The Brave Pastor

“Your writing project is making my ministry difficult.  I’ve kept my soul in a pillowcase with the top tied tight and now it’s found the opening, trying to loosen the string and slip through.  I don’t know whether to thank you or show you the door.” 

That last time they’d met, besides suggesting the documentary, Nell had left him some chapters of her book to read, papers he had taken as if they might be a poisonous mushroom.  And yet he had read them in one sitting without stopping for dinner until he was done.

“You won’t show me the door.  I’m just one person who has looked at this interesting material.  Getting rid of me wouldn’t change the people of Kashmir and what they know, what they have known all through the same centuries during which a false story was being told in the West.”

As he stared at her, she said, “The truth is a wild cat and cannot be domesticated without becoming a lie.”

“I know.  I know.  What I don’t know is what to do about my church.  What am I supposed to tell them?  What am I supposed to tell myself?  This new information has taken away all my yardsticks and replaced them with wriggling yarn.  My head is a tangle of yarn.  I’m an old sweater unraveling in the attic.  All kinks and knots.”

Pastor Joel was an astonishingly handsome man in spite of the deepening wrinkles.  His straight dark hair with streaks of silver was glossy as polished ebony.  But she saw misery written on his face.

“Did you say your head is full of yarns?”

He laughed in spite of himself.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to whine.  I’m supposed to be a grownup.”

“You are a grownup, Joel.  Among the bravest.”

He shook his head no and she shook her head yes, smiling impishly at him.

“Nell, how am I supposed to take my crisis of the soul seriously with you teasing like that?”

Her impish grin grew into a rascally smile.

He frowned.  “You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”

She sobered.  “Not entirely.  I know you are hurting.  Look, I can’t answer your questions.  I can only give you my book.  I hope it will be a step toward healing for you and for other readers.”

“I hope so, too.  I pray to get past the pain.”

The Yearning behind the Yarn

There it was again, a faint sound like a kitten mewing or a child crying.  It was too cold on this blustery spring day for either to be out.  Nell turned around, trying to determine the direction of the sound.  Walking a few steps along the sidewalk, she decided the whimpering came from in back of the church.  She found a small walkway and followed it back.  There on a set of steps sat a little girl, hands twisted in her dress, quietly sobbing.

With that paragraph a book is begun, The Beloved Hoax

Here’s how it happens.  A story comes knocking at my door, charms its way into my living room, and insists on the use of my keyboard, my fingers, and my mind.  I happily set aside all other projects.  I neglect my chores, my friends, my family, all to put into form a yarn, a saga, a fiction that is more than fiction.  It is a tale no one else can write, based as it is on my experiences, my bent in researching the history of mingling, stumbling, and seeking.

I recall the mood I was in when I started my first book (um, the first one I published).  I was pissed off at several people I’d lived among on The Farm, a community of spiritual hippies.  It only took me about twelve drafts of the book to realize what I had contributed to my troubles.  I had grown up mistreated and I expected to be mistreated in adulthood.  Not that I was seriously abused or neglected.  My childhood had much good in it.  But I had been spanked hard and long by an angry parent as well as criticized and scolded.  My self-esteem was in the cellar – until a seventh grade teacher came to the top of the cellar stairs and invited me to venture up.  I came maybe halfway up the stairs.  I needed to live among folks who had made it further up the stairs, to help me the rest of the way.  Inevitably, I lived among folks who needed me to be far enough up to make allowances for them.

The insights from writing Sweet Potato Suppers made it worthwhile.  And there were grateful responses from readers.  Even folks who did not know The Farm, knew the territory.

Here’s another beginning, an attempt to revise what really happened, an if only I’d known sort of book. I felt I could give young mother’s a head’s up – like telling someone in a kayak where the submerged rocks are.  In Gideon’s River I created a family in which the mother figures out how to help her children and the story ends well, while in real life is has taken many years for my children and me to come to terms with their growing up years.  Gideon’s River was a healing book offered to other parents.

Then there was the time I read someone’s statement of how a community in the Catskills closed and I realized someone who had lived there needed to tell the story.  That book became The Farm That Tried to Feed the World.  Included were summaries of the research I had done to address the question why it was so hard to build an enduring community based on sharing and kindness.  For example, I had read Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, a book that made available to non-scientists the amazing discoveries of Mariha Gimbutes at archeological sites in Europe.  Gimbutes found that in western Europe, no village remains or burial finds older than about 5,000 years contained walls or weapons.  Which is not to say that all violence on earth is no more than a few thousand years old, only that in that part of the world human versus human violence on any scale beyond the occasional difference was unknown.  Up until that time people had lived in tribal, which is to say, communal villages.  My own big insight from writing the book was that I and my friends had been trying to live in the Garden – the Biblical myth surely refers to the time before weapons – without first coming to terms with how we lost the Garden.

Skipping to the present, the impetus behind The Beloved Hoax was a BBC documentary in which scholars find evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross.  I thought about the many years I had tried to believe what my Sunday school teachers told me, how by my teen years it became a heart-wrenching struggle to let go of that story, and how during my adult life I had sometimes hedged my bets just in case the story was true.  No one wants to be left out of heaven.  This is a book I wrote to help others through Western Civilization’s maze, the tortured history of Christianity.  In fact, you could skip my book and go straight to the documentary Did Jesus Die on the Cross?  Unless you want to spend some time with a woman named Nell and her cave house family and with Pastor Joel as his anguish ultimately leads him to a little girl and a woman named Daisy.

A Talk with my Left Thumb

This morning my left thumb objected to helping me peel a boiled egg.  She pointed out that in more than 70 years she had avoided that peeling motion and saw no reason to start now.

I said, “Right Thumb is injured.  You could help, couldn’t you?”

She said, “That is such a small injury.  A little crack under the side of the nail.  You never see me complaining like that.”

“You would if you were sore.”

“What would make me sore?  All this time you’ve only asked me to hold things while she peels.”

“Come on, Left.  Be a sport.”

“Oh, all right.  But I’m not very good at that motion.  Get ready to witness an awkward attempt.”

Left thumb and I did manage to peel the egg.  But minutes later I asked her to help me use a pair of scissors.

“No way.  Those are right-handed scissors and I’m not going near them.”

“Yes, they are right-handed scissors,” I agreed, “but you can manage.  Just press a bit to the left to make the cut work.”

“Look, Right Thumb can do scissors.  She only has to go in through the thumb hole.  No pressure on her sore spot.”

“But I want you to help me trim the loose threads off her band aid.”

“Oh, so now you want me to do her work and trim her band aid.”

“You two have always worked as a team.  Why the complaining?”

“Just trying to keep the job description clear.  I hold the fork.  I hold the pen.  I help play the piano.  Team work, sure.  And I’m used to it.  But Right Thumb jobs are off my list.”

“Can’t you at least hit the space bar when I’m typing.  Right Thumb sends me an ouch at every hit.”

“Sorry.  Couldn’t possibly get into that space bar habit.  You think the keyboard is a ten digit job, but it’s not.  Nine digits do all the work.  I hang out in mid-air.  I cheer.”

“I never noticed that before.  You mean, all this time you’re been floating and goofing?”

“Yep.  And you never caught on until – how old are you?”

“I guess I’ve given you a free ride on keyboard tasks.  Also, cleaning the bathroom sink and toilet.  Thank you for helping me with those chores this morning.   Even though you grumbled.”

“I was insulted.  First time you ever asked me to get into the toilet boil.  Pee-you!”

“Now you know the service Right Thumb has given.”

“You know what I snuck by you?  All these years they’ve called you left-handed, only because I do the fork and the pen.  I don’t throw balls.  I don’t scrub pans.  There’s a lot I never do.  I expect you were always a little dyslectic, starting at the right and moving your eyes left the way you do.  You’re just lucky no one labeled you.  You might have been down on yourself.  As it is, you think you are a slow reader because of taking time to feel the feelings and think the thoughts.  But, not being over busy, I have had years to observe.  You try to read from the right to the left.”

“And all these years you never told me?”

“I wanted you to think you could do anything.”

“Thank you.  And I want you to think you can do anything.”





hand and puzzle

Roman Coin

I held in my hand today a Roman coin with an image of Nero’s head stamped into it. It was about the size of a 50 cent piece, well-preserved, and not completely round. I expect it may never have been quite round, as the means of creating coins then would not have benefited from our precise machinery.

The coin was given to my neighbor by a friend in Spain who had found it digging in a cave. I’m fascinated with evidence of past human activity. I can imagine someone hiding his stash of coins in that cave to protect them from who knows what kind of unrest, an untrustworthy neighbor, an invasion.

I picture a man in a short linen garment and sandals, knowing the whereabouts of this cave, throwing a robe over himself against the night chill and going out quietly to bury his treasure where it will be safe. He is not young, perhaps 45, and that is old for those times. But he has a family to care for and does not want to see his people destitute and so will not have his coins grabbed up by those who don’t care about him and his kin.

The Romans at the apex of their civilization controlled many lands and peoples. How did the people of that day plot to survive the Roman government?

Coins are our survival. They are food and shelter. Beyond that, money, if we have enough of it, can give us fun and prestige, even friends of a sort. This coin and any others were with it could have been a shared stash or one person’s savings account. Did the man return at a better hour and get his coins, only missing this one?

I’m reminded that we are presently in a coin shortage across our country. Not sure how I feel about the call for citizens to give up our coins. After all, we need our quarters for the washer and dryer. And I need to keep a few quarters handy in case my neighbors run out. What if they go to the bank for quarters and are told there are none to spare? Some of them are not strong enough to do their wash by hand. Still, no doubt I’ll get in the spirit of this request and give up what I can spare. Like growing a victory garden during WWI and WWII.

It’s more fun to survive together than to try to survive alone. Works better in the long run, too, a family or group kind of survival. If our government is an honest part of the group. If our government acts in our best interest, believing we matter. In other words, if our government is ours.

To Let the God Out


I’ve known some small miracles, so I’ll listen.

The god sitting up in the dark cave,

an angel folding the shroud and giving that pat

of reassurance, then moving the dense stone,

stepping lightly aside to let the god out.

I’d ask how this (among so many) became

the important miracle, the one dividing insiders

from includers.  An old tune taunts,

One door and only one, and yet the sides are two.

I’m on the inside, on which side are you?

I’d pinch myself—though as to that, I’ve traveled

enough to know a pinch is felt in a dream

and in memory.  Thomas stands where earth

overlaps heaven.  The not gone god pulls him close,

 says, “Feel, feel the flesh of which you are fond.”

Well, I’ve listened.  But I think they hid the god

somewhere while he healed from those hours

on the cross—and when he was well he began

a second trip to the East.  This time he stayed.

Country and Country: People of the Land and Those Who Seek to Rule Them

Probably no division matters more in this election year than that between aristocrats  who have not earned their wealth and the common folk who live by their own labor.  History has a helpful perspective.  After living for almost a decade in a sharing community, I spent some years researching what makes community hard to keep.  One of my discoveries was Henry Banford Parkes, who wrote The American Experience.  His look at the founding of the United States helped me in writing The Farm That Tried to Feed the World, a book about community.  Note: the terms leavers and takers are from Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael.  Leavers leave the flowers for others to enjoy.  Takers grab all they can get and store them in banks.

Here is a section from my book:

Henry Bamford Parkes.  The United States at its founding could be considered a new community meant to get back to the ideals of fairness and equality.  If you live in the United States, you may find this next section as surprising as I did.  If you live in another country, you will perhaps see why we Americans are so at odds with our government.  It isn’t ours.  Parkes’ book, The American Experience: An Interpretation of the History and Civilization of the American People, shows the United States in infancy when everything good seemed possible.  The distinction he makes between the early agrarian democrats and the aristocrats falls into the leavers/ takers or partnership/patriarchy divide.  What is instructive about reading this fascinating and sad account of our nation’s birth is that, as Parkes shows, we lost the new nation almost from the start.  Here are some of his statements:

Respect for the freedom of each individual and confidence that he would use his freedom wisely and constructively became the formative principles of the new American nationality…. (page 9)

The conflict between the aristocratic principle and the rising spirit of democracy may be considered as the main theme in the early political history of the Americans….  The methods by which America had been settled and the freedom and fluidity of American life made it obvious that the state… should be regarded as an instrument for the service of its citizens…. (page 57)

Parkes is talking about people who are in remarkably good condition of body and mind.  “The proportion of the population, especially in New England, who could be considered literate, and who had some knowledge of the classics and of the more important contemporary European writers, was probably larger than in any other country.  Jefferson once remarked that the modern wagon wheel, with the circumference made from a single piece of wood, had been invented by a New Jersey farmer who had found it described in Homer.”  (page 59)  My father was such a man.  He had studied Latin and the classics in the little school on Oak Hill.  He sang opera to the chickens, exhorting them as Faust to Margarita to always remain chaste and pure, though we can chuckle, since the last thing Dad needed was a chaste hen.

In a chapter called “The Revolution” Parkes notes that, “Living in an agrarian economy of small property owners, the average American of that epoch had acquired a habit of acting independently and a hostility to coercion and regimentation that made any kind of authoritarian regime impossible.” (pages 100-101)

Hmm.  Where are those guys today?

But there were those who came to America hoping for the kind of control over the masses they had had in Europe.  Americans worried them.  “A new type of man was achieving power in America; and for lovers of the old regime it meant the end of civilization.” (page 102)  Yup.  The end of unfair civilization, right?  I suppose if you were used to leisure, you would think you could not survive without servants and laborers.  It is a stretch for most of us, but we can imagine a life where work is unthinkable—for oneself.  Here, from the chapter called “The Constitution,” is the crux of the matter:

The difference between the property that had originated in the mixing of human labor with the wilderness and the property that had been acquired by means of a contract…is the clue to much of the political controversy of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America.

The moneyed classes whose property was derived from contracts were a small minority of the total population, and they believed that their rights would be endangered by any democratic system of government based on outright majority rule.  Their chief political objective, as Madison expressed it in 1787, was therefore “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”  (pages 112-114)

Parkes speaks of “those classes, comprising the vast majority of the population, who had acquired property not through contracts but by labor—in other words, of the farmers, the mechanics, and those planters who were interested solely in agriculture and not also in land speculation, whose purpose was to perpetuate those features of colonial society which had made America so markedly different from Europe…. (page 114)  The agrarians’ “primary objectives were to maintain a genuine equality of economic opportunity and to make it impossible for men to acquire wealth by any methods except their own industry and talent.” (page 116)  Don’t be thinking that by mechanics Parkes means auto-mechanics.  They hadn’t come along yet.  Webster’s Dictionary defines mechanic as “of or relating to manual work or skill.” Parkes goes on:

The struggle between agrarian and capitalistic principles lasted through the nineteenth century.  Yet it can be argued that the decisive engagement occurred at the very outset, and that the agrarians were defeated when they had scarcely begun to fight.  For the American Constitution, drafted by the Philadelphia Convention of 1987, was based on aristocratic and capitalistic principles.  The importance of this convention in determining the future development of America can scarcely be overestimated.  By accepting the Constitution, the people of the United States were virtually deciding that they should not remain a nation of small property owners, but that they should become a capitalistic people, possessed of the greatest wealth and power and of a high standard of living, but divided by the most extreme economic inequalities. (page 121)

For more about capitalism today, see Michael Moore’s film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

In addition to this theft of the new nation, there were the cultural assumptions which even the agrarians had brought with them.  None of the people who adopted the Constitution were women.  As Oren Lyons said, the founders “left out the women’s counsel.”  We have forefathers but no foremothers.  Jefferson, Franklin, even John Adams, had been so thoroughly imbued with, or head-copped by, European patriarchy that they could not see women—or blacks or poor white men—participating in government as equals with privileged white men.  They took their privileged status as God-given.  Yet they wanted with all their hearts to get away from European hierarchies.  It was a blindness that would cost them the vision of freedom for which they had fought the Revolution.

As noted earlier, the people of the Six Nations had learned not to use hierarchy.  It was a key point.  But men like Hamilton could not give up the power of a social structure where a leisured class was in charge while others worked without hope of advancement.  So, dang.  They wrote hierarchy in into the Constitution by making contracts legally binding, which had the effect of making corporations into persons with all the rights and none of the responsibilities of persons.  That is why the Supreme Court cannot stop the corporations.  No matter how destructive their activities, those activities are Constitutional.

Too Big to Be Carried


We can learn patience from animal mothers.  I happened upon a You Tube clip of a mother lion moving her two cubs to a new location.  When she had carried the first cub to the new place and had carried the second cub a ways and needed a rest, she put him down, standing over him to pant and catch her breath.  After a while she tried to pick him up again but he wasn’t having it.  He turned on his back and batted at her mouth, giving a little snarl to let her know he didn’t want to ride any further.

She tried several times to get his head into her mouth, but the little cub squirmed away and refused to present his back to her.  Lying flat on his back, he prevented her from grasping the back of his head and neck.  Finally she walked away and the cub followed.  He walked the rest of the way to his new home.

What she did not do was snarl or bat him back when he batted her.  Nor did she get rough or try to force him.  He was utterly safe with her while telling her he had outgrown riding.

My own experience as a mother taught me that young children need to grow up at their own pace, a day at a time.  One day they need help and the next they can do it themselves.  They want up and pretty soon they want down.  The parent protects the child from the wider world and also from her own impatience.

My grown son recently said to me, “I figure the most important part of being a father is kindness.”  He is not the only one.  Lots of dads today as well as moms are aware of the need for kindness.  They have discovered something our ancestors didn’t know, they you don’t have to be unkind to be firm–and they you can allow children to be themselves because they are essentially good and capable.

Sleeping with the Enemy


No, the enemy I sleep with is not a dangerous husband.  My enemy is only doing what it was designed to do.  These enemy troops are likely the mold under my carpet in a senior housing apartment.  The management has agreed to replace the carpet with vinyl plank flooring.  Yeah!  (This was done quickly.  The picture above shows the new floor.)

Now here’s my story and a bit about allergies, the body’s immune system, and the national trend in flooring

Took me several years to see the pattern.  I’d go away and get over my symptoms.  Then I’d come home and they’d all start up again.  But I didn’t want to believe I was allergic to my home.  After all, I’m also allergic to tree pollen and weed pollen.  It wasn’t simple.

I’ll start when allergies first started to bother me.  I was in my sixties, had never had allergies.  Something had changed in my body and I didn’t know what.

First, though, I want to be fair to the pollen and mold and dust and mites.  They are only doing what they are supposed to do.  Along with bacteria and fungus and viruses, they are the cleanup crew nature sends to turn our used up bodies back into usable particles.  Life goes on.

Still, I wasn’t ready to have my body recycled.  I needed to know what had happened inside this body.  I didn’t want to die in mystery.

I found a doctor who put his finger on two problems that were now becoming severe.  One was that my birth only 14 months after my sister’s probably meant my mother’s body wasn’t ready to fully support the second pregnancy.  I was born skinny and screaming, she said, and only stopped when she gave me cow’s milk.  Her breast milk lacked the flora and fauna infants get from nursing.  The other source of my trouble was that my adrenals, stunted during an illness at age six, were becoming very tired and doing less and less of what adrenals do.  You need both digestive power and adrenal power for a powerful immune system.

When the flooring guy came to show me the samples and measure my apartment, he said that carpet sales are expected to drop 40% by the end of 2020.  He explained that the structure of the carpet prevents even the strongest vacuum from getting at all the dust and mold.  Looks like lots of people are finding themselves sleeping with the enemy.

Well, by the middle of this week, most of the enemy troops at my place will be carried out with the old carpet.  The new floor comes with a cushion that seals out moisture and dust and mold.  After that, I recover from my reactions, including a two-year chronic bronchial congestion.  I’ll feel well.  And you can, too.*

*Note:  I’m not a health professional.  Any statements I make here about health and the workings of the body are from a layman’s perspective.  But I have done a lot of research, something anyone can do now that we have resources at our fingertips.





Why Some Babies Fail to Thrive on Both Breast Milk and Formulas

1943 Winky and Trish

This is my big sister and me sometime after I stopped screaming.

I’m writing this post for those caught up in failure to thrive on milk or formulas and for those who have been told they were failure to thrive babies.

I don’t know much about babies who fail to thrive.  The reasons could be many, including living in a household in such turmoil that the baby couldn’t relax and take her bottle.  One young mother had to be taught to stop fighting with her boyfriend around the baby.

I have heard the story from time to time of a baby that didn’t do well on any formula and only gradually stopped crying and began to get some nourishment from whatever was tried last.  Sometimes there were months of pain and frustration for mother and baby.

My three boys each nursed for more than a year and smiled and grew.  I lived in a village in which most mothers breastfed and I watched a hundred or more children thrive with that good start.

Still, breastfeeding can fail if the mother is nervous or sick or malnourished.  Or if she had her children so close together that her body was not ready to support the second pregnancy and nursing baby.  That is apparently what happened to me.

My mother married and began her family at a time when much of the wisdom of women was abandoned for the guidance of medical doctors.  She didn’t know why I was born skinny and crying or why nursing didn’t help.  She only knew she had a screaming infant on her hands.  I can’t blame her for what she didn’t know.  Her generation lost the village needed to raise each child along with all the knowledge and support such a village  would provide.  She loved being pregnant and she loved caring for babies.  She almost never ran out of energy for family life.

None of what happened to me was her fault.  Nor were we alone.  Across our land many mothers and babies were having a hard time in a way that was traceable to over-civilization as compared to indigenous living.

Took a lot of years and and, at last, an excellent doctor for me to understand that I was skinny because my mother’s body wasn’t ready for another pregnancy and that I was screaming because her breast milk lacked the usual healthy biotics that help a baby digest.  Babies are not born with intestinal probiotics, my doctor told me.  They get the good bugs from the birth canal and from nursing.

After six weeks of frustration, Mom put me on raw cow’s milk with Karo syrup in it and I stopped screaming.  The raw cow’s milk would have had the probiotics I needed for digestion.  But for the first six weeks of my life I was my mother’s enemy.  That part of our story did not end with the cow’s milk.  We had by then been deprived of the early bonding that comes with successful breastfeeding or bottle feeding.  Let’s not let this keep happening to our families.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t give medical advice.  In everything you do for your child, use your own best judgment.  I simply suggest retrieving the old wisdom that kept humankind on track for many generations.  If your infant has trouble with both breast milk and formula, you could supply the needed probiotics, or, you could try raw goat’s milk or cow’s milk, only making sure the farm is clean.  (I don’t recommend Karo syrup or any form of corn syrup, a story for another day.)

Here I am with Benjamin, who was breastfed and content.

At five days he is almost smiling in his sleep.

1972 with Benjamin

The Cave House Stories, a novel


The Cave House Stories, a novel, is available on amazon.  It begins,

When Ollie first saw the Cave House he wanted to move in, keeping its two shy occupants, a field mouse and a woman with waves of auburn hair falling down her back like the pelt of a red squirrel.  A streak of white flowed from her widow’s peak over her right shoulder, the squirrel’s tender belly.

He didn’t know what part of the house captivated him the most, the weathered vertical wood siding, the large front windows that looked out like kind eyes, or the way the house backed into the hillside as if there must be secret passageways deep within.  Maybe it was the simple beauty of a roof decorated with moss and ferns.

He saw the Cave House only after he’d won the shy woman’s trust in a most unusual way, by telling her a story he’d never dared tell anyone.  Even after that first story he knew, with a Zen-like acceptance, that neither the dwelling nor the woman would ever be his, any more than he could possess the wild mouse.

And then, winging acceptance back at whoever had decided Zen living meant passive living, he vowed they would all be his, the mouse that crept in from the meadow, the cardinal that sang in the lilacs, the squirrel that chattered from the trees above the Cave House, and the woman who wanted nothing to do with love.