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.


Well and truly…


I’m just going to leave this here, because it says everything that can be said at the moment. Click the thumbnail below to link directly to the thread on Twitter.

(Expletive half-heartedly “deleted” in case it gives anyone on my candidacy committee a fit of the vapors.)

(Yes, I’m back in candidacy for ordination. More on that later.)

A cabin in the woods

Several months ago I listened to a podcast interview with a writing/productivity coach who said (I’m paraphrasing, and from memory): “Everyone has this fantasy that if they could just go off to a cabin in the woods, with no distractions or obligations, they’d be able to write their novel, right? Well, there is no cabin in the woods! You just have to prioritize the time and space to do your writing.”

She’s right about the prioritizing, of course. But I’m here to tell you: if you can find a cabin in the woods, it is a wonderful way to declutter the brain, unplug all of your many electronic and digital inputs and noise generators (if you have the permission and/or the discipline to do so), and just be alone with your thoughts – in my case, to see if any of those thoughts are worth writing down!

I just spent four days in that little cabin pictured above. I did not produce the 21st century’s “Walden” (nor was I hoping to); I did not even produce a full chapter revision for my book. But I got back into a couple of my projects in a deep, uninterrupted way, and it gives me hope – which I was starting to lose – that I can finish them and maybe even start others. Will I need another four days in a cabin in the woods to do so? Gosh, it would be nice, but it probably won’t happen for at least another year. I think just getting back into my reading, revisiting what I’ve written so far, and giving myself this little kick-start will motivate me to – as the coach said – prioritize time and space to write, even in the most inhospitable, counterproductive conditions.

I’ve wanted to do a retreat like this for almost ten years, but I was beginning to feel especially desperate for quiet time to read and write over the past few months. I felt like my vocabulary was shrinking, my imagination was shrinking, my attention span was shrinking. After defending my dissertation (2012), I took a job that required learning and writing about an entirely different, more technical field. Then I took a job that requires no writing, but also doesn’t leave much energy at the end of the day for reading and thinking about the stuff that moves me. My blogs have languished; my projects have stalled. A little existential panic was starting to set in.

Sweet little surprises like this image of Mary and the infant Jesus are tucked into the crooks and hollows of trees all over the grounds of Mount Saint Benedict.

When I looked at the calendar at work, and my personal calendar, I saw only this four day block during which I could conceivably be off the grid – and no other opportunities for several more months. A pastor I know made an annual retreat to Mount Saint Benedict, in Erie, PA, and spoke highly of it. On a lark, with the blessing of my Better Half, I called the convent to see if anything was available during these four days. It’s Lent; what were the chances? To my astonishment, one of their hermitages was available. No internet or TV. Dodgy cell service. Perfect.

The hospitality director emailed early the morning of my departure to tell me I could check in two hours early if I wanted to, and that I would be staying in a cabin they called “the Hildegard.” My heart leapt. My projects are all ecotheology-based, and Hildegard von Bingen is the Mother Superior of the field (or should be, if enough people read her). It would not be a bad thing to have Saint Hildegard looking over my shoulder as I worked.

My “desk” as of Thursday, by which time I had taken some of my books back to the car. (Blurred out is the top secret stuff I was working on. 😉 )

When I arrived and learned I could not pull up to the cabin in my car, and had to cart my supplies up a .3 mile stone path with deep mud at the end approaching the cabin, I began to regret the 40-pound crate of books and article reprints I brought with me (yes, a little ambitious, but I wanted OPTIONS!). But the place was perfect. I converted the dining table to my desk, stationed my binoculars and camera by a window for when I paced the floor (which I do a lot when I’m reading), and settled in. I left the convent grounds only once – the second day, when I realized that the one thing I forgot to pack was (wait for it) paper to write on, so I dashed to a nearby discount store to get some. I do most writing on my laptop, but I like to have a notepad handy for scribbling references, tangents, random thoughts, and lists.

The tiny *actual* desk in the cabin had several resources to use and leave behind for the next guest. I started and ended each day with the wonderful daily prayer book, “Give Us This Day,” and a well-used paperback called Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen. Buried in the foreword of that book was this phrase from her writings: “meet every creature with grace.” I had never read those words before, and wondered again if Hildegard somehow knew what I was doing there. 😉 If my book comes together, those words will be in it.

The last day’s planned reading. (Plus a Kindle book.) Not to finish, of course (“Being Human, Being Salmon” is NOT a fast read!)

I got so “quiet” so quickly, I discovered that the Diet Coke I chug throughout a normal day has actually been making my heart race. I just didn’t notice it through all my external activity and internal noise. On my retreat, the only media I encountered for four days was the discount store’s piped-in music, and a workout DVD I played in my laptop one evening when rain shortened my walk. I turned the volume way down so I wouldn’t hear the obnoxious music. I checked in with the Better Half each night before bed, and otherwise did not miss email or text or Facebook one little bit.

There were birds, of course: around the cabin, on a woodsy trail I walked each afternoon, and at the nearby boat launch I visited after picking up my notepad. Bluebirds, cardinals, eastern Phoebes, brown creeper, red-bellied woodpeckers, golden-crowned kinglets, white-throated sparrows, red-breasted mergansers, Bonaparte’s gulls (and other gulls), a common loon… and of course robins and redwinged blackbirds. I tried, but couldn’t get pictures of the golden-crowned kinglets, because they are perpetual motion machines and have completely unpredictable flight patterns that seem to defy the laws of physics. Click to “embiggen” the photos below.


Ring-necked duck. Way far away from me. When I moved closer to the water, the birds hussled further out.

I’m not going to lie. It was hard to leave, though I missed the wife and “kids” and looked forward to being with them again. I hate it when I ask someone how their vacation was and their first words are “it was too short,” instead of “it was lovely… it was great… we’re so lucky to have vacation time and money to spend…” But this was not vacation: this was intentional quiet working time, and I will admit I could have used a few more days to really sink into the work. It takes a while to downshift (though I did get right to it once I set up my desk), and on the last day, I was starting to move books back to the car in totebags so that I wouldn’t break the cart or get it stuck in the mud. The brain starts running a crawler at the bottom of each train of thought: “I’m leaving tomorrow… I’m leaving tomorrow…” I took some of the sting out of my departure by stopping at Presque Isle State Park on the way home, and there spotted my first ring-necked duck.

On the wall of the Hildegard hermitage.

Spencer and Tracy like to sleep in.

Eternal thanks to my Better Half for encouraging this retreat: I burned up four days of my vacation time, and Better Half was left to juggle several days of 6 a.m. shifts that required her to feed and “empty” the dogs before 5:30 a.m. The cats are used to eating early, because I get up around 5:15 to exercise. And Lucy, the senior golden, comes down with me at that time to go outside and pee, get a secret morning snack, and then go back to bed. Spencer and Tracy, on the other hand, are late sleepers. When they have to eat early, they stagger to the kitchen, bleary-eyed and confused, blinking at their full dishes as if trying to remember what they’re supposed to do with that crunchy brown stuff.

This experience was a gift. No, it wasn’t free: I spent my own vacation time (which means less of it to use with the Better Half) and our money. But the encouragement of Better Half, the hospitality extended by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, and the fact that I had the opportunity to take advantage of it all… priceless. I hope I can pay it forward in writings Hildegard would approve. And I’ll hope to carry the “cabin in the woods” in my head, no matter where I am.

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