Public Theology

December 11, 2019

[Serene Jones is the President and Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. She was formerly the Titus Street Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and chair of gender, woman, and sexuality studies at Yale University.]

“…good theology absolutely must be public theology. What is theology, if it’s not talking about our collective lives and the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we’re supposed to live together and who God is, in ways that are part of our conversation together?


God creates us to be glorious: gives us powers of intellect and love and connection and art, and we’re capable of amazing, extraordinary accomplishments. And yet, right next to this glorious side is this weird propensity that human beings have to choose what is not good for them, to choose evil, to sin, to close their eyes to the love of God and their own glory and to become harmful and self-destructive and destructive of others. And life is the struggle of those two realities within us. And they never go away. It’s not like you get over the sin part and become glorious; it’s not like you’re ever only sinful. That is the complex nature of who we are.”

[A Nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph separated and caged, as asylum seekers detained by ICE. Baby Jesus is wrapped in a foil blanket.]

“And the second thing I’d say about this political moment — and it’s a deeply theological claim — is, I honestly think, at the heart of our nation’s turmoil is the fact that people honestly do not believe that we are all equal and loved equally and equally valued. They just don’t believe that.”

‘You’re set free, actually, by the telling of the truth.’

“I realize that it’s my work to do, but I’m not going to be here to see what comes. And that’s OK. But we got a lot of work to do in these next years, all of us together, even if we don’t know where we’re going.”

And then James Baldwin says,

“I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense, but as a state of being, or a state of grace, not in the infantile American sense of being made happy, but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

The real ‘Hound Dog.’

Remembering Big Mama Thornton, born on this day in 1926 in Ariton, Alabama. Here she is performing “Hound Dog” in 1965 with Buddy Guy, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Lee Robinson and Fred Below.

Let’s compare.

(He was good, though, wasn’t he…1952.)

And then…there’s Forrest.

Capacity to Wonder

December 10, 2019

Everything is a miracle. -Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD

When you lose your wonder, life loses its juice. Look around you today and notice the simple miracles you see: babies, the sun birds, the stars. Keep a sense of wonder with you all day.

What wound did ever heal but by degrees? -William Shakespeare

Not all family members get along. You can’t force things. If you feel the pain of a recent loss, don’t expect the healing to be immediate. Light a candle and think about those you love; give in to a bit of sadness. It’s nature.

Each new year we replace pages in our loose-leaf daybook where we’ve lost a loved one or a friendship has faded. Life goes on and you will have a deeper capacity to love and empathize in the coming year.


Partisan & Destructive

December 9, 2019


Paul J. McNulty, Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration & the chief counsel and spokesman for the committee Republicans, and now a college president, said the fight over impeachment had gone from “partisan but constructive” in 1998 to “partisan and destructive” now.

“That dynamic had the potential to damage the nation’s politics for years, and could permanently alter the intent of the authors of the Constitution.”
“My hope would be, as a citizen, that when this is over, somehow, some way, we could stop and think about what impeachment was meant to be for.”
“In a deeply polarized nation where party rules above all else, a process enshrined in the Constitution as the most consequential way to address a president’s wrongdoing has devolved into another raucous partisan brawl.”
[Jay Rosen, press critic, writer, and professor of journalism]
People are asking me what I thought of this. I read it as a confession: We’re out of ideas. “Both sides” and “so divided” is all we got.
Jay Rosen is a media critic, writer, and a professor of journalism at New York University.
Rosen is a contributor to De Correspondent and a member of the George Foster Peabody Awards board of directors.

Declaration of Conscience

December 8, 2019

U.S. Senate History

June 1, 1950

Photo of Margaret Chase Smith

As Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine boarded the Senate subway, she encountered the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy. “Margaret, you look very serious,” he said. “Are you going to make a speech?” Without hesitation, Smith replied: “Yes, and you will not like it!” The date was June 1, 1950, and Smith was about to deliver the most memorable speech of her long career.

Four months earlier, McCarthy had rocketed to national attention. In a well-publicized speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, he claimed to possess the names of 205 card-carrying communists in the State Department. Smith, like many of her colleagues, shared McCarthy’s concerns about communist subversion, but she grew skeptical when he repeatedly ignored her requests for evidence to back-up his accusations. “It was then,” she recalled, “that I began to wonder about the validity… and fairness of Joseph McCarthy’s charges.”

At first, Smith hesitated to speak. “I was a freshman Senator,” she explained, “and in those days, freshman Senators were to be seen and not heard.” She hoped a senior member would take the lead. “This great psychological fear…spread to the Senate,” she noted, “where a considerable amount of mental paralysis and muteness set in for fear of offending McCarthy.” As the weeks passed, Smith grew increasingly angry with McCarthy’s attacks and his defamation of individuals she considered above suspicion. Bowing to Senate rules on comity, Smith chose not to attack McCarthy, but to denounce the tactics that were becoming known as “McCarthyism.”

“Mr. President,” she began, “I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition…. The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body…. But recently that deliberative character has…been debased to…a forum of hate and character assassination.” In her 15-minute address, delivered as McCarthy looked on, Smith endorsed every American’s right to criticize, to protest, and to hold unpopular beliefs. “Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America,” she complained. “It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.” She asked her fellow Republicans not to ride to political victory on the “Four Horsemen of Calumny–Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.” As she concluded, Smith introduced a statement signed by herself and six other Republican senators–her “Declaration of Conscience.”

Her speech triggered a public explosion of support and criticism. “This cool breeze of honesty from Maine can blow the whole miasma out of the nation’s soul,” commented the Hartford Courant. “By one act of political courage, [Smith has] justified a lifetime in politics,” commented another. Newsweek magazine ran a cover story entitled “Senator Smith: A Woman Vice President?” Critics called her “Moscow-loving,” and much worse. McCarthy dismissed her and her supporters as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs.”

Smith’s Declaration of Conscience did not end McCarthy’s reign of power, but she was one of the first senators to take such a stand. She continued to oppose him, at great personal cost, for the next four years. Finally, in December of 1954, the Senate belatedly concurred with the “lady from Maine” and censured McCarthy for conduct “contrary to senatorial traditions.” McCarthy’s career was over. Margaret Chase Smith’s career was just beginning.

[Full Script]

Mr. President:

I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition.  It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear.  It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch of our Government.

That leadership is so lacking that serious and responsible proposals are being made that national advisory commissions be appointed to provide such critically needed leadership.

I speak as briefly as possible because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism.  I speak as briefly as possible because the issue is too great to be obscured by eloquence.  I speak simply and briefly in the hope that my words will be taken to heart.

I speak as a Republican.  I speak as a woman.  I speak as a United States Senator.  I speak as an American.

The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world.  But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

It is ironical that we Senators can in debate in the Senate directly or indirectly, by any form of words, impute to any American who is not a Senator any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming an American — and without that non-Senator American having any legal redress against us — yet if we say the same thing in the Senate about our colleagues we can be stopped on the grounds of being out of order.

It is strange that we can verbally attack anyone else without restraint and with full protection and yet we hold ourselves above the same type of criticism here on the Senate Floor.  Surely the United States Senate is big enough to take self-criticism and self-appraisal.  Surely we should be able to take the same kind of character attacks that we “dish out” to outsiders.

I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul-searching — for us to weigh our consciences — on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America — on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.

I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution.  I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.

Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate, there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined.

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

            The right to criticize;

            The right to hold unpopular beliefs;

            The right to protest;

            The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs.  Who of us doesn’t?  Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own.  Otherwise thought control would have set in.

The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as “Communists” or “Fascists” by their opponents.  Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America.  It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.

The American people are sick and tired of seeing innocent people smeared and guilty people whitewashed.  But there have been enough proved cases, such as the Amerasia case, the Hiss case, the Coplon case, the Gold case, to cause the nationwide distrust and strong suspicion that there may be something to the unproved, sensational accusations.

As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican Party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge that it faced back in Lincoln’s day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation — in addition to being a Party that unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of “know nothing, suspect everything” attitudes.  Today we have a Democratic Administration that has developed a mania for loose spending and loose programs.  History is repeating itself — and the Republican Party again has the opportunity to emerge as the champion of unity and prudence.

The record of the present Democratic Administration has provided us with sufficient campaign issues without the necessity of resorting to political smears.  America is rapidly losing its position as leader of the world simply because the Democratic Administration has pitifully failed to provide effective leadership.

The Democratic Administration has completely confused the American people by its daily contradictory grave warnings and optimistic assurances — that show the people that our Democratic Administration has no idea of where it is going.

The Democratic Administration has greatly lost the confidence of the American people by its complacency to the threat of communism here at home and the leak of vital secrets to Russia though key officials of the Democratic Administration.  There are enough proved cases to make this point without diluting our criticism with unproved charges.

Surely these are sufficient reasons to make it clear to the American people that it is time for a change and that a Republican victory is necessary to the security of this country.  Surely it is clear that this nation will continue to suffer as long as it is governed by the present ineffective Democratic Administration.

Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation.  The nation sorely needs a Republican victory.  But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.

I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest.  Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.

I don’t want to see the Republican Party win that way.  While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people.  Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican Party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one party system.

As members of the Minority Party, we do not have the primary authority to formulate the policy of our Government.  But we do have the responsibility of rendering constructive criticism, of clarifying issues, of allaying fears by acting as responsible citizens.

As a woman, I wonder how the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters feel about the way in which members of their families have been politically mangled in the Senate debate — and I use the word “debate” advisedly.

As a United States Senator, I am not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism.  I am not proud of the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle.  I am not proud of the obviously staged, undignified countercharges that have been attempted in retaliation from the other side of the aisle.

I don’t like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity.  I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the Floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the Floor of the Senate.

As an American, I am shocked at the way Republicans and Democrats alike are playing directly into the Communist design of “confuse, divide, and conquer.”  As an American, I don’t want a Democratic Administration “whitewash” or “cover-up” any more than I want a Republican smear or witch hunt.

As an American, I condemn a Republican “Fascist” just as much I condemn a Democratic “Communist.”  I condemn a Democrat “Fascist” just as much as I condemn a Republican “Communist.”  They are equally dangerous to you and me and to our country.  As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.

It is with these thoughts that I have drafted what I call a “Declaration of Conscience.”  I am gratified that Senator Tobey, Senator Aiken, Senator Morse, Senator Ives, Senator Thye, and Senator Hendrickson have concurred in that declaration and have authorized me to announce their concurrence.

The declaration reads as follows:

1. We are Republicans. But we are Americans first. It is as Americans that we express our concern with the growing confusion that threatens the security and stability of our country. Democrats and Republicans alike have contributed to that confusion.

2. The Democratic administration has initially created the confusion by its lack of effective leadership, by its contradictory grave warnings and optimistic assurances, by its complacency to the threat of communism here at home, by its oversensitiveness to rightful criticism, by its petty bitterness against its critics.

3. Certain elements of the Republican Party have materially added to this confusion in the hopes of riding the Republican party to victory through the selfish political exploitation of fear, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance. There are enough mistakes of the Democrats for Republicans to criticize constructively without resorting to political smears.

4. To this extent, Democrats and Republicans alike have unwittingly, but undeniably, played directly into the Communist design of “confuse, divide and conquer.”

5. It is high time that we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom. It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques — techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.


“I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States senator. I speak as an American.”

By the mid-nineteen-fifties, Smith had emerged as a “figure of national importance.” In 1954, she was the fourth-most admired woman in the world, according to the Gallup Poll. “Someone once said that women will begin to go places,” one journalist wrote in a 1950 article observing the thirtieth anniversary of women’s suffrage, “when they were able to beat men at their own game.” Senator Smith, he added, had “consistently beaten men at the game of politics.”

Bernard Baruch expressed his regard more succinctly. Had a man delivered Smith’s Declaration of Conscience speech, he was purported to have said, “he would be the next President of the United States.”

[Bernard Mannes Baruch was an American financier, stock investor, philanthropist, statesman, and political consultant. After his success in business, he devoted his time toward advising U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt on economic matters.]

Journalism, Disinformation & The Weakening 4th Estate

U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

For student journalists, the beats are the same but the protections are different

‘The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents First Amendment aggressions in the United States, has collected student journalism-based incidents at both the university and high school levels. Since its launch in 2017, the Tracker has documented five cases of high school newspapers being censored or placed under prior review for their coverage of controversial topics. At the university level, it has collected two arrests, two physical attacks and three border stop involving student journalists, as well as three cases of subpoenas or legal orders.

In recognition of the expansion of student journalism as a key source of accountability and record for their local communities, two of the Tracker’s partners—the Student Press Law Center and the Newseum—along with the Freedom Forum Institute, declared 2019 the “Year of the Student Journalist.” This year also marks the 50th anniversary of a key Supreme Court decision in favor of student First Amendment rights: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.

While the Vietnam-era case of Tinker centered on students wearing armbands in protest, it has become the bellwether for free speech and journalism at both the high school and university levels. The 7-2 ruling iconically stated that neither “students [n]or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

While Tinker holds—for now—the state of journalism is rapidly changing. With legacy newsrooms shuttering and the number of working journalists contracting as freelancers increasing, the role of the student journalist has expanded to fill some of the void.’

Why it matters: The death of local news in America is routinely cited as one of the country’s biggest threats to democracy. With fewer opportunities in local journalism and less job security at the local level, finding talent to fill local newsrooms has become a central focus.

Even without the week’s depressing report on just how widespread is the loss of local news — 400 counties and counting, with no newspaper — let us be thankful for the people who are still out there trying to be watchdogs on local institutions. “If every American gave 30 minutes a day to an earnest and open-minded effort to stay on top of the news, we might actually find our way out of this crisis.”


We have to talk about technocracy, how it has driven massive sociopolitical change.

Media outfits, breaking from the high-minded, dispassionate liberalism that dominated journalism in the middle decades of the 20th century, earn enormous profits by whipping millions of viewers into a frenzy of furious anger at perceived slights and condescension. Political campaigns and even whole social movements are motivated by the perception of disrespect.

Bill Moyers:

“A democracy can die of too many lies. And we’re getting close to that terminal moment unless we reverse the obsession with lies that are being fed around the country.”


If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.

That’s one implication of a new study from Stanford researchers that evaluated students’ ability to assess information sources and described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak” and “[a] threat to democracy.”

As content creators and social media platforms grapple with the fake news crisis, the study highlights the other side of the equation: What it looks like when readers are duped.

The researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education have spent more than a year evaluating how well students across the country can evaluate online sources of information.

In exercise after exercise, the researchers were “shocked” — their word, not ours — by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.

The students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, the researchers wrote, getting duped again and again. They weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles.

Most middle school students can’t tell native ads from articles.

The researchers showed hundreds of middle schoolers a Slate home page that included a traditional ad and a “native ad” — a paid story branded as “sponsored content” — as well as Slate articles.

Most students could identify the traditional ad, but more than 80 percent of them believed that the “sponsored content” article was a real news story.

“Some students even mentioned that it was sponsored content but still believed that it was a news article,” the researchers wrote, suggesting the students don’t know what “sponsored content” means.

Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.

Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.

The researchers sent undergraduate students a link to a tweet by MoveOn about gun owners’ feelings on background checks, citing a survey by Public Policy Polling.

“The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world,” Wineburg told NPR. “And so the response is not to take away these rights from ordinary citizens but to teach them how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking and evaluating in a cacophonous democracy.”


David Brooks:

Modern individualism releases each person from social obligation, but “being guided only by the lantern of his own understanding, the individual loses all assurance of a place, an order, a definition. He may have gained freedom, but he has lost security.”

-Pascal Bruckner

Pascal Bruckner is a French writer, one of the “New Philosophers” who came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. Much of his work has been devoted to critiques of French society and culture.


“Happiness is a moment of grace.”

‘…the idea of democracy.’

Photograph by James Marabello / Alamy


The Impeachment Hearings and the Coming Storm

New Yorker

The madness of the moment lies in looking at how this came to pass, at how many people had to give up on the idea of democracy for things to come to this.

Almost always, I bite my tongue. But, yes, he is that bad, and this is unprecedented, and these acts are impeachable, and, if it seems as though people have been clamoring for his impeachment since he took office, that’s only because he has behaved abominably since he took office. Is abomination impeachable? No. But the abuses of office of which the President now stands accused are the very definition of impeachable.

The madness lies in looking, honestly, at how this came to pass, at how many people had to give up on the idea of democracy for things to come to this. The sadness lies in the recognizing of the unlikelihood of anything getting much better anytime soon, what with the slush and the sleet and the coming storm. A farmer walks across a field, bracing against the wind. Hardness is what’s required to get through a political winter: determination, forbearance, sacrifice, not bitterness but a certain sternness.

On Being

The Pause

Loving the Questions

In 1974, a 15-year-old Serene Jones sat at a campfire sing-along that helped shape her understanding of America and its complicated relationship to its own story. She and her fellow campers were singing along to the familiar lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” when she learned for the first time that the song actually has a few lesser-known verses, including:

“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?”

She writes in her book Call it Grace bout how hearing these more critical lyrics to a popular American song was a moment of revelation. Even decades later, she’s held onto the memory as a metaphor for America’s tendency to shine light on the “sunny, hopeful, and helpful” while “[lopping] off the uncomfortable verses about our lives.”

And in this week’s On Being, Jones talks about how her work as a public theologian is about reconciling these two realities in humanity: Both our propensity for love and connection, as well as our capacity for hatred and cruelty. She says it’s the work of connecting our personal stories to this bigger question — what does it mean to be human? — that makes theology such an important exercise. “What is theology, if it’s not talking about our collective lives and the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we’re supposed to live together and who God is, in ways that are part of our conversation together?”

Serene Jones describes theology as the place and story you think of when you ask yourself about the meaning of your life, the world, and the possibility of God. For her, that place is a “dusty piece of land” on the plains of Oklahoma where she grew up. “I go there to find my story — my theology. I go there to be born again; to be made whole; to unite with what I was, what I am, and what I will become.” In her work as a public theologian, Jones explores theology as clarifying lens on the present — from grace to repentance to the importance of moving from grieving to mourning.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” he wrote. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

‘Responsibility & Love’

December 7, 2019

The New Yorker


[Yegor Zhukov’s message about responsibility and love at his trial, for “extremism,” shows what political resistance can be and seems to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one.]

I was going to write a column about Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, about the way it once again showcased the two non-overlapping realities into which American politics has split. But then I caught up on another hearing that took place on Wednesday, this one in a Moscow court. A twenty-one-year-old university student named Yegor Zhukov stood accused of “extremism,” for posting YouTube videos in which he talked about nonviolent protest, his campaign for a seat on the Moscow City Council, and different approaches to political power. In his most recent video, recorded four months ago, he suggested that “madmen” like Vladimir Putin view power as an end in itself, while political activists view it as an instrument of common action. In many of his vlog entries, Zhukov is seated against the backdrop of the Gadsden flag—“Don’t Tread on Me”—which appears to hang in his bedroom in his parents’ apartment.

The prosecutor had asked for four years of prison time for Zhukov. On Friday, a Moscow court sentenced Zhukov to three years’ probation—an unusually light punishment probably explained by the public response to Zhukov’s speech, which several Russian media outlets dared to publish. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse on the day of the sentencing. As a condition of his probation, Zhukov is banned from posting to the Internet. The judge also ordered that the flag, which was confiscated by police, be destroyed.

Instead of writing my own column, I have translated Zhukov’s final statement, delivered in court on Wednesday. I did it because it is a beautiful text that makes for instructive reading. Parts of it seem to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one. Parts of it show what resistance can be. All of it, I hope, will make readers think twice before they use the word “Russians” to mean goons. I also hope it will serve as a reminder of what we miss while we are—rightly—obsessed with American politics, which is made more provincial every day by its isolationist President and the need to try to reduce the harm he causes. As for the column I was going to write, I will still have plenty of opportunities to write it, while the very young man who spoke the following words will be unable to publish for the next three years.

“This court hearing is concerned primarily with words and their meaning. We have discussed specific sentences, the subtleties of phrasing, different possible interpretations, and I hope that we have succeeded at showing to the honorable court that I am not an extremist, either from the point of view of linguistics or from the point of view of common sense. But now I would like to talk about a few things that are more basic than the meaning of words. I would like to talk about why I did the things I did, especially since the court expert offered his opinion on this. I would like to talk about my deep and true motives. The things that have motivated me to take up politics. The reasons why, among other things, I recorded videos for my blog.

“But first I want to say this. The Russian state claims to be the world’s last protector of traditional values. We are told that the state devotes a lot of resources to protecting the institution of the family, and to patriotism. We are also told that the most important traditional value is the Christian faith. Your Honor, I think this may actually be a good thing. The Christian ethic includes two values that I consider central for myself. First, responsibility. Christianity is based on the story of a person who dared to take up the burden of the world. It’s the story of a person who accepted responsibility in the greatest possible sense of that word. In essence, the central concept of the Christian religion is the concept of individual responsibility.

“The second value is love. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the most important sentence of the Christian faith. Love is trust, empathy, humanity, mutual aid, and care. A society built on such love is a strong society—probably the strongest of all possible societies.

“To understand why I’ve done what I’ve done, all you have to do is look at how the Russian state, which proudly claims to be a defender of these values, does in reality. Before we talk about responsibility, we have to consider what the ethics of a responsible person is. What are the words that a responsible individual repeats to himself throughout his life? I think these words are, ‘Remember that your path will be difficult, at times unbearably so. All your loved ones will die. All your plans will go awry. You will be betrayed and abandoned. And you cannot escape death. Life is suffering. Accept it. But once you accept it, once you accept the inevitability of suffering, you must still accept your cross and follow your dream, because otherwise things will only get worse. Be an example, be someone on whom others can depend. Do not obey despots, fight for the freedom of body and soul, and build a country in which your children can be happy.’

“Is this really what we are taught? Is this really the ethics that children absorb at school? Are these the kinds of heroes we honor? No. Our society, as currently constituted, suppresses any possibility of human development. [Fewer than] ten per cent of Russians possess ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. Some of these wealthy individuals are, of course, perfectly decent citizens, but most of this wealth is accumulated not through honest labor that benefits humanity but, plainly, through corruption.

“An impenetrable barrier divides our society in two. All the money is concentrated at the top and no one up there is going to let it go. All that’s left at the bottom—and this is no exaggeration—is despair. Knowing that they have nothing to hope for, that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring happiness to themselves or their families, Russian men take their aggression out on their wives, or drink themselves to death, or hang themselves. Russia has the world’s [second] highest rate of suicide among men. As a result, a third of all Russian families are single mothers with their kids. I would like to know: Is this how we are protecting the institution of the family?



“Wait and work with hope inside of the darkness.”

December 6, 2019

‘We must all hope and work to eliminate suffering, especially in many of the great social issues of our time. We work to eliminate world hunger. We strive to stop wasting the earth’s resources. We peacefully fight to end violence. We don’t ignore or capitulate to suffering, yet we must allow it to transform us and the world. Suffering often shapes and teaches us and precedes most significant resurrections.

The darkness of this world will never totally go away. I’ve lived long enough and offered spiritual direction enough to know that darkness isn’t going to disappear, but that, as John’s Gospel says, “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (1:5).’

-Fr. Richard Rohr

Center for Action & Contemplation

[Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.]

Jennifer Rose.

‘Conversations like these.’

New York Lands in Boise

December 3, 2019

“Dawn Whitson, a shelter resident making $12 an hour as a hotel receptionist, said she wanted to know why the city was spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the suit instead of putting the money toward more shelter beds or homeless services.”


A decade-old legal fight shapes a mayoral race and offers the Supreme Court a chance to weigh in.

BOISE, Idaho — During a recent mayoral debate at a Boise homeless shelter, after disposing of icebreakers like the candidates’ favorite Metallica album, the moderator turned to something more contentious: a decade-old lawsuit, now a step away from the Supreme Court. The case, Boise v. Martin, is examining whether it’s a crime for someone to sleep outside when they have nowhere else to go.

The suit arose when a half-dozen homeless people claimed that local rules prohibiting camping on public property violated the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The plaintiffs prevailed at the appellate level last year, putting the city at the center of a national debate on how to tackle homelessness. Now Boise — after hiring a powerhouse legal team that includes Theodore B. Olson and Theane Evangelis of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher — has asked the Supreme Court to take the case, a decision that could come within days.

Nobody at Interfaith Sanctuary, a shelter for 164 with bunk beds in neat rows, needed a primer. They had been talking about it for weeks. Before the debate, Dawn Whitson, a shelter resident making $12 an hour as a hotel receptionist, said she wanted to know why the city was spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the suit instead of putting the money toward more shelter beds or homeless services.

In the course of the one-hour event organized by the shelter, the two candidates, competing in a runoff election on Tuesday, heard plenty more about the issue. One person said there was a misconception that all homeless people are drug addicts. A veteran said he had $771 left over from his disability check each month but couldn’t find a room for less than $500, and asked what he was supposed to do.

Even before the answers, everyone knew who the room was for. Lauren McLean, the City Council president and top vote-getter in an inconclusive November election, opposes the city’s quest for leeway in policing the homeless. She says the solution should come from tackling poverty.

“Each of us, no matter our situation, has to sleep,” she said. “We need more beds. We need to create homes for our residents.”

Her opponent, Mayor David Bieter, seeking his fifth term, was unapologetic about fighting the lawsuit, despite the shelter crowd. Echoing the position of various Western cities that support Boise’s stand, Mr. Bieter argued that the ability to issue citations for sleeping outside is a little-used but necessary tool to keep homelessness in check.

“I’m really concerned when I see Seattle or Portland or San Francisco,” he said. “I go there and I see a city that’s overwhelmed by the problem, and people tell me all the time, ‘Don’t allow us to be like those other cities.’”

On the surface, Boise, a city of about 230,000 whose modest downtown does little to obscure the mountain views, is an odd point of origin for such a debate. Its annual homeless counthas found about 50 to 100 unsheltered people for the past seven years. A drive around town turned up a handful of people sleeping outside, a far cry from the blocklong tent cities in California.

But the city’s decision to appeal Boise v. Martin has elevated homelessness to a focus of an increasingly ugly campaign. Third-party mailers have put Ms. McLean’s picture next to a homeless encampment with the words, “Lauren McLean’s Future Boise.” She recently posted on Facebook that someone in a pickup truck was putting tents and sleeping bags next to “McLean for Boise” yard signs.

The city’s relatively modest homeless problem is cited by both candidates to bolster their positions. Each is essentially campaigning on the idea that rapid growth needn’t produce streets of destitution as it has in California — but the two diverge on the role that law enforcement should play.

To Mr. Bieter, the homeless crises in Los Angeles and San Francisco prove that the city’s power to issue citations and shoo sleeping people off sidewalks is needed to prevent larger camps from forming.

Ms. McLean calls for a different approach. “I think other cities got to the point where it was too late,” she said in an interview. “So let’s say right now we’re actually going to get to work to prevent homelessness instead of hanging our hat on getting the right to ticket people.”

The road to the Supreme Court’s doorstep began in the office of Howard Belodoff, a Boise civil rights lawyer. In 2009, after a local shelter closed, Mr. Belodoff filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of six homeless men and women who had been cited for violating city ordinances that prohibit sleeping on public property. Most of the plaintiffs were prosecuted and pleaded guilty, with the exception of Robert Martin, whose case was dismissed.

Mr. Martin and the other plaintiffs subsequently filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s ordinances. The case was litigated for several years before being appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Last year, in a decision that reverberated across the West Coast, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to cite someone for sleeping outdoors if there wasn’t any shelter available.

In August, Boise formally asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. While the Ninth Circuit has described its decision as “narrow,” the city’s petition portrays it as anything but, using words like “vast,” “far-reaching” and “catastrophic” to depict a picture of mass confusion and lawlessness arising from the court’s ruling. The filing goes on to say that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling could also imperil a host of other public health laws “such as those prohibiting public defecation and urination.”

“Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large,” it declares.

In an interview, Ms. Evangelis, from Gibson Dunn, said: “I don’t think that fighting for someone’s right to live and die in squalor is helping.”

In response, lawyers for the plaintiffs, quoting an earlier Ninth Circuit decision, argue that the court’s ruling in the Boise case merely “reflects the ought-to-be uncontroversial principle that a person may not be charged with a crime for engaging in activity that is simply ‘a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human.’”

Dozens of cities have filed briefs backing Boise’s position, saying that they are confused as to how broadly the Ninth Circuit ruling applies and that the decision has impeded enforcement of basic health and safety laws. In some cases, the cities contend, the decision has actually made it harder to build housing meant for the homeless.

Among Boise’s allies is Los Angeles, which has passed more than $1 billion in bonds for permanent supportive housing but has found steep neighborhood resistance. Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles city attorney, said the Ninth Circuit decision raised as many questions as it answered. For instance, to determine whether or not is in compliance with the ruling, does the city have to constantly count how many beds there are and compare it to the homeless population? Can Los Angeles prohibit sleeping in sensitive locations, such as next to new homeless shelters?

“The language, rather than citing clear principles where constitutional questions are at stake, makes local jurisdictions vulnerable to lawsuits as they struggle to achieve a balance between the legitimate rights and interests of homeless people and the legitimate rights and interests of other residents and businesses,” he said.

Whatever happens in the Boise mayor’s race, Boise v. Martin is far enough along that its fate now rests with the Supreme Court: Even if she is elected mayor, Ms. McLean said, she has no plans to withdraw from the case. “The case is moving forward — that ship has sailed,” she said. “I just still maintain that we can do this without ticketing folks and moving them into the criminal justice system, which will make it harder to find shelter, home and work.”



Richard Blanco

My sense of place — I have — it’s not quite a theory, but the way I’ve been thinking about it lately as an engineer — that everything has a physical landscape, an emotional landscape, and a natural landscape. And I think the way those three things combine form our sense of place and belonging and connection. -Richard blanco

“…what happens to our imagination about these humans when we use the word “immigrant” or “refugee” or, what I’m so aware of now, is what the word “migrant” has done. I think that language makes an abstraction of people and creates an ability for us to separate.” -Krista Tippett

‘As a longtime civil engineer by day and a poet by night, Cuban American writer Richard Blanco has straddled the many ways a sense of place merges with human emotion to form the meaning of home and belonging. In 2013, he became the fifth poet to read at a presidential inauguration (he was also the youngest and the first immigrant). The thoughtfulness, elegance, and humor of Blanco’s poetry and his person captivated the crowd for this live conversation at the Chautauqua Institution.’

Richard Blanco practiced civil engineering for more than 20 years. He is now an associate professor of creative writing at his alma mater, Florida International University. His books of non-fiction and poetry include Looking for the Gulf Motel and, most recently, How to Love a Country.


Richard Blanco — How to Love a Country

Terry Tempest Williams

“Death by suicide has teeth, and when it bites, it will not let you loose.” [Truth.]

39 minutes (7,820 words)

“We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.” —Virginia Woolf, The Waves


We had just celebrated my father’s eighty-fifth birthday. Louis Gakumba and I were driving back up to Jackson Hole. My husband Brooke texted me, “I love you. Pull over to the side of the road. Call me.” I knew it was Dan. I had been thinking of him as I was mesmerized by the immense cumulus clouds building in the west.

“Is Dan dead?”


“How?” But I already knew.

Dan had told me in April that he purchased the rope, that he was exhausted, that he couldn’t bear it anymore, “it” being life, that he saw no end or purpose to his suffering.

“I’m done, Ter.”

And I believed he was telling the truth.

“I am proud of him,” I said. Brooke was not prepared for my response; neither was I.

* * *

Dan Dixon Tempest hung himself on July 27, 2018, in the stairwell of his apartment building. He was found on his knees. The police never notified our family.

A close family friend, Darol Wagstaff, Dan’s landlord and mentor, called my father.

“John, I’m so sorry about Dan,” he said.

“What’s wrong with Dan?” my father asked.

“He’s gone.”

“Gone where?”

“He hung himself this morning.”

My father had left his card on Dan’s door: “We are gathering at Callie’s house. You are welcome. Love, John.”

Dan never came.

“What is the alternative?” Dan wrote in a notebook I found after his death.

He was a philosopher who wrote his master’s thesis on Wittgenstein and the eloquence of logic and language. He also laid pipe for the family business for decades, until he moved to California with his wife, took a job in logistics, and then was laid off after the economic downturn in 2008. He had a long history of depression, which led to isolation, which led to drinking to numb the pain, which led to opioids, which led to several runs of rehab. He took a job at HawkWatch International, banding and releasing raptors in the wildlands of Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico. He loved the hawks and eagles, especially the red-tails. One day in the desert, we sat on our front porch and he told me it took three men to bring in a golden eagle, how magnificent they were, the range and reach of their vision, but the red-tailed hawks were his favorite because they yielded. They seemed to understand what was happening to them, that their lives were not in danger. The birds became his passion and his metaphor, but they weren’t enough.

Not long before his death, he texted me: “I’m at my limit, sis — haven’t slept in 3 weeks . . . no sleep . . . no sleep . . . I am eroding.”

A few days passed.

“. . . to understand something is to be liberated from it”

“. . . and I can’t get pass’d bein’ liberated . . . where did I go wrong sister . . .”

My reply was this: “You haven’t gone wrong, Dan. You are a brilliant man. You just need to keep going and find your creative groove that will pull you to your destiny — This I believe.”

He sent me an image of a bound mummy on a bound horse.

‘What is the alternative?’ Dan wrote in a notebook I found after his death.

Later, Dan sent me the talk by Malcolm Gladwell on David and Goliath. He texted this quote: “As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once put it: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’”

And then this: “You can’t concentrate on doing anything if you are thinking, ‘What’s gonna happen if it doesn’t go right.’”

“I’m winding down on the whole existence thing . . . I want to be free . . .

stardust . . .”

I responded, “These are hard and lonely times. I don’t have much hope and then . . . There are these moments of beauty, a million people marching for justice, Dan. Stars in the night sky in the desert, your caring voice. I love you.”

“. . . just make sure you get me in the air . . . been buried too long . . . xoxo”

“Dan, I want to know what you know, please write. This is what I listened to this morning in my own Dark Side of the Moon: On Being — The Soul in Depression.”

“I have 2day . . . no point anymore . . . pretty much need to see things in these last days.”

“I love you.”

“. . . just put me in the air . . . all I ask . . .”

“I hope you will bury me first, Dear Heart. In the desert.”

“. . . won’t be around then Sis . . .”

“I need you to be, Dan.”

“We all do — you, me, Hank.”

“. . . Ter . . . I’m not fuckin’ around . . . mental illness is taking me out.”

“I believe you can get help, Dan. I hear you — and I am listening to what you are saying. There are medications that really can help, but you need a doctor and to take them on a schedule. You know this—”

“. . . evolve . . . I can deal with that.”

“I know you suffer — God knows, you are one of the strongest people I know, and most tender and smart. You are a beautiful soul, Dan.”

“. . . my brother said the same thing this afternoon . . .”

“Do you believe us?”

“. . . si . . .”

“I believe the three of us are evolving together — each in our own ways. Did you listen to that podcast I sent you? It’s powerful.”

“. . . agree . . . I just need a back door . . .”

“What do you mean?”

“. . . w/u and hank to deal w/it”

“Deal with what? Forgive me, I just need to understand what you are saying — a back door?”

“. . . come on . . . i’m not spelling it out.”

“. . . i don’t want to be here anymore . . . pretty simple . . . you understand that . . . i hope anyway.”

“Dan, I trust you and honor who you are and where you are. And I will forever believe in your greatness of spirit, as you continue to face and embody the vitality and courage of staying with the struggle. I understand. But it breaks my heart. I think there are roads not yet taken for you, Dan. And medication could help you return to yourself. I will just be honest, but you have to want that — and I know you are tired. But life is life. And creativity is in you to express. This I believe.”

“. . . my legacy was being addicted . . . I could never beat it . . . but I was a sensitive/intelligent soul . . .”

“You still could beat it. That is not your legacy. Your illness has been part of your addiction, but that is not your legacy. You ARE a sensitive/intelligent soul. I love you, Dan.”

“. . . ditto . . . just need to find some air for a spell . . . xxx”

“Dan, would you want to see Jonah Yellowman, a Navajo healer, this summer? He lives in Monument Valley, he’s the spiritual adviser for Bears Ears.”

“. . . sure . . .”


A few weeks pass. He sends me the song “Simple Man.”

“. . . so much right and wrong in my life . . . bipolar”

“Thank you for the music, Dan. How are you today?”

“. . . i’m ok. . . .”

“. . . good day 2day . . .”


Weeks pass, no word, and then, this:

“For the Love of God — Listen to this song, Ter”

“I love you. How are you?”

“. . . I think I have victory over dirt . . . finally . . .”

“What do you mean?”

“. . . i’ve done it all . . . nothing else to prove . . . open a new chapter . . . xxx”


* * *

He sends me a link of Kim Kardashian addressing Congress and meeting with Trump.

“. . . is this really where we’re at . . . ? . . . time to exit . . . i’m cracking the sky right now . . . luv ya . . .”

“I love you, my beautiful brother. Paint. Write. Dream. For me. Xxx T”

“. . . can you call me . . . it’s real important.”

I called Dan. He told me he had bought a rope. That he was going to go out “gently.

I said I would never let him go, nor would I ever give up on the Earth.

Please write that addicts are good people, sis. And then he said something that haunts me still: “Why can’t you see it, Ter. We’re fucked. You keep hoping things will change. I’m fucked. The planet is fucked. It’s time to exit. Face it, sis. It’s time to let me go, time to let it all go.”

There was a long pause. Neither of us spoke.

Let me go.

I said I would never let him go, nor would I ever give up on the Earth.

After our call, he texted me: “Let go. Repeat: I bought the rope, Ter. I’m going out gently. No guns. I would not do that to my brain. I will not disappear in the desert. You will not have to worry.”

I texted him again:

“Please. I will never give up on you or your joy, Dan. You are alive, a testament to your strength and will for Beauty even in suffering. I love you.”

“. . . I’m goin’ offline tomorrow for my sanity . . . knock if need be.”

A month later, May 9, 2018:

“. . . Ter . . . I’m suffering big time right now from deep loneliness . . . my question . . . ? . . . Do I reach outward to institutions or go inward to art . . .”

“Both, my dear heart, each supports the other . . . Paint, write, photograph. Seek the insight and help of an institution to steady your mind and then create out of what you are seeing, feeling, and learning once again. Please believe in your own creation born out of suffering and live. I love you, my beautiful brave brother.”

No response.

June 7, 2018:

“Tempest Family Name Meaning . . . English (Yorkshire): nickname for someone with a blustery temperament, from Middle English, Old French tempest(e) ‘storm’ (Latin tempestas ‘weather,’ ‘season,’ a derivative of tempus ‘time’).”

“It’s in our name, Sis . . . the weather is changing . . .”

The last text I received from my brother was on June 8, the same day Anthony Bourdain hung himself.

“. . . r u okay?”

I was out of range, traveling. I had been bitten a few days before by a brown recluse spider. Dad had told him. What I should have asked was “R u okay?” But I didn’t. Instead, I wrote this:

“I am okay. Skin didn’t go necrotic. Lucky. But it was scary. I see you have tried to call several times. We are in a remote place where phone service is slight. Thank you. I love you. T”


No one heard from Dan after June 8. He hung himself forty-nine days later. Who did he talk to? Where was he during those long summer days? Alone — holed up in his apartment? Downtown, mingling with the homeless? In the end, this was where he found his community, these were his peers with whom he found comfort and was comfortable. Were there moments of insight and peace, having made a decision to end his life, or was it only darkness? What do you do with all that darkness? Our brother Hank asked, “Where does darkness go?” Why that day? That moment? Where were we? He had a family. We were not there. My brother died of isolation — knock if need be.

I never did.

“Doesn’t the blood of every suicide splash back on our faces?” David Sedaris wrote about his sister’s death by suicide.

My brother hung himself.

They found him on his knees.

I am on my knees.

I cannot breathe.

When you lose a sibling, you lose yourself.

We were a tribe of four: three boys and a girl. Steve, Dan, and Hank. I was the oldest. Steve died from lymphoma in 2005. He was forty-seven years old. Dan died by his own hand. He was fifty-six years old. Hank and I are survivors. We know our DNA is a perfect match after being tested to see if we were a match for our brother Steve, who needed a bone marrow transplant in 2004. We were not a match for our brother and could not give him our cells. We struggled then. We are struggling now. But this death is different from the others. Death by suicide has teeth, and when it bites, it will not let you loose.

A noose. My brother’s suicide is a noose around my neck and it is tightening. The questions left will never be answered.

Grief is a physical landscape where no place feels safe. It is a state of being where sorrow holds the eyes steady. I stare. I stare out the window. Hours pass without moving. I stare at people who talk to me and hear nothing they say. I stare at burning candles. I stare at the sea. I stare into darkness unable to sleep. And when I do sleep, it offers the comfort of forgetting until I wake up and pain is there to greet me. The next day, flares of anger erupt unexpectedly. When I am able to function out of necessity, showing up to work, going to the grocery store, I get ambushed: a piece of music, a sentence, a memory, a person. The tears stream down my cheeks. No one can help me. Grief is my brother, my sibling. When I embrace grief, I am embracing him. This is how I feel him near. I ache. My heart hurts. We loved each other. Grief is my companion now. Everyone and everything else is a distraction. Sometimes appreciated. Sometimes resented. People don’t know what to say. I want them to say something. Alone in an empty parking lot, I scribbled a note on a piece of paper and pinned it on my jacket that said, “My brother committed suicide — Please talk to me.” I walked in circles for more than an hour, but there was nobody there. I didn’t really want to talk. I needed someone to notice what couldn’t be seen; I wanted another chance at loving Dan better.

Grief is a physical landscape where no place feels safe.

In my private moments I believed I could help save a piece of land or save a species, a prairie dog or grizzly bear, but now I know I couldn’t even save my brother. Grief burns through the bullshit. Death by suicide. Dan warned me. I chose not to see it, I chose denial instead of action. I heard his words, but I failed to hear the pain. In the end, it’s rarely the large gestures that count, it’s the small ones. I knew my brother was suffering. I knew he was in pain. I knew he was alone. I could have knocked on his door and held him.

But I didn’t. I just kept living my life as though everything was fine.

That’s one side of the story. Here’s the other side. Dan was an alcoholic, an addict. He lied. He lied for decades. He told me stories in which, against all odds, he was always the hero, the strong one, the one who fought for justice, the one who watched, the one who outsmarted everyone and survived. He told me these stories so many times, I believed him. A mythology grew around him, part cowboy with two-toned boots worn out through hard living, part Seneca the wise, brilliant one, steeped in philosophical puzzles and truths. The six-foot- three armed outlaw and sage. On a good day, he could outwork anyone in the trenches with his strength and stamina. He read and understood the texts of Nietzsche and Husserl and Heidegger and Wittgenstein as thoughtfully as any scholar I knew, because he had lived the questions of what it means to be human and embody existential angst. I loved our conversations for all he saw that I missed. He painted wild nature and his own inner nature in bold colors and strokes. He lived in a ruthless duality like the black-and-white pastel that hangs in my study. And in moments of levity, we laughed, we laughed and gossiped and teased each other. He told me whatever story he knew would lure me in, and it did. I believed he was sober. I believed he was no longer using. I believed the red rash on his body was bed bugs, not scabies. When he asked for money, I gave it to him. And when things got bad, when he was barely bones from not eating, when he was on the streets of Salt Lake City or passed out in a motel room drunk from apricot brandy or beer, I was there to rescue him. I was always there by his side, both of us with our cowboy boots kicking up the dirt in the big moments between life and death, but rarely was I there in the small ones, the everyday moments of darkness and depression that he bore alone.


I heard his words, but I failed to hear the pain. In the end, it’s rarely the large gestures that count, it’s the small ones. I knew my brother was suffering. I knew he was in pain. I knew he was alone. I could have knocked on his door and held him.

November, 2018

Santa Sabina Center, California, with Terry Tempest Williams:

Do you know what I noticed the other day? The light on the speedometer is dimming…

Driving home from the protest to protect Mueller, to remind anyone who would listen that no one is above the law.

The light on the speedometer is dimming.

“Oh no.” I gently pat the dashboard.

D’s truck…’94 Ford Ranger…black…24 years old now. My son is 24.

The ‘Bitter End’ still pinned to the visor…right where you left it.

‘I walk through the world because I love it.’ -Mary Oliver

What I read walking the walls of the cloister, thinking of you.

I think you loved it.

I do.

And it broke your heart.

And it breaks mine.


Fr. Richard Rohr:

 ‘There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it. . . . Then the clarity of it all is startling. Life is not about us; we are about the project of finding Life. At that moment, spiritual vision illuminates all the rest of life. And it is that light that shines in darkness.’ And here’s the podcast that TTW’s brother urged her to listen to in his final days.

On Being

The Soul In Depression

We’re fluent in the languages of psychology and medication, but the word “depression” does not do justice to this human experience. Depression is also spiritual territory. It is a shadow side of human vitality and as such teaches us about vitality. And what if depression is possible for the same reason that love is possible?

Compassion & Politics

‘One of my first rules of politics is: people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’

-Sean McElwee, founder of Data for Progress

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