Liberated by History

I have been taught history (a subject I love) in a myriad of ways. Fortunately, not as a series of dates to be memorized but as political movements and change influenced by  disease, technological, medical advances, religion, nationalism, power, and personality.

In seminary I had the great good fortune of reading Justo Gonzalez’ two volume history of the Christian Church. Imagine telling the story of the early Christian church through the challenges that ignited differing theologies and their struggle for primacy and the intersection of politics and nation building with growth of Christianity. HIs history telling is a well researched and clear-eyed exploration of how the political and theological world as we know it came into being.

I wish we taught history this way so that people could see the development and  movement of ideas. Could engage with ideas about how we are connected and  how today is built on what has gone before.I wish we were able to accept historical figures as bound by their time and examine how they were a part of moving us and our ideals, understandings, and values into our present.

As a working theologian, I am always aware that I am in dialogue with ideas that have come before and that my new perspective can offer correction or challenge. But the Ideas of those who lived and struggled before us are important because they open the dialogue.  Liberation, Black, Womanist, Feminist, Process,  or any other theology does not exist in a vacuum. We are all a part of global, historical conversations about faith and our understanding of the universe.  We are informed by science, history, and the constant influx of new information, new generations and populations. For me, Christianity is not about what people believed or how they lived over two thousand years ago. It is about what remains relevant at its core. How the truths of the faith engage with present reality.

Is it not important to know that the world view of first century Christians was very different from our world view today? How can it not be. The same with our politics. It is important to ask the questions of the framers of the Constitution. How were they bound by history and culture? How did they contribute to the conversation that has moved us into where we are today in the struggle for freedom? Do we need to reject what we now see as absolutely unacceptable? of course. But I truly believe we must also see ourselves in a historical relationship that, by its very nature, encourages the tough conversations we are having as a nation today around race, gender, personhood, and human rights.

As a nation, our history is built on what is often called ‘the Great Experiment.’  Rather than reject what and who have come before us, let us do what all experimenters do: build on what works and reject that which does not. This nation is built on glorious ideas tried for the first time in thousands of years (if you think of Athens as a democracy, and then it makes my point that American democracy took much of what worked in Athenian democracy, discarded the rest, and built on it for the then modern age.) We must move forward informed by new voices, differing experiences, new ways of perceiving both the mistakes and the triumphs of our historical past.

May our new understandings of history liberate us to the work of making real the promises of our shared dream.

 

Today I Remember to Wash My Hands

One of my favorite poems, “Naming of Parts”,  is about a new recruit learning about his weapon while his mind wonders to the beauty of nature around him. He keeps being brought back to the weapon of death but his heart and mind are full of life. That’s kind of how this Covid 19 crisis feels to me. Here is my rewrite  of the original. (the original follows)

 “Keeping Us Safe”
Today I remember to wash my hands. Yesterday,
we disinfected our doorknobs. And tomorrow morning,
we will remember to wear our masks. But to-day,
Today I remember to wash my hands. Azaleas.
Shyly open their petals in the garden by my front door.
And today I remember to wash my hands.

And this is my N95 mask. And this
is my hand sanitizer, whose use you will see,
When you touch things. And this is a PPE
Which in our case we have not got.  The breeze
Wafts gently through the mottled leaves
Which in our case we have not got.

This is distance, which I will always stand from you
An easy calculation. And please do not let me
See anyone coming closer than six feet. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength of will. Birds overhead
Glide in widening arcs, never coming
closer to us than six feet.

And this you can see is me washing my hands. The purpose
Is to kill the virus so it does not spread. We scrub
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Washing our hands. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The bees flit among the early blooms scattering pollen:
We call it washing our hands.

They call it keeping us safe. It is perfectly easy
If you wash your hands and wear a mask, standing six feet apart.
These are the things that will help keep us safe: and the sun warms our skin
In the gardens of early blooms and bees flitting by,
Which in our case will keep us safe.
For today I will remember to wash my hands.

 

the poem that inspired it:

“Naming of Parts” by Henry Reed
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica.
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.

 

Messy Spirituality

Loving Godde is messy.
I often find that people tend to think that being ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ means being at peace, centered, above hardships when they occur, and being without internal conflicts. My experience is very, very different. I invite you to join me in exploring a kind of relationship with Godde that is large enough to hold your grief, your despair, your doubts, your anger, you hatred, and every feeling that places you off the chart of what is considered spiritual.

Last week I wrote about my hate. Well, that’s certainly not seen as spiritual. But hate is also a spiritual event. How it moves me and focuses me makes it a spiritual event. It places me squarely in the middle of a personal struggle that I want to work out with Godde.
My experience is that being authentic is more important than being what is expected.  If I want a vibrant, engaged relationship with Godde I start where I am. Struggle where I am. Tell the truth to myself and to Godde. Then I’m being spiritual.

I am not being spiritual when I say what people think I should say or believe what people think I should believe. I am not being spiritual when I put a bandaid over a gaping hole in my soul. I am being spiritual when I lay myself down before Godde with all of who I am and with the arrogance of one who knows herself to be well-loved.

I am willing to say things that make people uncomfortable because I am only  ‘spiritual’ when I am my most authentic self.  I am a cussing, passionate, tender, justice-seeker engaged with Godde’s world. Godde meets me there. It’s where we hammer things out. It’s where I am challenged and transformed – even when I dig in my heels and raise my fist. Godde is never absent. When I am as authentic as I can be, when I am present with myself, I am present with Godde.
Join me here. Step off the high dive of your fears. The water is fine. For my Christian friends I would add, splash around in the grace of your baptism. Those waters are a buoy, not an undertow.

Here’s my altar call:
When Godde says ‘do not be afraid’, believe it.
Don’t be afraid to let your spiritual life be rough and tumble at times.
Quiet and centered at times. But mostly and always, authentic.

If you believe that you are a beloved child of Godde,  act like it.

The Audacity to Walk into the Fray

Who are these so- called ‘neighbors’
I keep seeing?
Fellow citizens
sporting swásticas
waving  confederate flags
and spewing hate?
They didn’t  just move in
they’ve always been here,
but now they’ve been given the courage
to display their hideous sympathies by
their great leader.
In our names.

These folks stoke my every fear
by their willingness to dehumanize others
and their shameless hate.
But more important,  as all this has unfolded
like a slow motion train
plowing toward a non-existent trestle,
is who I have become.

The truth is
I have become a hater.
I have become a hater of Trump and his minions.
There I said it.
I hate how you hate
I hate your self-righteousness
I hate your intractability
I hate what you stand for
I hate that you have no shame in your hating.
I hate how your hating makes me afraid.

I don’t like hating
I don’t want to be twisted by
my own hatred.
And I don’t like being afraid.

Scripture tells me
that love casts out fear.
I don’t want to love right now.
But I will try to remember that I am loved.
Because that Love bestows
courage we need to face these times..

So as we move forward
remember how deeply loved you are
all the way out to your edges
all the way down to the breath you draw.
It will not protect you
but it will give you what you need
to do what must be done.
and say what must be said.
Do not be afraid.
For the love of Godde
gives us the audacity
to walk into the fray.

A personal share

I’m pretty sure most of you who read my blog know that I am a deep feeler. If you’ve spent any time on these pages or if you have read my memoir, you know I access a depth of emotions. Grief, rage, and often hope in times (so frequent these days)of trial. I also experience  the exhaustion of being overwhelmed by feelings. Then there are the moments I am ‘surprised by joy’ or enraptured by grace, but I have a heart that bears a lot of pain. Not complaining. It is a gift to be able feel deeply that sometimes requires more courage than I think I have.

By contrast, my boy Harry, lived in a state of joy. I lost him this week and it feels like I have lost my joy. He gave my heart balance. I could not live in relationship to such joy and not be pulled outside of myself when he invited me to share in even the smallest things. From toys, to walks, to gentle proximity.

In his younger days he would slip out the front door and race through the neighborhood with abandon, delighted that he marshaled every spare hand in the chase. There was no naughtiness only the joy of the chase, the game, and being so very alive.

Today I am bereft. My joy is buried with love and dignity in my back yard. I am grieving so hard. What is saving me is the gratitude I have for his beloved life. I pray I am able to find and carry the gift of joy he gave me as a tribute to his life well-lived and deeply loving.

Hope is Not Pretty

Hope is not pretty.
It is not the shine on patent leather shoes
or the flowers on Easter bonnets.
It is not an airy sense of pleasure
in your chest that says
everything will be okay.

Hope is the guttural cry of a people
struggling to rise from despair.
It is the fierce refusal to accept
hatred as the grounding of life.
It is looking into the eyes of  that hatred
with the grace of transparency.
It is the deep, deep longing
to bring about justice.
It  is trembling with fear and
not giving into terror.

Hope makes beautiful
our broken and ugly places,
confers power
challenges despair.
So let us hope
Let us hope passionately.
Let us speak and act
and stand and march
and live into the hope
that calls us to create a just future
out of the rubble of despair.

Do Not Touch My Beloved Child

Things are different now. We live in the age of information technology. We have the visuals, as traumatic as they can be, that connect people who look like me to the immediacy of Black reality.  It is up close and personal and when George Floyd calls out for his mother my mother’s heart
fills with rage
beats with anguish
is crushed by compassion
greater than at any other time.
And that, my friends, doesn’t mean that I felt no rage or anguish or compassion before.
I marched with 20,000 in Forsyth County or with thousands on King day. Nor that I felt no anguish about health systems, economic systems, and justice systems that do not value Black lives.

It has always been an evil to be resisted. Always a place where my heart ached. Always required my actions and words in response.

But when I heard George Floyd call out for his mother I was filled with a power that screamed, “Do not hurt my child!”
That horrific video called for a fight in ways never before plumbed.
It became mine in ways I never before understood.

Before that moment I was committed to struggles for justice. I was willing to put my self on the line from protest marches to confronting racism in conversations and institutions. My values, based on my understanding and experience of Godde, are justice based. I cannot love my neighbor as myself if I do not love you, love your life.

But something changed. A child called out for his mother and I heard it.
And he was my child. Every mother’s child.
And my mother’s heart rages
nestled within the raging mother heart of Godde.

And I am screaming to the world
to the entrenchment of systemic racism
to my neighbors
to my enemies
that every Trayvon Marin
every Anthony Hill
every George Floyd
every Breonna Taylor
who dies at the hands of racists-
is my child, too.
I scream from deep within the raging Mother heart of Godde:
“Do not touch my beloved child!”

Invitation to Easter of the Un-believer

My friend, Maggie, could put a dead stick in the ground and it would grow.

Her husband, Ernie, worked on the line at the local GM plant and Maggie made their home. Their son was born with cerebral palsy. Maggie and Ernie left the church the day women from the congregation visited after Butch’s birth and ask why God was punishing them and what was their sin. Maggie was having none of that. She channeled her energy into helping start the CP Center here in Atlanta where she volunteered with the children every day. Then  Butch died of pneumonia when he was 16.

Their world got smaller and revolved around their older child, a sassy, smart, independent daughter named Ginny. As their long-time next door neighbor, I became a part of their family.  Ginny died from breast cancer in her early 50’s. When Ginny died, I was fresh from seminary and had the difficult privilege of walking with  them through her illness and death. We met to talk about her funeral and  they decided  on  a brief service at the cemetery. Maggie wanted the 23rd Psalm read, other than that she wanted little mention of God. It would already be tense because I (a woman!) was leading the service and their gathered family (absent during Ginny’s illness and otherwise) were pretty rigid fundamentalists. Indeed, they managed to find inappropriate ways and times to comment on how wrong it was that I was presiding at the service. Would that they had kept their thoughts to themselves and comforted  Maggie  and Ernie in their gaping grief.

It was during that time that I got a lot of clarity about Easter. It has nothing to do with what you believe about the resurrection of the body, nothing to do with what you believe about anything. It is the powerful experience beyond words: that death is not final, that justice is not finished, and that love responds to  our struggles with hope beyond our wildest imagination.

Maggie taught me not to demean Easter with doctrine.

Today, I invite you to Easter beyond belief.
Easter is the uneasy time when our hearts are broken open and we stand in the naked beauty of unknowing, bathed in a grace that neither requires answers nor rejects our questions.

Today I invite you to the Easter of the Un-believer.

What If Project

I met Glenn Siepert when he messaged me to ask if I would be on his podcast for the What If Project.  I made a new friend.  We had a great conversation – so much so I forgot I was being interviewed!
I’d love for you to take a listen and let me know what you think – but also take time explore his site and see the good, thoughtful, loving work he is doing.  (see the link to his webpage below the podcast links)

The What If Project.  https://www.whatifproject.net

Why Is Not the Question

In times of crisis or grief or shattering defeat the first question people bring to me is, “Why?’ They are looking to find meaning in their experience. While I am willing to hold that question gently in our conversations, it is foreign  to me to ask, ‘Why?’ when we talk about meaning. And that’s what we are searching for with that question. What is the meaning here? Unfortunately, the ‘why’ question can be seductive and can lead us astray.
‘Why’ can  initiate  blame.
‘Why’ can confine Godde into an untenable box.
‘Why’ can expose our limitations and our prejudices.
‘Why’ can imply that, in the end, we control outcomes. (e.g. if we knew how to appease Godde these things wouldn’t happen).
‘Why’ can  open the door to hate. These days it’s the Chinese, the gays, the Dems.
‘Why” can point to all the places we feel powerless.

‘Why?’ is a great question for science, political critiques, and recipe failures. I just don’t think it can point us toward the deeper questions of our hearts and minds and souls. It isn’t a question that invites us to find deeper meaning in either the difficulties or the sheer joy of life. It’s not wrong or bad to ask why but perhaps  a different question can offer both meaning and hope.

A better question, I believe, is: “How?”
How do I want to respond from my deepest values?
How am I to live in these circumstances and with these challenges?
How can I be my best self when required to do difficult things?
How can I listen for and respond to my neighbors’ needs?
How do I live into my Christ-self while living with threat and fear?

These questions and more are the ones we need to ask as we walk together through this time.  Our answers will create the meaning we are searching for.