that is reading it will have been helped by it.  For me sometimes it is reading something that someone else has written that I have been thinking that helps me. 

I need to preach again.  I need to experience the “kernel” again.  Sermons are for me first and then a gift for others.  The kernel is when I am present with the Spirit in the Scripture and there is a “conversation” occurring and in that moment I see what the kernel is in the Scripture.  What the meaning is.  That becomes the repeatable line in the sermon that people can follow and understand what the Spirit is conveying.  The funny thing is that often times people hear something entirely different from what the preacher says!  Because the Spirit uses the words to say to the person what their own kernel is.

Blessings to you all.  Thank-you for allowing my processing and my journey to be a part of your time and your life.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

It's My Birthday and I'll Be Tired If I Want would be tired too if it happened to you.....

It does happen to be my birthday, although it wouldn't have to be to write this post.

I am losing steam.  I find myself being grateful that raising my children is behind me, that my education is behind me, that my ten years of traveling and and living in different countries is behind me.  It is maybe because of all that?  that I am getting so tired.

Friday my daughter and I spent two and a half hours at what had been my storage porta box and is now the family porta box.  We were sorting through boxes, deciding what goes to Good Will, what gets taken home for further storing, what gets put in the back of the box and left for the next generation (granddaughter) to deal with someday.  Thankfully my daughter is strong and she is also very good at organizing things.  Many of the boxes I was not able to lift and she was right on top of them, moving them around and putting that box is order.  When we left it had a shape and form as well as substance and content.

And my body hurt everywhere.  I went home and was in bed by about 6:00 p.m.  I can't do heavy lifting anymore.  In reality I never could but I was at least able to survive long days and in traveling times, sometimes several changes of plane in different countries in a 24 hour period.  Not no more.

Yesterday, Saturday, I got a call from my daughter asking if I could come and help her sort months and months of Tupperware out.  She is a Tupperware Consultant and has recently moved up to Manager.  These are good and wonderful things and at the same time she has a toddler who looooovvvveeeesss getting into mommy's boxes....   So I went and spent several hours with her working on that project.  I think I made it until almost 8:00 p.m. and again I could hardly move.  I got in my car and drove the whole five minutes to get to my own place and was in bed pretty darn quick.

Friday I began thinking about (not for the first time) about death and about what remains behind when a human being dies.  Yesterday the United States lost a great Senator, John McCain, to death, which rather intensified my thinking process.

We of course leave behind our bodily remains, whether by cremation or burial.  We also leave behind our earthly remains.   In the United States it is likely that even a homeless person whose possessions can fit into a shopping cart has something to leave behind.  Most of us own something.  A change of clothes perhaps, maybe a sleeping bad or a battered tent.  On the other end of the spectrum people leave behind houses full of stuff.  Some of that stuff may be very valuable, some of it may not.  Book collections, china and silver collections, clothing, cars, etc.

I have been sorting through and downsizing, and upsizing, and downsizing for approximately fifteen years.  First I left a house and had three porta boxes.  I also gave a great deal away, desks and cameras are two things I remember, and they went to Good Will.  As I left the country to follow God in first discernment, and then as a Mission Co-Worker, I would return each year to sort through those three porta boxes.  Every year.  It gets old really fast.

And yet there are things that are really hard to let go of this side of Glory.  Books, family pictures, family furniture.  It is both things that are mine in the here and the now, like the books; and things that connect me to the past and the folks who have gone before me into Glory, like pictures and furniture.

Now I am down to what is in my apartment and what is in a part of the storage unit, the porta box.  For this lifetime I may have given away as much as I am able to do without breaking my heart.  Books are just a part of my blood.  I have given so so many, even in China I left boxes and boxes of books at the Chinese Pharmaceutical University where I taught Oral English, and left books with Chinese friends there; English books that would be dreadfully hard for them to obtain on their own.  I have ethnic clothes that were tailor made for me in different countries.  Many are gone because of circumstances like the Civil War in South Sudan where everything in my apartment was lost because I could not return to claim it.  And yet I have the clothes that were made for me later on in Africa.

There is so much treasure on earth here in the United States.  And then there are people in countries that live through Civil War or who are innocent victims of war being done to them.  Like South Sudan and Yemen.  In those cases truly all a person may have are the clothes on their backs.

When we die we leave behind our fleshly body.  AND we leave behind our earthly remains.  Those remains include all of the things that in our mortal, perishable existence we collected, loved, shared, willed to the generations that follow us, or felt burdened by because how does one let go of paintings that one's mother has painted, or beat up tables that belonged to a grandmother?

There is clearly so much more that could be said on this topic, this is just a beginning.  I must now get ready to go to church.  As an ordained pastor in the Seattle Presbytery I have the honor of helping with the installation of another female pastor into service in a church here in the presbytery today.  Even though Presbyterians do not have the Apostolic connection as some other denominations do, non the less we pass on traditions and those things which through our God, are not mortal and are not perishable.  This is something that we will leave behind when we die as well.  Being part of a faith tradition is to be a part of the past, the present and the future.  To leave behind earthly remains, and to leave behind heavenly treasures.

And there is the gift. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Family Reunification

Yesterday I was at a small park near home with my daughter and granddaughter.  There was an older Asian couple with a young boy there as well.  He was using the playground equipment and they were pushing him on the swings and keeping watch as he used the slides, etc.

I thought about the fact that they probably lived with the boy's parents, I was assuming of course that they were his grandparents.  In Asian countries  retirement age is often at a younger age than it is here in the United States.  Extended families, at least in the past, have often lived together in one dwelling and it is a normal practice for grandparents to care for the grandchildren while the parents work outside of the home.  With forgotten children in China, where parents are gone to a big city to work for much of the year, the grandparents essentially raise the grandchildren.

Something clicked for me and I realized what I was seeing in real time is "chain migration" or family reunification.  Chain migration is something that the 45th administration of the United States wants to eliminate or severely curtail.  This is when one member, or perhaps a nuclear family, immigrates legally (documented) to the states.  Then they sponsor family members in their home country who migrate in a chain to the states. 

If one looks at this through the lens of family reunification then we can see that this is a natural way for people in most of the world to live.   South America, Asia and Africa all have cultures in which it is natural for whole families, and several generations, to live together, to help care for one another and the little ones, and therefore to move together when opportunity presents itself. 

I suppose this means that chain migration is an industrialized, modernized way to look at the same thing.  The United States is certainly a country that puts a premium on independence.  Families are mobile, often moving many times for job opportunities in other parts of the country, and we are used to doing this on our own. 

I think that perhaps 45 and his administration do not understand the cultural reasons and the cultural value behind family reunification.  This is not seen by those who apply to sponsor family members as a way to create a terrorist network.  It is a seen as a way to keep the family intact, to not create splinters of the family on different sides of the Atlantic, or between North and South America.  Because the modern United States does not function in this familial culture, there is a lack of understanding as to the intent and desire behind this kind of immigration. 

This lack of understanding spills further into categories such as putting tariffs on countries in an attempt to force their governments to conform to the will of the government in Washington, D.C., but instead those extra taxes are causing calamity to the lives of the citizens in those countries.  And their governments may not care that the citizens no longer have access to health care or affordable food. 

I think that our administrations should be required to take missionary training.  Not to become missionaries, instead to learn about cultural differences and to be sensitive to the ways in which other parts of the world view the world and one another.  Surprisingly, everyone is not just like us.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


December. Decembers have been milestones in my life twice. The first time was my college journey to Israel/Palestine in 1996. We were there for two profound weeks. The second was December of 2013. I left Malakal, South Sudan on December 6th (after finishing teaching, grading and submitting grades for the college.) I spent a week in Juba, South Sudan getting a six month in and out visa, with the help of South Sudanese colleagues. I believe it was December 13th that I flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Christmas. The 14th I went to the international Christmas Bazaar there, had a wonderful time meeting friends and purchasing special things from Africa. That night we began hearing reports about fighting breaking out in South Sudan. I was never able to return to Malakal. In the Spring of 2015 I returned to South Sudan, going to Juba. The college (The Nile Theological College) where I taught had relocated to the Capital and that is where I was called. By September I had to return to the United States for a hip replacement. I never went back. The trajectory of my life had/has changed, beginning with that December of 2013. Well, really beginning long before that, it kept getting corrected as my call in ministry became increasingly clear. But doors closed in December of 2013. When you can't get back into a town, or a country, because of Civil War, things change.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For today.

I am now in the midst of unpacking and finding places for things and deciding what must go -- to other homes and other people.  I am also experiencing, again, the difference between the vision and what it takes to get to the end of the vision.  Meaning, I can/could see this wonderful cozy home and new life; and now I have to do the work to get to that vision.

I no longer belong in either world, expat or repat.  Or, I belong with a foot in both.  Life will always be a bit strange here now; one of the ways that I experience this is in my vocabulary.  Trying to remember a word, or an idiom, to express what I am wanting to share with someone.  A recent confusion was paper clips, no, clothes pins....both things that hold things together....not being sure if clothes pin was the correct word for what I was searching for.  Dish towels and cloths.  The English language is complex and once I have left behind some of the holding everything taunt, sometimes the meaning or the nuance escapes me.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dear Friends,
Well, goodness, I did not realize that it has been more than a year since I last blogged!  And what a year it has been.

I am hoping that by dipping my "pen" back into this blog I will find myself coming again and again and sharing more fully my Debbie's Journey Continues with you.  Somedays it is all I can do to very briefly journal, let alone to blog and write a more substantial accounting of my day and my life.

I will be back.