Signing off

I started this blog way back in April 2004, as a left-leaning person of faith tired of the way I was seeing religion portrayed in (and participating in) politics. I started neglecting the blog as early as late 2006, when I started a doctoral program, but my good friends and co-contributors, Cristina White and abc41 continued to populate the site with thoughtful writings. For the last few years, Cristina has been doing ALL the heavy lifting here, even as she keeps up her own blog, Zen Crunch, and churns out plays and short films!

Meanwhile, I am preparing to enter full-time congregational ministry. For several years I have been juggling a full-time job, part-time seminary studies, and occasional online teaching. It’s time to admit that I don’t have the bandwidth to tend Left At The Altar – and that I haven’t had it for a long while. I’ll leave the site online; my co-contributors have good work here they might like to share. But we will not be posting any new content here.

I hope that I will get a little more active on my other sites, 50 is the New Forte, and Biocentered. But most of my time and attention will be devoted to hands-on congregational ministry. Thanks for the attention you’ve given us all of these years!

True Wealth

Where would Left at the Altar be without long-time contributor Cristina White? Moribund, that’s where! Cristina first published a longer version of this post on her own blog, Zen Crunch. Our intention was to cross-post it here, but I got tangled up in work deadlines and delayed publication. Check out Cristina’s many other contributions to Left At The Altar, and visit her author website to see what else she’s up to.

On April 30th this year, I saw what it means to be truly rich. That was the day that Amtrak Joe—now our President— traveled to Philadelphia to mark the 50th Anniversary of Amtrak. Biden spoke about the professionalism of Amtrak people, and how hard they work. And he told a story of a time when he was a young Senator with a work-family conflict.

Amtrak Joe

“I remember one night, my daughter was only six years old, and it was my birthday. And we were voting, and I went to Bob Dole and I said, ‘Bob, when’s the next vote going to take place?’ He said, ‘Joe, what—why?’ I said, ‘Well, my daughter is really upset I’m not going to be able to be home for the birthday cake she made for me.’

He said, ‘What do you need?’ I said, ‘I need just time to catch the five o’clock Metro, and I can get the 6:28 coming back,’ because on the platform you can just —in Delaware, you walk from one side to the other. I got off the train. My wife, Jill, was standing there, and my daughter had the cake and candles lit. I blew them out. Gave me a kiss. Walked across and got on the southbound.”

Northbound Amtrak

There was so much conveyed in that anecdote—for one, the fellowship of colleagues that existed in the Senate then: Bob Dole, a Republican Senate Majority Leader helping Joe Biden, a Democrat, solve the problem of needing to be in two places at almost the same time.  

But what really came through to me in this story is that Joe Biden is loved. He is a loving man who is loved in return by a great many people.

In that moment of realizing the wealth of love for Joe Biden, I suddenly felt a deep sorrow for Donald Trump, a man who was never loved. All the heartache and heartbreak and cruelty that he brought to this country during the course of his presidency, the ugliness of the January 6th insurrection that he provoked—all of that had a single root:  no one loved Donald. Neither his mother nor his father were there for him. There was no affection or kindness in his dysfunctional family. 

Realm of the Hungry GhostsI’ve been reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the chapter titled Hungry Ghosts, she writes, “An unchecked ego is what the Buddhists call ‘a hungry ghost’ —forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed.”

To my mind, that is what Donald Trump gave us:  four years of one long, terrible howl. There is a hole in him that cannot be filled. Now, on the small stage that Mar-a-Lago provides him, Trump continues to howl. He has no conscience, no inkling of soul. His ego rules every waking minute of every single day.   

Liz Gilbert contends that we all have some version of that hungry-ghost hunger. But there is an antidote. “My saving grace is this…I know that I am not only an ego; I am also a soul.

Joe Biden’s main message during his campaign was “…the need to restore the soul of the nation.” And beneath the everyday work of the transformative legislation he is setting in motion, President Biden is set on fulfilling that campaign promise.

Joe and Supporters

Biden is a good man who believes in the goodness of people. He has a genuine concern for the common good, and a belief that all of us deserve to enjoy the opportunity, peace, and prosperity that is the promise of America. All that love, all that compassion and concern for the welfare of others, makes Joe Biden a truly rich man. 

Joe Biden on November 4th

MAGA Mega-Demolition in Arizona

(A note from Marilyn: Long-time contributor and friend Cristina White continues to tend Left At The Altar better than I do. This important post is cross-posted at my other blog, Biocentered. Follow Cristina at ZenCrunch and Letter Pen Press.)

As of this writing, Donald Trump has another four weeks in office. It is a time when more than three hundred thousand Americans have died, three thousand are dying every single day, thousands more are sick, and untold numbers are standing in food lines, suffering economic hardships not seen since the Great Depression. As this onslaught continues, day after day, Trump has marshaled the full force of the federal government: not to relieve the physical and economic pain brought on by the pandemic, not to help the incoming Biden administration transition to the White House so that it can more effectively begin the healing we so desperately need. No.

Trump is using the power of the presidential office to destroy a protected wilderness in Arizona’s Coronado National Memorial, a huge swath of natural habitat in the far south of the state. He wants 450 miles of new barriers built before his term ends. The demolition companies hired to clear land in order to build Trump’s wall are cutting roads into a mountainside and sheering off slices of earth that nourish and sustain wildlife and plant life. The construction companies that follow the mega-demolition crews are driving concrete and steel into earth that for centuries has helped protect both natural and human habitat. The owners of Diamond A Ranch sued the government last week in federal court. In part, their complaint refers to explosives being used to level cliffsides for access roads and “…demolition dust, shrapnel, and boulders the size of automobiles are tumbling down Roosevelt Reservation onto ranch property.”

Opponents say the wall will worsen flooding. Massive steel and concrete structures cross dry creek beds and riverbeds. When the heavy rains come, those waterways become torrents that carry tons of debris. That debris can collect and clog around the steel bollards built into the waterways, causing floodwaters to back up; those floods can destroy properties that for generations have been safe havens for people and domestic animal life.

Demolition at NightThe ecological rape of the land is systematic: the work goes on day and night. Light towers kept on through the night enable the late shift crews to keep at it—build that wall, no matter the cost to the public purse or the defacing and destruction of the natural beauty that drew many people to live and work here.

When Donald Trump says America first, what he means is me first. Me first is not sustainable, and it violates a basic tenet of our democracy: to preserve and protect the common welfare. What underlies our common welfare is a foundational truth: we are all interrelated. That truth is one that Trump doesn’t understand; it’s a concept he’s not even able to compute. My guess is that most of his followers either don’t understand this or actively disagree with it. And his enablers choose to ignore the truth of our interrelatedness—that choice increases their profits.

Climate deniers who are ignorant of the consequences of violating our interrelationship with each other and the natural world are enabling Trump to carry out the carnage that he predicted in his Inaugural Address. Those who profit from that same ignorance are most culpable in the wreckage happening right now along the Arizona border.

Building a wall is not the answer to illegal immigration. No one is asking me, but if they did, I would submit that the answer is four-pronged. One: we need to invest in the health and prosperity of our neighbors to the south. Two: we need to help legitimate authorities root out and dismantle the corruption and violence that cause Mexicans and Central American people to flee their own country. Three: we must establish policies that make it possible for communities on both sides of the border to peaceably interact and support the business and welfare of their common livelihoods. Four: we need to return to practices that once enabled agricultural workers who are citizens of Mexico to cross the border legally, earn their living in the seasonal work required to tend our farmlands, then go back to their homes and families in the land of their birth. These are pathways to sanity—each of these four solutions is a win-win for America and Mexico.

If the pandemic has shown us nothing else, surely it is clear that each of us is dependent on the health of us all, and that the good health of our citizenry sustains and enlivens our economic health. As Jim Hightower’s father Walter Thomas Hightower used to say, “Everybody is better off when everybody is better off.”

To get to that world where we are all better off, we need to remember what Ann Richards told us: “Life isn’t fair, but government should be.”

Trump: The Great Uniter

(A note from Marilyn: Long-time contributor and friend of Left at the Altar, Cristina White, takes so much better care of this blog than I do. Eternal thanks for her contributions! Follow Cristina at ZenCrunch and Letter Pen Press.)

I’m kidding, right? No, not entirely. While it’s true that Donald Trump has laid bare the stark divisions in our society, and though he has deepened and exacerbated those divisions, there is one good thing that’s come from these four years of Trump in the White House—something I never thought I would be able to say—there are now Republicans I like.

To explain how I got here, I need to give you a brief history of my media world. I’ve been listening to and supporting NPR for the last four decades. Then, in 2006, I discovered MSNBC. It became my go-to cable news place When Rachel Maddow got her own show, she became my must-see person on that channel. Much like Trump supporters who are faithful to Fox News, I was faithful to MSNBC. But between NPR and MSNBC, and occasionally dipping into online articles at the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, I was fairly sure I was getting a realistic picture of the world, while I am certain Fox News viewers were and are in a Trump-created bubble that has no relationship to the real world.

When I list Republicans I have come to look upon favorably, Nicolle Wallace tops the list. She was John McCain’s Director of Communications during his 2008 presidential campaign, and I became interested in her as a person after seeing her portrayed by Sarah Paulson in the HBO film Game Change. I got a better sense of her through her occasional appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show, and then when she became a co-host on The View. She only lasted there for one season. I could not for the life of me understand why The View’s producers let her go; if they had to have a conservative voice at the table, why not someone who was intelligent, funny, and personable? But now I’m glad they let her go; bigger and better things were awaiting her.

In 2017, Nicolle Wallace became the anchor of Deadline White House on MSNBC. I began watching her show and became as much a fan of Nicole Wallace as I am of Rachel Maddow. I found in Nicolle a Republican who was as shocked and dismayed and angered by Trump as I was and, through watching her show, I have been introduced to a whole host of Republicans who want Trump gone. To name a few: there’s Steve Schmidt, Mark McKinnon, Tim Miller, Stuart Stevens, David Jolly, Michael Steele, and Elizabeth Neumann—all current or former Republicans who are actively working to defeat Trump. There’s also Ana Navarro, who I sometimes see on CNN and The View, and very recently I heard Mike Murphy on NPR talking about his work with RVAT—Republican Voters Against Trump.

The list of names on the RVAT site is incredibly long. Many of those names are illustrious movers and shakers in the Republican Party, many more are the Republican rank and file. Along with Republicans who are part of the Lincoln Project, they are voting for Joe Biden and working hard to convince others to vote for Biden. They have all put country over party; they all care more about preserving our democratic republic than about preserving political power.

This is more than walking across the aisle. These Republicans are leaping across a chasm that has grown ever wider and deeper. All these Republicans voting to oust Trump will have to find a new political identity. They may still have a world view that is essentially conservative, but I doubt they will be able to be part of the party they once called their own, because the Republican Party has become the Trumpian Party. 

Whether or not Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win this election—and I believe they will—there has also been a shift in my political identity. I am still a Democrat, but I am no longer the Democrat I was in 2016. I have become part of an alliance to save our democracy. It is an unlikely alliance, because I have found kinship with people who—throughout my life—I thought I might sometimes tolerate but would never agree with. That gives me hope. This new-found alliance is made up of liberals, conservatives, and independents who are joined in a battle to save the soul of our nation. Because we have all experienced Trump ripping our core values to shreds, we are joined in our vote for decency and the rule of law, we are united in our vote for competence, character, and community. We have been brought together in this crucial American endeavor because of Trump—the Great Uniter.  

We have enormous problems to solve. We need to save the planet, end the pandemic, and realize true racial, civil, economic and eco justice. I now know there are a good many people who may and probably will approach solutions to those problems in a different way, with a different perspective. But I am inclined to believe we are all after the same aims. I don’t know what kind of party will be formed or shaped by the Republicans who want to defeat Trump. I do believe it will be a party that can and will work with Democrats, for there are millions of us who have realized we must meet in the middle: coming together on that common ground is the only way to preserve our common good.


(A note from Marilyn: Long-time contributor and friend of Left at the Altar, Cristina White, returns with yet another thoughtful piece. Follow Cristina at ZenCrunch and Letter Pen Press.)

Yesterday, I checked in with John Pavlovitz’s blog Stuff That Needs to be Said, where I read his post “I’m Really Tired of Hatred.” Those of you who follow Left at the Altar either know John’s work or know the hatred he’s speaking of; in the news of the day it is rearing its ugly head in armed white men threatening our legislators, some of them displaying swastikas and confederate flags. In the not-too-distant past, it has shown up in crowds chanting “Lock her up!” and torch-lit men chanting “Jews will not replace us!” It is hatred that is flagrant—the most recent example of that flagrancy: two white men gunning down a young, unarmed black man out for a run on a sunny afternoon.

John Pavlovitz is tired. I am weary. Weary of waking up each day to a man in the White House who, all during his campaign for the Presidency, spewed hatred and pumped up attacks on minorities and immigrants. Do you remember that he used the word “carnage” in his Inauguration speech? That is all I remember about that speech—that one word. It is a word I associate with war, with blood and guts. But just as the gunning down of Ahmaud Arbery is a modern-day lynching, this incompetent, cruel and corrupt man in the White House has wrought a modern-day carnage on our republic.

Think of all the people who have been dismissed or demoted: scientists, diplomats, public health experts, experienced people in our intelligence corps and in our justice department—people of integrity who were steadfast in their commitment to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

Think of all those lives upended, the wreckage of careers destroyed and reputations maligned. Consider the loss of knowledge and experience and expertise, the loss of people who took pride in being public servants. And along with that loss, relationships with our allies and protections from our enemies have been left frayed and weakened.

I am weary of the news that our postal service is about to collapse. How has it come about that we are watching the collapse of a service so vital to our democracy that it is written into our Constitution? Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have power To establish Post Offices and post Roads.

I actually know why there is an imminent collapse of our postal service. It can be traced back to 2006, when a Republican-led Congress that wanted to privatize our public postal service imposed certain restrictions on it, restrictions calculated to bring about its eventual demise. And three months ago, in February, a Republican-led Senate squelched HR 630, the Postal Service Protection Act — legislation meant to undo the requirements that are crippling our postal workers. O weariness that weighs me down, thy name is Mitch McConnell.

I am weary of the ignorant, egoistic, narcissistic, corrupt man in the White House: the seventy-three-year old brat who would be King. I am weary of his Attorney General William Barr, who is supposed to uphold the law of the land, but instead does the bidding of the bully-in-chief.

I am weary, deeply saddened, and astounded by an executive branch that has expanded the reach of a global pandemic, a pandemic that is sickening millions of people, killing hundreds of thousands.

Yes, I am weary. But “faith” is the first of the five words that sum up what Left at the Altar is about, and I cannot end this rant on weariness without speaking of my faith, because that flame still burns.

I pray every morning for a return to sanity and competence and honor in our federal government. I pray for excellence in leadership, and I am thankful for excellence in those legislators who represent us fairly and continue to work on the public’s behalf, thankful for the governors and mayors who are leading our citizens responsibly during a public health crisis that has brought on an economic crisis.

This flame of faith is kindled by daily acts of kindness and compassion and generosity throughout the United States. My faith is renewed in the day-to-day work of journalists who continue to report facts and ask questions. It is sustained by the people in the media who unfailingly report on and discuss and challenge the validity of the strange time we live in. I am lifted up in my faith by artists and comics who undoubtedly share my sense of weariness— artists who move me to tears with their music, comics who make me laugh and help keep me sane. My faith continues to be renewed by the activists and organizations working each day to bring an end to the many sorrows caught in the shadow of the big umbrella we know as Injustice.

Regardless of my weariness, my faith is sustained by our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The words that begin our Constitution are at the core of my faith in America. As an act of faith, I have moved my copy of the Constitution from my bookshelf to a place of prominence, a place where I can see it every day and remember why I must continue to hold to the good, continue to draw strength from the actions and service of those who reflect the best in us. I am holding on to a vision of a future where I am no longer made weary. It is a future where each day we are aligned in our dedication to promote the general welfare of the American people.

It is an America made sane again.


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