Oh, Great

Could we just stop arguing about whether we are, or were, or will be great again? Could we, for the next four months at least, ban the word exceptional from our vocabulary? Could we dispense with superlatives like “the best country in the history of the world”?


Plenty of countries have universally accessible healthcare and affordable higher education, fairer wages and better parental leave policies, more tolerance and less homelessness and hunger. Lots of cultures are less obsessed with consumerism and competition, and more committed to the common good. America is exceptional in our level of gun violence and our rate of incarceration. And also for the amount of money we throw at preparing for and making war.

Do we need to remind ourselves that this nation was birthed with genocidal policies toward native populations and the enslavement of Africans? That our founding document accorded voice and political power solely to white male property owners and assigned people with dark skin only a fraction of humanity? Continue reading


The mother, with tears streaming down her cheeks, thrust her baby toward us. “Take him,” she cried in Spanish. “Take him to a place where there is no war.”


The year was 1983, and a U.S.-sponsored conflict was tearing Nicaragua apart. I was there as part of the first Witness for Peace team to set up a prayerful, protective, and nonviolent presence in that country’s war zones. We were on a bus from the tiny town of Jalapa, bumping over a rutted, isolated road back toward Managua, with bursts of mortar fire echoing around us.

When July 19 comes around each year, I think of Nicaragua. Two weeks after fireworks explode here from coast to coast to celebrate the success of the American Revolution, Nicaraguans mark the triumph of theirs. Thirty-seven years ago today, they overthrew the Somoza dynasty that had brought repression and ruination to their country for more than four decades.

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Coyote Calls

I didn’t sleep well last night. I could say that the violent images and roiling emotions of the week kept me awake, but that would be only partly true. It was the coyotes. It was Saturday night and the coyotes were having a party on the ridge.


Bill and I moved into our home tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina, exactly two years ago. The generous owners of the land next to us give us free access to their 120 acres with pastures, a pine forest, and pond. Trails wind under sheltering canopies of laurel and rhododendron up to a stunning ridgetop view. The first time we climbed to the top and sat reveling in a panorama that gleamed in the rays of a setting sun, I whispered “Coyote.”

“Do you hear one?” Bill asked.

“No. I see one.” She was lean and a surprising beige-yellow color, ambling toward a blackberry thicket and glowing in the golden light of dusk. Continue reading


I learned about the power of guns when I was nine years old. I had a red felt cowgirl hat that tightened with a white cord under my chin, a holster made of stamped fake leather, and two toy metal six-shooters. When I waved them around shouting “Bang, bang!” I imagined myself out in The Wild West among the saloon owners and cattle rustlers I saw on TV—someplace like Texas.

I wasn’t at all prepared for the real thing. I’ll never forget the principal of my elementary school, his face stricken, telling us the news from Dallas: “The president has been shot.” He sent us home early, and for days afterward we sat in front of our TV watching the disturbing images over and over: the president slumping over in the motorcade car, Jackie spattered with his blood, Jack Ruby fatally shooting alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, the eerie rider-less horse in the funeral procession.

GunGun 2

I thought then that such shattering violence would be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. I didn’t know that one renowned civil rights leader had already been assassinated that year in Mississippi. I couldn’t begin to imagine that within five years two more African-American leaders would also be murdered—along with voting-rights workers and freedom riders and the victims of lynch mobs—and that the brother of the president would also be gunned down by an assassin. Continue reading