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Boy, bye; How I stopped being so scared of evil

 

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Illustration in my Children’s Bible

The Gospel on the first Sunday of Lent describes Jesus’s temptation in the desert. Jesus is tempted by the devil.  The devil is an instigator. He is manipulative especially as he constantly seeks to gain power. Going after Jesus is evidence of the arrogance, narcissism, egoism that comes with being evil. Jesus is able to resist. He is all powerful. Jesus demonstrates the strength and authority needed to resist temptations that we all experience. We all want to attend to our immediate needs. I’m starving so let’s turn these rocks into bread. We want youth, physical strength, and immortality. I’m going to drink my liver into disease because it feels good. Because I’m young, I’ma be all right. We want wealth and power.  Life owes me these things.  Jesus rises above those desires. He sees the ultimate goal. The 40 days have been a test. They’ve been physically hard but he has stayed faithful and strong. He is preparing for what is going to be more difficult. He is finding the discipline before he begins his ministry. Jesus does not fear the devil and sends him away like the nuisance he is.

I grew up very fearful of the devil (What I learned watching The Exorcist). I was much too young(six!) to learn about possession, that the devil was a real entity that could take over a person. It made me much more fearful than my daughter is at that age.  On the other hand, I grew up as a spiritual child. I was drawn to the Bible. I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Gospel of Luke at age 7 because I wanted to do so. One reason I haven’t exposed to her more horror movies or pop culture interpretations of the devil is I find them scary. About 15 years ago, I made a survey and asked my friends when they first saw The Exorcist and what were its long-term effects. I continued to do other readings about exorcism. Those fears stuck with me.

r12mwvNow I’m older and I have had life experiences with different facets of evil. I’m not fearful because I know good prevails. I’ve done a lot of writing about my thoughts as I “exorcised “a “devil.” (My second career as an exorcist) I gained a lot of strength from those experiences. I may laugh when I say “the devil is a lie” and “not today, Satan” but those are true statements. I have been able to look at that evil, at that enemy, to look it in the face and say I’m not afraid of you. That’s powerful.

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Father Tomas is played by Rebelde cutie Alfonso Herrera

On a related note, while dealing with real-life drama, the TV show, The Exorcist, premiered on Fox. While it wasn’t a ratings hit, it was a critical hit and a hit in my household. We watched it every week and analyzed it. I connected it back to what I was living. I found parts of it hilarious. I would argue it is better than the original novel and original film.   Those were good but the TV show’s acting and writing took it to another level. Geena Davis was brilliant. The show explored what is happening in the church regarding the role of lay people, the role of women, and the behind the scenes politics which you may not know about if you haven’t been involved in ministry. I like that the show spoke to the power of family and faith.  As I wait along with other fans to learn if the show will get renewed, I would recommend binge-watching on Hulu or Fox. Don’t be too scared.  Y’all know who wins and who always will.

Watch Season 1 of  The Exorcist

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Jesus saying “Largate!”

 

Fighting temptation

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Mama Mary will knock you out

The devil is busy.  Ash Wednesday was unbelievably tough.  After a challenging day, I was pushed to my limit at the very end of the night.

I am involved in an ongoing and tense correspondence which is a direct result of someone else’s actions.  The person responsible for the mess is someone who has created lots of problems for me in recent years.(An epilogue) While this person is no longer physically around me, I’m resentful I have to resolve the aftermath. In the latest exchange, the person affected by the poor decisions told me (and two colleagues!) how we should handle the situation. Though I was livid, I responded in my usual way. I was polite, clear, and firm as I clarified my understanding of the problem and how I would be handling the situation. I didn’t reveal that this was that other person’s fault. Why shift responsibility when I’m being held accountable? The good news is that my message seems to have been received both literally and figuratively.

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I’m often tempted to take the low road. There’s a part of me that fantasizes about telling people off and putting people in their place in the most explicit, vehement, and aggressive way possible to really mandarlos a volar. Yet that type of behavior goes against my nature, my upbringing, and the values I hold dearest:  integrity, compassion, community, altruism, and mercy.   I try not to be petty and passive-aggressive; this is one of my greatest sins. It’s very hard for me to express my anger with someone. I struggle to come up with a way that’s going to be in line with the rest of the way I live my life. So it’s kept under wraps.  My true feelings get expressed in my writing or my body language, the side eye, the tone in the email or in my voice.  I vent with others who may be removed from the situation but that type of venting (aka gossip, another of my sins) goes against the values of community, compassion, and mercy. I have to stay true to myself.  I can’t give in to my worst self. My evil Kermit may seem hilarious but in real life, that side of me will wreak havoc. Though I have struggled through years of emotional and spiritual work, I wrestle with this temptation every day.

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Lent reminds me of my mortality, my weakness, and my need for a clean heart. It’s my will power and my willingness to be part of the solution. I am here to do right.  There’s a whole lot of wrong in the world. Each day, I experience misplaced, misdirected, misunderstood, and misguided pain and anger that those around me do not know how to manage. Sometimes I don’t know how to handle their emotions or my own. Yet every day, I see love and compassion. I stay strong. I remember that my focus is to be a better version of myself for my own well-being but more importantly for the growth of my child. She has so much potential to be an amazing woman someday. I need to do what I can to help get her there. The Lord is testing me this Lent as He should. I am challenged to be strong and brave, and to take comfort in the Lord.  Miracles don’t happen without faith and discipline. That’s the truth about many tests that I have faced. They result in growth, peace, and happiness. At the end of this season of struggle, there will be resurrection.

A.D. The Bible Continues

An epilogue

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Caral, Peru. Photo by J. Calderon, 2014.

“..we found you lying

Choking on the dirt and sand

Your former glories and all the stories

Dragged and washed with eager hands

But, oh, your city lies in dust…” “Cities in Dust” by Siouxsie and The Banshees

A terrible situation I have experienced for many years recently ended. (Year of milagros) Though I claimed I would samba in joy, I didn’t. Nor did I throw confetti, pop bottles or make it rain.  Certain routines feel awkward. Certain places bring back memories.  The reality of victory is simply that, a reality. Life has moved forward quietly.

I do ask if it’s really over. I wonder if my work with this particular situation is done.(My second career as an exorcist)Call it PTSD (though I don’t like to, given my personal experience loving someone with true PTSD) or shock, I have moments when I brace myself for more fighting.  After years of experiencing abuse, it will take time to resolve these reactions.

I wonder about the other party. Has this person reflected on choices made and actions taken? Can this person heal?  I don’t have it in me to truly hate this individual. Deep inside, underneath layers and strata, yes strata, of God only knows what, this person is in so much pain. It is a pain so visceral and so overwhelming that it has terrorized others for decades. That’s some mierda.   I will continue to lift this person up in prayer. Fix this person, Jesus.

Though I say “icant”

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My secretary gave me this paperweight for Christmas. To know me is to love me.

or “I’m unable to can”

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Team Petty. T-shirt collection to prove it.

for a laugh or to keep from cursing on the daily, I know I can. Taking on a malicious individual has taught me that I can stand strong. I can fight back without compromising my better self. I can win.

Wayward shepherd

 

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“’And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.’”  Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

As I did exactly a year ago(An Advent first), I began my Advent fast after evening Mass. The morning has been one of silence: the silence of a smartphone used merely as phone and not social media device, the silence involved with a nutritional cleanse, and as hoped annually, the silence of prayer. I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time in months.   It felt wonderful to be grateful and to be still.  However, soy realista and I own who I am.  This will be a struggle as it was last year(Ruining Advent.)  It’s possible that by tomorrow, my emotions will get the best of me and my thoughts will run ragged.  Como decia Cantinflas, ahi esta el detalle.

My biggest challenge isn’t my compulsion to be online.  It is my propensity for negative emotions and thoughts.
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Gossip, sarcasm, and shade throwing may be humorous and entertaining but they also allow me to give voice and free reign to anger, resentment, and meanness. As evidenced by this year’s Kermit meme of the moment(and I do love me some Kermit, My love of Kermit memes), everyone struggles with their dark side.
73291699 I’m not the only one who feels that the f@#*ery is too much at times.  But I’m the only person who can control how I act and think given the situations and people around me.

Recently, within hours of declaring myself unwilling to deal with negative online conversations about the election(Holding the door open,) I became engaged in an online debate about immigration with someone I’ve known since the eighth grade. In the past, we’ve been able to respectfully disagree.  This time, I couldn’t believe the angry tone that was taken. While I pointed out facts, my acquaintance responded with vitriolic statements. When I realized I couldn’t argue with logic and reason, I took the step of silencing the discussion by blocking my account.

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I flirted with the idea of sharing screen shots of the conversation or of composing a blog about the situation.  I’m glad I didn’t follow through on those actions. I would have gained nothing other than temporary satisfaction.  While I’m hilarious when I’m petty,  I do more good when I keep those cruel thoughts quiet.

The daily struggle will be one mostly within me.  I will have to be mindful and purposeful.  Every day, I will have the opportunity to be my best self.   Every day will be another day to sustain the peace offered by silence and compassion. May I fast from the noise of anger.

My second career as an exorcist

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St. Dymphna in full effect

I went into my career because of my first principles. I love to read. I love to write.  I love to share ideas through conversation.  I love to help others.  So, fresh out of college, I stayed at my beloved alma mater, despite acceptance letters from prestigious East Coast universities(mi mama was upset about that for years), to get my teaching credential.  I was 23 and I thought I was going to change the world and somehow also write the next great American novel.  I’m 44 now. I have changed many lives, most importantly, my own, and my writing is still my true passion.  I still love books and people.  So how is it that in the past few years, I have found myself in the role of exorcist.  Que?  Como?

When I was six years old(be patient, y’all who know this story), my soccer playing dad  would take us to the park every weekend so my mom could hang with her besties and all the kids would play in a huge multi-age pack.  The big kids decided we could head to one of the soccer players’ home nearby and watch a movie on the Betamax. I was introduced to the horror movie that would stay with me por vida.  I know a thing or two about fighting el chamuco and now I have real-life experiences.  (Lessons from the Exorcist)Because while the devil may be a lie, evil is real, relevant, and very much embraced by many.  Pick a city anywhere on the planet.  Point your finger at someone you know.  Evil is there, giving you the side eye of all side eyes.

Though I’m only a few years into fighting evil as part of my nine to five, I can tell you some must-dos.  In no particular order:

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Fear is normal.  My head aches. My stomach churns. My heart starts pounding like I’m six again and the nightlight just burnt out.  Accept your fear.  Feel it.  Then move forward.

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Have a battle buddy.  Find a mentor who is strong, tough, and stable.  Your mentor, like mine, can serve as your coach and partner.  This is not work you do by yourself.  You will need someone to have your back.  Work on the bond you share.  You may have disagreements but you must share the same vision, mission, and purpose.  Of course, the demon will attempt to divide and conquer.  That won’t work if your team is strong.

Take care of yourself.  Sleep (though it may be disturbed for a few days or weeks depending on the situation.) Eat clean. Hydrate.  Pray or spend time in silence.  Doing battle with evil is like preparing for a half-marathon or training for Carnaval without the glamour or fun.  A weak warrior will fall.

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Finally, believe in the good work that you do. Believe in the good person you are and understand that this other individual is a hot mess for reasons beyond your control.  If you’re a really good person, realize that somewhere underneath all that maldad, there is/was a good person who got lost along the way. Know that you are protecting others by taking on this challenge. Now let’s go get ‘em!

Beyond bling: the politics of Carnavalesco costuming

For those of you who think feathers, beads, and bright colors when Carnaval costumes are mentioned, you are only getting about 15% of the experience. In my contingent, Oakland’s SambaFunk, our yearly theme has current political undertones and overtones. The theme is visually presented through graphic art, discussed in class to explain the choreographies to guide our movements, and pondered for those of us who want to take a more method acting approach to our characters.  Heady stuff if you were expecting that we simply focus on shaking our tail feathers.  And shake we do but always with a message.  This year, however, the villains in the epic battle between good and evil would be portrayed by the dancers.  Given all the time I have spent analyzing and strategizing about the real villains I have known in my personal life(When you have to go bad )as well as the real-life bad guys aiming for increased power, I was immediately drawn to playing a Janker.
A Janker is a cross between Batman’s Joker and a banker.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the inspiration for our characters
Jankers are the international(and domestic) bankers who have exploited communities for their own personal gain. They are currently above the law but the whole point of our presentation this year was that Jankers could be brought to justice.  In my mind, I began to think about Jankers in popular culture.
Damn Jankers
I also thought about an individual I know who I feel has demonstrated the manipulative and self-aggrandizing tendencies of a Janker. My character was created.
With character in process, it was time to focus on costuming.  Costuming is hands-on work. While seamstresses may sew some pieces of the costume, dancers must individualize and “bling” their costume.  As a “freshman” in my samba school, I was clueless about this process. I didn’t help with costume construction and only attended one “blinging” party. When I arrived on Carnaval morning, I realized how generic my costume looked beside others.  As with Carnaval makeup, the Carnaval costume can express character and theme. Four seasons later, I knew to be purposeful in finishing my Carnaval look.
The Janker colors were green, royal purple, and iridescent or clear. I was responsible for decorating my cane, top hat, vest, and pants.  After a tedious process in which M and I sorted several bags of acrylic gems by color, shape, and size, I chose specific gem styles to use in varying patterns.  I chose green circles to represent global domination.
Clear and irisdescent gems would represent wealth as in diamonds. Purple and green gems would literally represent jewels like emeralds and amethysts. The teardrop became my symbol of choice.
Top of my top hat
Back of my top hat reveals the purpose of a Janker
Purple rain of tears
What does that mirror reveal?
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As a result of Janker thievery and trickery, many have shed tears of anger, grief, and hopelessness.  So teardrops are the shape you see all over my costume.  I even placed teardrops near my eyes as part of this year’s makeup.

So while Jankers  as characters and symbols are bad, we sure did look good.

2016 Jankers: Making bad look good
Janker Dance at Oakland Carnival 2016

As I have stated before, Carnaval is a creative process that has allowed me opportunities to grapple with experiences and thoughts that are challenging in a way that is ultimately empowering.  Viva Carnaval!

All I really need to know I learned watching The Exorcist

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant. Anything beyond that is dangerous. He’s a liar. The demon is a liar. He would like to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, powerful. So don’t listen. Remember that. Do not listen.” Father Merrin to Father Karras, The Exorcist
For most of my life, my fear of evil understandably overwhelmed me. From my childhood ponderings about good and evil to my adulthood grappling with evil in the people I encountered in my personal life, I often felt passive and powerless. I often felt as if I had barely escaped a terrible fate. Working as a teacher and administrator in environments where violence was a harsh reality, I began to realize that societal evil could be battled through strength of mind and heart. If I could be stable, focused, and compassionate, I might be able to reach those affected by the negativity and hatred in the world. An incident with a particularly memorable student helped me reframe my thinking and lessen my fears. (Half-hour with the Devil, 2006) Changes in my personal life helped build my strength.
But evil ain’t goin’ nowhere. It’s everywhere. In  Ferguson.   In Oakland. It might even sit across the table from you at work. I come to the table, both literal and figurative, with all kinds of experience and training. But some people and the situations they create require a different set of skills and more importantly, a unique mindset. So I go back, way back, to a moment that shaped me. I go back to the movie that has had a strong impact on me, The Exorcist.
Lately I have realized that the horror film offers some practical advice. In preparing themselves to face a monstrous demon, the two priests must strategize.  The veteran exorcist(for y’all who haven’t watched and dissected this movie dozens of times like I have, the title refers to the man with a tough job, not the poor girl victim)mentors his younger helper. He points out that even conversation can kill.   
Y alli lo tienes. Because if you’ve read this far, you know I’m not talking about the movie. The advice given can apply to any situation in which you meet with someone who takes actions that purposefully hurt you or others and whose words are weapons. Speak your truth and shut out their negative energy. 
I played this clip three times yesterday, once on my desktop and twice on my phone.Do Not Listen from The Exorcist 
I played it before I went behind closed doors with my mentor to confront evil.  We walked out safely. But the battle has just begun. 
Perhaps I should acquire some holy water.