My Big Book News

I signed a contract for my book!

After years of work (okay, often sidetracked by work that pays the bills) and a slew of rejections, I signed with Wipf and Stock Press and A Gracious Heresy: the queer calling of an unlikely prophet, will arrive in the fall of 2018.

It really is like a pregnancy. A long, seemingly endless, pregnancy. Scads of creative energy that depends on your blood and bones, heart and mind, to mature into a viable being – that’s what it feels like.  And I am proud and terrified, relieved and anxious. Like any new parent.

NOW I get it that  I have exposed myself and I am like Eve, looking around for a fig leaf. Memoir writing depends on truth telling. And my truth-telling reveals a complex conundrum that is at times humorous, sad, lonely, connected, and very, very, human. But if I can use a piece of well worn wisdom, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  I don’t know what will come next but that’s nothing new for me. I’ll hang on for the ride and see if I can steer.

Today, with pleasure and trepidation, I invite you to a snippet of the work:

” Frankly, I am the very last person you would consider to be a prophet. Even writing that feels grandiose. My life is untidy. I don’t always do my best. There are times I’ve wanted to give up. More times than I’d like to admit. And even though I am driven by grace I can be harsh in my opinions of others and harsher in estimations of myself. Or worse, I give myself a pass but find it hard to allow for the frailty of others. And there are times I get so pissed off at God I could spit. I am like Jonah who sat under that bush and groused because God extended compassion to the people he despised.

The following tale is a story about how I got myself – or God got me – into the heresy of challenging the church to justice over doctrine and compassion over polity. You might think I’m a heretic and you might be right. I’ve been called worse.

Here is a story about the gracious heresy of my life and an unlikely call to prophetic ministry. Nothing grand. Nothing large. Mostly it’s a story about the risk and the price of being faithful and learning to trust that somehow it makes a difference.”

 

Trump’s Rise to Power


It prays on my mind that ordinary Germans allowed a man like Hitler to rise to power.
Even taking into account the economic depression that hit Germany, how could they let a man like him take power?

Now I know.
First, some are seduced because their fears are played to:
fear of people of other races and nationalities
fear for their safely
fear for their economic future
fear of change

Then the fears
normalize hate
normalize misinformation
normalize our worst impulses

Trump has played all those cards.
Like the master grifter he is,
who many thought was just an act,
that he would rise to
the “occasion of the Presidency”

He rose, alright.
Like Hitler on Krystallnacht
He plays to people’s fear
to deconstruct the government
to violate the rule of law
to turn us against one another
for his own benefit.

He is tearing apart our nation
so that we feel divided from one another
He is tearing apart our global relationships
disconnecting us from the many who share
our democratic values

He despises freedom.
of the press
of the people to protest
and as he rises he is attempting to devalue
both the press and the people.

He is carved from the same stone
as Hitler
and too many of us are blind to this rise,
to the possibility of a holocaust beyond our imagining,
somehow feeling safer to normalize
than to challenge.

This is Trump’s rise to power
and we are letting it happen
If there is a history left to record,
how will it judge us?

The Gracious Heretic

My  posts are all over the place. Politics. Spiritual practice. Theological musings. Feminism. Personal stories. Occasional rants.
“They” tell me that if I want my book to sell when it comes out I need to brand myself.
Generate a blog with consistent, thought-provoking themes. Themes that point to the direction and scope of the book.
They tell me I need to get people to “buy in” to my writing on this blog.
Gee, wouldn’t that be great. But if  you’re reading this you’ve already bought in.

I’m not good at that branding stuff. If I pick a word or two or three or four to focus what “I am about” I lose several dozen other things that are equally important to me. Some days I’m pensive, some I’m discombobulated.

So this is what I want to know: how do you do it?  And maybe even more than that, do I want to do it? Or maybe the word brand is what gets in my way. A brand is basically the way you want other people to see you. Of course, I want you to see me as spiritually enlightened, politically engaged, feminist, Christian, wise, and if I had my complete druthers, beautiful.

Another thing about a brand is that one comes to trust or distrust a brand based on personal experience. I think that is what I strive for: to tell the truth, even when it is difficult, even when it is about myself. In those ways I try hard to be trustworthy.

So here’s the truth as I see it. I am a heretic in the classic definition of the word: I hold opinions contrary to church dogma. I also work really hard to be gracious, meaning godly, compassionate, kind, forgiving, and justice-loving. So maybe that’s my brand. The all-over-the-place posts you read are all located there. And you can trust that. Or with experience and over time, see a consistency that earns your trust.

So brand me The Gracious Heretic. It’s all I got.

Thanks for reading.

 

Easter Heresy

This is Easter,
when our hearts beat with truths
not facts,
pounding the rhythm of
some knowing
of rebirth
love
justice
and promises kept.

This is Easter
when we try to find words
paint pictures
make music
that captures
the unknowable,
all that is beyond
our small imaginings

This is Easter.
This celebration
of grace
beyond explanation,
of hope
transcending dread;
trusting  the inconceivable,
availing ourselves
to a cosmos
filled with tender possibilities.

This is Easter
To be known by Love
in ways that make us fearless
in both life
and death.

 

 

 

Passover Heresy

To some:
It is a heresy to celebrate a religious holiday on a day other than the prescribed date.
It is a heresy to place an orange in the middle of a seder plate.
It is a heresy to adopt a tradition outside one’s own.

To me, it is only ‘heresy’ when my tradition (Christianity) appropriates the meal to give it ‘Christian’ meaning. The story is universal. It is the story of the Jews. It is the story of humanity. The question for me is, “where do our stories intersect?”.

My answer this year is this:
they intersect in the places we are oppressed
they intersect in the places we oppress others
they intersect when we examine the journey of the faithfulness/faithlessness
they intersect when the story we recall resonates in our hearts and minds

With great thanksgiving for the Jewish tradition of the Passover seder,
we celebrate the meal each year
and we remember
and we learn
and we internalize
and we encourage
and we mourn
and we celebrate
and we learn to hope again

We challenge authority and the misuse of power. We encourage one another to resist. We remember to trust that Godde’s vision for humanity as one of freedom.

And we learn with our bodies. We take it in.
the flatness
the bitterness
the heaviness
the sweetness of safety at the expense of slavery
the price of freedom
the joy of shared stories
and the celebration of hope.

This is our gracious heresy: that our stories are shared and that they call us again and again to remember who we are  to one another and to Godde.

It’s the Patriarchy, Stupid!



 During his first run for president Bill Clinton’s ‘war room’ was dominated by James Carville’s hand printed sign “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” It reminded them not to get off message. It worked. Focus on what is important and people will respond positively. It’s a lesson we would do well to learn from.

Patriarchy is the problem. Fighting the patriarchy doesn’t mean fighting men, disenfranchising men, or eliminating men.  Fighting the patriarchy means fighting the system currently in power. The system that defines what it means to be male and female and values what is assumed to be male over what is assumed to be female. Bell Hooks reminds us, though, that patriarchy has no gender. It is a system  imposed on our theology, politics, and social interactions.

Institutions are embedded in the patriarchy. They get their power and ‘legitimacy’ from shoring up patriarchal values. The church elevates those values to ‘sacred.’  Political systems are so entrenched that resistance to change is concretized.

Here’s the thing: you can’t be a part of the world and not be subject to the patriarchy. That includes everyone: male, female, transgender folk, and gender queer, gender non-conforming. Everyone. Everyone is limited by a system that elevates one gender expression over every other. Everyone is limited when barriers are put up that keep people in or out. Everyone suffers when their expression of humanity is constrained by a system that perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism and all the ‘isms’ that define us as ‘less than’. Men are limited by the patriarchy, too. The only difference is that their gender grants unquestioned power and superiority. Most men don’t realize that it is a constructed and unquestioned system that dispenses their ‘superiority’.

Smashing the patriarchy means that men would necessarily relinquish their assumed superiority. They would need to share  power and challenge assumptions about their values. That process could open them to accept parts of themselves they have felt the need to reject. Cis men have been confined and injured by the patriarchy, too. The perks of it are seductive, but the price is disabling.
                                   So what is the point of all this? It’s the patriarchy, stupid.

I am a feminist, a Christian, a lesbian, a minister, and a mother. I have worked construction, waited tables, and served a congregation. I do not let the patriarchy define any of those things about me.
When I talk to my sister about religion and politics she often refers to ‘the church’ in disparaging terms. I get it. My daily traffic with people hurt by the institutional church is endless. It is important to me to claim my path as Christian. Which is very different from the institutionalized patriarchy of the Church. Politically, I am a Democrat. But I disavow the systemic patriarchy of the way the party works as an institution.

Here’s the invitation in two parts. First, become and stay aware of the patriarchal system and how it affects you as you live in the world. Then listen to how others are affected by it. You will begin to see it everywhere. And you should, because that’s where it is. And when you see it, don’t be afraid to name it. We need to stop assuming it is some cosmic or human norm.

Second, resist. The politics of resistance is not complete unless we are working to undermine a system that diminishes and elevates people without regard to what makes us truly human.

Every act of resistance begins from here. Put a sign up on your wall or over your desk, a post-it note on the dashboard of your car, scratch it out on the cover of your notebook, prop it up over your TV:
It’s the patriarchy, stupid!

 

 

 

The Consequences of Being Present: a Lenten Practice


          At Circle of Grace we are exploring the spiritual practice of ‘being present’ during Lent, especially in worship. Since we are a small community it is easy for all of us to participate.

We began the season with a discussion of our own mortality and how Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are made of dust and to dust we shall return. So if the beginning of Lent invites us to ponder our own deaths, how do we respond? Sometimes experiencing the death of a loved one makes one pensive. We think about the meaning of life and become self-reflective. Another response is to become intensely aware of being alive. Colors become more profound, sounds sharper, taste richer, flesh more sensitive. We become more fully present in our bodies, our lives, and our world. We find that we need to be honest.

How to incorporate that awareness and the desire to be present with Godde?  How could I structure (loosely) worship to reflect this practice? So far, these are the things we find helpful:

-Laying down our burdens. At the beginning of the service we go around the circle and speak the burden we need to lay down to be more fully present. Most often it is a worry or anxiety we carry. No comments, no fixes, only the attempt to release the busy-ness that keeps us from being in the moment. It is a conscious struggle, sometimes not attained but, at least, attempted. We then begin worship with words we have repeated since our inception: “Step aside from the busy-ness of the day. Let us open to the touch, the breath, the power of the Spirit. Let us draw a circle around ourselves in this place and step onto holy ground.”

-celebrating the physicality of the Eucharist. We pass the bread before it is broken so that each one might feel the roughness or smoothness of its texture and smell the scent of yeast and salt and flour. We listen to the sound it makes when it is torn in two and watch crumbs fall to the patent below. We pass the cup to look at the depth of color and take a moment to savor the aroma of its sweetness. And as we serve one another we savor the sharing and the tasting, present with each other and with the feast that invites us into life.

I have found that being present is not only a physical and spiritual activity, it is a political one. When we experience ourselves and one another as part of an intrinsic whole our world view can no longer take the shape of ‘us and them’. Christ’s call to love justice passionately moves us from awareness to action.

I have found that being present isn’t the end game. For me, it is a practice that brings me more fully into the struggle for peace and justice in the wider world. It makes me more honest in speaking out and less afraid of the consequences of living with integrity.

 

Update: Clarification and Rant

DAMN. DAMN. DAMN.

After a vigorous conversation someone I respect,  I now realize that terms I used in my last blog may have been less than clear. So let me start with what I meant by the use of the word ‘conservative’. To do that I must also talk about what I do NOT mean by the term.

I am of an age where conservatism is not equated with White Fundamentalist Christian Triumphalism. So when I ues the word conservative I am referring to another breed. One I still disagree with vehemently but one that is based on political and economic theories (however misguided to my mind) rather than religious and racial “truths”.  I am not talking about the gullible, the fearful, the intractable, the ignorant, or the white supremacists who people much of the conservative landscape nurtured at the teats of Gingrich, the Tea Party, and Trump .

I want to respect conservatives. I do respect conservatives. I want to discuss ideas with them but have no desire to engage politically with those whose minds are locked in a steel tumbler that circles endlessly with no entrance or exit.

I DO believe what I said in my last blog:
We need to be political athletes that can compete with one another, respect each       other’s strengths, and identify each other’s weaknesses. In the end we are both necessary to play the vigorous  game of democracy.

To have those conversations requires critical thinking skills, an acknowledgment of facts, and an agenda free of religious doctrine. Please note I said ‘doctrine’ and not ‘influence’. Because some of our best impulses come from core ideals present in all religions: love, peace, and justice. To have these conversations means that  we begin with the shared  values upon which this nation was founded and the direction toward growth to which our principles point. That slow arc toward justice means that racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and all the exclusionary phobias must be acknowledged and then addressed based on our shared political principles, not personal religious ones.

White Fundamentalist Triumphalist Christianity is not the final word on the definition of conservatism. It is a small subset of conservatism that ,instead,  is the opening word on fascism. It is anti-democracy and anti-republic. It is exclusionary, built on the myth superiority, and wrapped in a cloak fear.  Those are the folks we must fight tooth and nail, put our lives on the lines to overcome, and resist with all our beings.

I am NOT saying “LET’S MAKE NICE”. I am trying to say, “Let’s remember who we are, folks, and do what we can to make it work. Our differences do not make us enemies. Our enemies are abundant enough. And they are in the White House, the Senate, Congress, and even the Supreme Court.

The GOP, Russian Bots, and the Infection Damaging the Soul of Our Nation

My fellow Americans,

We have always disagreed with one another – once to the point of civil war. We drew the lines between us that exist to this day but wise leadership has pointed us to our potential as a nation built on ideals and, as Dr. King said, our arc is bent toward justice.
At least it was.

Until the infamous ‘Contract with America’ and the bile spouted by Newt Gingrich and his ilk, we were able to avoid a repeat of allowing our divisions to lead to mutual destruction.  Instead, we inched toward  redemption.
Then Gingrich came along and championed the notion of zero cooperation, so much so that our system of ‘finding a third way’ was obliterated. Or it the process of obliteration had its  beginning in that moment. It was  completed when the GOP was taken over by the Tea Party that was built on a platform of  ‘no compromise, no way, no how.’

Privileged white men were reacting  to the threat of change. Their racism, sexism and homophobia nurtured distrust, even hatred in the body politic. And so began their concerted effort to divide the union.

Side note: being a union is hard work. Harder than making a marriage work or blending a family. Add to that an atmosphere manufactured to encourage distrust, hate, and rejection on both sides and we have a recipe for a disaster of epic proportions, culminating with Trump.

The work of conservative extremists is almost done. Between threats to the fourth estate, upending agencies that protect the citizenry, lies, and trashing the norms of civility, Trump has brought us to the brink of self-destruction. And guess what? The nemesis of my childhood, a large chunk of the nation formerly known as the USSR, is fanning the flames of our distrust and dislike (dare I say ‘hatred’?) of one another. They are doing this with bots infiltrating our social media, stoking the fears and anger of both the left and the right.

So I beg you, fellow Americans, to refuse to be baited. You can be conservative and I can be a flaming progressive and we can still figure out how to make it work. We can take a breath and recognize the way our fear of one another is being manipulated. You can be straight, white, a person of color, black lives can matter as well as the lives of queer, trans, redneck, feminist, disabled, old, young and even female people, but we all need to be smart enough not to be manipulated and  baited into distrusting and disliking one another. We need to be political athletes that can compete with one another, respect each other’s strengths, and identify each other’s weaknesses. In the end we are both necessary to play a vigorous  game of democracy.

After too many years of the GOP and it’s ‘win at all costs’ philosophy and knowing that Russian bots are working to alienate us from the inside, it is time to refuse to participate.  It’s the only way to cure what ails us.

 

Still A Heretic, Hopefully Gracious

          In an unabashed plug, my memoir,  A Gracious Heresy: the queer calling of an unlikely prophet, will be published soon.  I am at the stage of seeking permissions for works I quote in the text and that is where my story begins.
I asked a poet for permission to use his two line poem which sums up the unexpected confrontations, joy, and challenges that Godde sets before me. It took me a while to track him down because I didn’t know the context in which the poem was published. I did what all good researchers do: I googled him. I discovered he taught at a Catholic university somewhere in West Virginia so I called him and asked for permission directly, assuming he would tell me what publisher to contact.
We had a lovely conversation in which I told him I had written a spiritual memoir and was hoping to use his poem. He said he could give permission and was glad to do it. We talked further and he asked if he could read my manuscript. I was delighted and agreed to send it as an attachment. Here is what followed (redacted to protect the guilty):

Dear XXXXX,

Thank you so much for giving me permission to use your poem, XXXX, in my memoir. I have attached a copy and hope you find it worthwhile.
Warmly,
Connie

Before too long I received this reply:

Connie,
Although I certainly wish you every success, I think we might have a problem here.  The University I teach at is (like me) orthodox Catholic.
You seem like a good person, and so I feel kind of bad to ask you, but could you use a quote from someone else?
We all have to try and be faithful to the Jesus we know.
I’ll pray for you and you pray for me!
Again, I wish you the best.
In Jesus and Mary,
XXXX

Dear XXXX,
          Of course, I am deeply disappointed. I suppose I could have avoided your conflict by not sharing my manuscript but I choose not to prevaricate or mislead about my life and faith. Rejection in the name of doctrine is not a new experience for me though I did not expect it here. I will not use your work since you have withdrawn your permission.
Your poem, XXXXspeaks deeply to my absolute joy in God. Perhaps because of this, I am surprised you do not see the Spirit in the eggplant that is me. Be assured, I am not a good person but I am a child of God and a follower in the Way of Christ.

         Without rancor I concur: I pray for you, you pray for me… we are all a part of God’s body.
In Christ’s love,
Connie

To which he responded:
Thank you, Connie, although I wouldn’t say that I don’t see the Spirit that is in you.  We all need mercy; we all struggle.
(I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were doing better than I am.)
And thanks, too, for the prayers!

 I only regret that I didn’t expect this. There is no question that this person is warm in spirit and seeking to be faithful.  What is clearer than ever is that I have absolutely no struggle with who I am, only with systems of oppression, especially those in the name of Godde. In the relative scheme of things this is not a big deal but it is an important reminder of the reason I need to tell my story.