Should We Be Afraid?

 

This week I boosted an ad on Facebook for my book. In the past I sent it out to the 25-45 age group. This time, I thought , “I’ll send it out to my age peers, 45-65.”  That choice unleashed a fury of responses that took my breath away. I was called names, quoted scriptures at, and somehow invited a level of hate that astonished me. It scared me. I have been aware of the growing anger and hatred in public discourse. I’ve experienced it as a woman. But I’ve never experienced a virtual mob of verbal pitchforks and torches.

Are some of them bots? Most of them? Are there really people out there who feel entitled and justified in threatening people who believe or live differently? It’s scary folks, made more real by nearly daily mass killings. The relatively small way I experienced the vitriol of the religious right shook me. I started worrying about public appearances – readings, speaking engagements, things I would naturally post to facebook and invite my friends to join me. So far I haven’t shared ‘upcoming events’. I am allowing my fear to silence me.

Women,  African-Americans, people of color, queer folk of every sort, know what it’s like to be afraid. To cower behind silence. It is how the oppressed are controlled.

Howard Thurman who, in Jesus and the Disinherited, taught  how fear silences and disenfranchises the oppressed:

“A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of  his  relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life.”  Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 51

There are hundreds of times that scripture urges us to “be not afraid”. Most likely for the same reason. Here’s my point: in this time when domestic terrorists are empowered by the current president, we must choose not to be afraid. We cannot allow fear to strip us of our basic identity  as children of Godde.  We must choose to live as if we are free, as if our lives matter, We must not allow fear to silence us. Otherwise we are enslaved by hate and lies.

Look, I’m still afraid. But I don’t want let  fear control me. Are there very real things going on in our world today of which to be afraid? Absolutely. But I want to be brave enough to not let fear control me.  If the best I can do is to choose to act like I’m  not afraid then I want to make that choice.

We do not live in comfortable times. The danger of the hate  unleashed by current leadership is real. It’s reasonable to be afraid. But hate wins when we allow it to silence us.  Maybe the question isn’t, “Should we be afraid” but “Can we have the courage to live our truth out loud?”

I’m trying. I hope you will join me.

 

Thinking about Racism and Wild Goose

Let’s talk about racism.
We don’t have to be perfect.
But, friends, we must do better than this.

If a critique of Wild Goose is that not enough people of color are involved, then let’s talk about why. I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before, but it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating. Until we get it a whole lot better than we have.

First of all, kudos for the speakers and presenters of color who were invited and did come.
Thank you to Otis Moss,II, William Barber, Yvette Flunder, and others for bringing your voices and visions.

But that is not enough.

Here is the least of what needs to happen next:
50% of the planning committee needs to be people of color
50% of all presenters need to be people of color
Every panel on any topic needs to include people of color
50% of the conversations in the convo hall need to be moderated by people of color.
We need to ask people of color what they need.
There need to be safe spaces for people of color to gather without including white people.

As I reflect on my time at Wild Goose, where I was a co-creator, my intent is not to disparage  the event, but to continue the important conversation that needs to happen as Wild Goose moves forward. I believe that those involved with this festival are beginning to understand the importance of confronting racism in our nation, our culture, churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Moving forward, into the kin-dom that is here, now, within and between each of us means doing the difficult work of dismantling privilege.

As Trump launches his upcoming campaign fueled by racism run rampant, we cannot pat ourselves on the back for ‘making an effort’.  The stakes are too high and the cost too great.

One of the best things I heard at Wild Goose was a presenter telling us that we can’t claim innocence, as in  ‘I don’t do that’ or ‘my church is not like that’ to  give us a pass. Let us instead talk about the impact of racism on all of us. And those of us who are white and benefit by the unmerited color of our skin, need to realize the impact and privilege we benefit from to the horrible denigration of people of color. If white people cannot even acknowledge how we benefit from a racist  religious, social, and political culture and find it to be abhorrent, then we are lost.

If the people who come to Wild Goose with hearts and minds open cannot wrap their minds around the urgency of this matter,  who will? If we can’t dismantle racism in this community how will we do it in our broader world?   This is my clarion call.

 

 

Hang On to the Dream

Years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Richard Harris in the role of Arthur in the musical Camelot.
It was sweeping in scope. Epic. The story of a vision of justice that they tried to live in to in spite of their short-comings.
They were a flawed lot. Betrayers. Dreamers. Power grabbing. In the play things happen too fast and parts of the story that would explain the downfall are hidden and the audience can  only guess. I wanted to shout “Look there, behind you!”  But I didn’t know what to point to.

In the end   Arthur walks through the rubble of the dream of a time and place built of great ideas of  justice and good  when he stumbles on a young squire  who still believes and wants to be a knight of the Round Table. Arthur sings his final song to him:

Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.
Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.
(take a listen at link below)

https://youtu.be/_lhduy0Em74

When I left the theatre I sat in my car and sobbed uncontrollably for  half an hour.

The United States of America is our Camelot, built on amazing, brilliant, beautiful ideas and ideals to be lived out  by a flawed and imperfect people. Historically, we have worked to live into the  dream of  a nation of laws and justice, of common heritage not dependent on geographic origins,  a work in progress pointed toward the perfection of universal suffrage and rights.  We judged ourselves against our aspirations not our reality.
          Today we stand in the rubble of what could have been. Things are coming too fast and parts of the story are hidden and untold that would explain our downfall.  But most of us, like the audience of Camelot, can only guess at what is happening behind the curtain.
I want our ending to be different. I want the next generation to hold on to the dream but I want more than that. I want to win this battle for our souls. 
This is the moment we rise, we stand, we march, we confront the would-be killers of the dream.  Our  future pivots on every action we take. How grand it would be to find a leader to lead us out but we’ve set it up so that we are the leaders.
So lead, friends, lead.
Be tactical in decision making,  be willing to confront those who would rip the dream to shreds, and hold tight to the dream that is our heritage with every ounce of passion and commitment  you can muster.
At the very least,  go down fighting for what is worth fighting for. At best, the dream lives. It’s up to us.

 

Changing the World with Words

Say a word. Any word. Something comes to mind.
An image, a feeling, a context…
We hear some words as neutral.
Some words are so loaded that our reactions are visceral.
We reject the concept or feel the sucker-punch in our gut.
And sometimes we feel the expansion of warmth and light in our chest.

Words are one of humanity’s most important tools of communication.
As a person who loves words I like to make them dance and sing, hunch and cry… I like to toss them into the air and watch to see where they land.
I also approach them tentatively, having some sense their power.
And then there are times I forget everything I know about words.

Like when I say the word Godde.
It’s such a loaded word, filled with judgment, fear, joy, love, distaste…
The word ‘Godde’ (and I use it a lot in my profession) is packed with more than issues of gender and hierarchy.
Somehow, my religious/spiritual education eluded the image of the old, white man with a beard sitting on a throne, flinging judgment at humanity.
Instead, to invoke ‘Godde’ with a word takes my breath away. My chest fills with warmth and my heart expands to embrace a Mystery my mind cannot fathom.

The seminal questions becomes: “How do I bridge the divide between the word I speak and the word that is received?”.
I don’t have any answers yet except that I will always need more words to talk about the big words, more words to draw pictures, shape images, invite responses. More words to talk about something that is beyond words. Though perhaps Jewish wisdom is the best response: the name of Godde is unspeakable.
Still, I will keep trying to talk about Godde because when hearts and minds open
to different rhythms and sounds, ideas and images, it can change the world.

Herding Non-Doctrinal Cats

My writing group friend ,who is also a pastor, asserted this morning that people don’t come to church because of doctrine. “If you stood outside the doors of the church on Sunday morning and asked people if they believed what they had just heard, if they were honest they, would say, “No.”

I found that astounding. She went on the say that most people aren’t interested in doctrine. They come because it is a place of welcome, a place they belong, where they have a sense of family. My daughter responded that she doesn’t go to a church because of doctrine but there are churches she won’t go to because of doctrine.

One would think then that being a non-doctrinal church would be easier to establish among the young, but the truth is it takes a certain amount of spiritual maturity, a certain amount of personal history that challenges everything you thought were certainties.

When Circle of Grace started I insisted that we be non-doctrinal. It’s easier said than done because one of the first things someone asks of a church is, “What do you believe?”.  Our covenant is one not based on belief but on relationship. We wrestle with the questions, “How do we relate to Godde?” and “How do we relate to one another and to the created world.” In 1993 we wrote our covenant:
We, the Circle of Grace Community Church, as Christians, covenant with Godde and with one another to:
– Live with compassion and seek justice
– Continually discern that to which Godde calls us
– Build spiritual community that is inclusive of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class,      culture, age, and religious backgrounds.
– Provide safe haven
– Worship together using language about Godde and humanity that is inclusive.
– Live in right relationship with Godde and one another
– Speak truth to power

Our covenant is a pointer and directional marker, challenging us to a different kind of faithfulness and a beacon in the wilderness times. And, yes, it was hard making space for  passionately pro-life and pro-choice people, for those who needed substitutionary atonement and those who found the crucifixion to be a judgment on humanity.  We even discussed whether or not to put “as Christians” in our covenant because of what people assume it means when you say that. But we ended up saying we were reclaiming the word in the same way lesbians reclaimed the word “dyke”.  We would define what it means to be a Christian and, for us, we could agree it meant to follow in the Way of Jesus.

The beauty and the challenge of herding non-doctrinal cats is how much we can learn from one another. I confess that, as a pastor, I was often filled with anxiety. The question uppermost in my mind was, “How can we make room for one another?” – though, truthfully, sometime it was, “Will everyone be able to tolerate this?’. It’s different when you say out loud that a church is non-doctrinal than it is silently living with the reality of it.

I like to think it is some of the important work we do, re-imagining what spiritual community can be in all its unsettled and unsettling differences, making expansive statements that call us to live into a way of being, every gathering and worship service an exercise in herding non-doctrinal cats. Circle of Grace’s commitment and experience is a necessary beacon of a different possibility, a different way of being in the world while still being authentic.

As the world churns with uncertainty and fear for the future, it is seductive to reach for doctrines that give us absolute sureties . But doing that only perpetuates the current miasma. We need a different vision of how to live in the world with all our differences.

Our world desperately needs to become a herd of non-doctrinal cats who choose  to make home together.

 

Into the Heart of Godde

My mom was free
if she could be outside
that is where you would find her.
If she could walk
or bike
or swim
she would shuck down
to the bare minimum
and plunge into life.
The  common became
her adventure.

No fences allowed.
Unfettered is how
she wanted to live
in every moment
the world had to be
open enough
free enough
expansive enough
to hold her love.

 

I kept some of her ashes
to put into a glass pendant
to hold her close to my heart
to encase her in beauty
but her spirit refused.

So on my own adventure
to the beauty of glaciers
and whales
seals and sea otters
snowcapped mountains
and flowers blooming
wild and free
I freed her
into her next adventure
into the wake of a small boat
into a large ocean
into the heart of Godde.
Where she belongs.

 

Broken Spirit Seeks Hope

Yesterday I was at a gathering of ‘good Christian folk’ who all seemed to have good intentions. They would say they were loving and faithful. They were the neighbors who live down the street with such different lives from mine, uncomplicated by any urgency for justice because they don’t live outside of its possibilities, and  are privileged in ways they can’t comprehend or acknowledge.  They were ‘nice’.  My friend reminds me that ‘nice’ comes from two Latin words, ‘ne scion’, meaning ‘to not know’.

But that wasn’t the point. Some would tell me I shouldn’t have been talking politics. Unfortunately, that thinking ends up perpetuating the myth that we can’t have the important conversations and that we can’t work through our disagreements.  We have fostered generations of folks who cannot or will not listen to one another. Even within their own families.

I broke that taboo yesterday and shared my fears about our current political situation. As a student of history I talked about the parallels between some of what we are seeing today and the advent of Nazi Germany.  The response was, and I quote, “All politicians do it, they are all alike.”

This is where my spirit is broken: she could not see any difference between the evil of children in cages, the rise of rampant racism, the control of women’s bodies and autonomy, violence against members of the LGBTQ community,  and common corruption. Has Trump and the Freedom Caucus (sic) so normalized abhorrent behavior that it is seen as acceptable political discourse? How can I not challenge the nice, Christian lady who is blind to her privilege?

I am sad and frightened and when I meet people who are nice and blind, I struggle. How can we move forward? Where is the hope? I cannot stay in this place, though it is important for us to live with the sadness or we deny and belittle the current reality. What we cannot do, what we must not do, is despair. Despair kills our ability to act and destroys our ability to hope.

We cannot live without hope. We can be broken, tired, grieving, perplexed, and overwhelmed, but our souls shrivel and die when there is no hope. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann once said, “Hope  is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion.”

To my fellow broken spirits: keep seeking hope. Refuse to accept the ‘reading of reality’ of the majority – even the ‘nice and blind’ majority. We must keep our eyes open to what is in front of us and name it for what it is. Yesterday I said out loud to the ‘nice’ lady that there is a difference between corruption and evil.

Seek hope not as a light and airy feeling, but as the quiver in your voice when naming and challenging evil. Hope is not polite. It is grieving, broken people refusing to accept that we cannot be better than this. So stand, or kneel beneath the weight of the evil perpetuated in our names, and refuse to be blinded by whatever privilege you carry. Keep your eyes open and do not normalize the current moment. That is the hope we must carry into the world.

 

 

 

Waiting for Godde

I’m no Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and would never pretend to be but I feel like I’m in the middle of his play only it’s happening in real life. I’m in that  in-between-place, having conversations of the meaning of our current reality and  waiting for Godde ,who never seems to show up.

When Trump was first elected the mantra was we mustn’t become inured to the absurdities and atrocities- of language, attitudes, and policies. We must not let it become the ‘new normal.’ Somewhere along the line I had to detach enough to keep my sanity and to keep from sinking into the depressive, palpable miasma of every day news. All this in spite of the fact that I am involved in activism from fighting voter suppression, working on the campaigns of good candidates, writing letters, making phone calls, marching… and struggling not to burn out from all those absolutely important activities.

But the train is bearing down and we are in a struggle for the track switch.    Whoever controls it will determine  the outcome that  will define for generations who were are now and the legacy we leave behind. Will we continue to do the flawed and messy work of expanding freedom and justice? Or will fear and ignorance transform us into yet another authoritarian travesty? Will we make room for our glorious bouquet of differences or will we become absurdly invested in a kind of sameness that destroys our humanity?

These are questions I ask myself every day. And sometimes I wonder, where is Godde in the midst of this?  I am not the first to ask nor will I be the last. In prayer and even when I cannot pray my answer comes. Godde shares our desire for justice, walks with us in our fears, and shares our grief and anger.

And I know this, too: I know that I and we are Godde embodied in the world.  My arms and hands and legs, your arms and hands and legs are Godde’s. A miracle isn’t going to drop out of the sky. I am the miracle. You are the miracle. We are the miracle. We will find a way to pull the switch that will change the tracks.
And even if we cannot throw the switch in time, hate and fear are never the final word. The Christian story tells it this way: death, itself, does not have the final word.
Love is the final word.

Waiting for Godde means waiting for myself and each other.
Waiting for Godde means showing up as the embodiment of Godde.
Waiting for Godde means acting  Love and justice.
Waiting for Godde means speaking truth to power.
Waiting for Godde  means living our truth without fear,  that Love is the first word and the last word.  

 

Learning from Our Elders or My Momma Is Still Teaching Me

That’s my momma on the right (my daughter is on the left and that’s me in the middle, but this is a story about my mom). She passed away December 20, 2014, a little over four years ago.
The other day a neighbor stopped me and told me a story about her I hadn’t heard before.

A friend  borrowed my mom’s car and it had broken down in the parking lot of the VA. Mom needed to get there with her AAA card for it to be towed. She called our neighbor and asked  if she was doing anything that day and, if not, would she take her to the VA?
Our delightful neighbor said ‘yes’ but in less than a mile her car came to an unexpected stop. Eventually, the neighbor’s  husband arrived to wait for the tow truck and Mom and our friend took off in the husband’s truck.

They drove to the VA, my friend tells me, and drove around the parking lot for nearly a half an hour but couldn’t find mom’s friend or her car. So they call the friend who tells them, “Not that VA” and they take off for another VA and finally meet the tow truck and pass off the card. It’s mid to late afternoon by the time they get home. As my 91 year old mom is getting out of the car in front of our house, she turns and says, “Well, we’ve had an adventure. Just think, if we weren’t doing this you would have been at home not doing anything.” She smiled with a twinkle, or maybe it was a glint, in her eye and said, “Life is an adventure.”

I am so very glad I got to hear that story. It rang true and opened my heart to a flood of memories and to the loving grief and gentle tears that have replaced the anguish of loss.

So today I am packing to go to the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green and I confess to some trepidation. Hope my car will make the drive, hope my budget will survive the expense, hope I won’t be exhausted when I get there, hope I do well, hope I meet nice people, hope… actually, that’s a lot of trepidation.

However, I am girding my loins to lean into my mom’s wisdom. Whatever happens, life is an adventure. If I encounter life without expectation, if I am willing to do just the next thing that needs to be done –  perhaps even with enjoyment – well, then I will be participating in a well-lived life.

I’ve been  an observer of a woman who lived unafraid and with joy. It’s time for me to follow in her footsteps.

Saints and Sinners

I just got back from Saints and Sinners Book Festival (a LGBT subset of the Tennessee Williams Book Festival).

I want to list all the writers who read their works. All the books that piqued my interest. All the poems that pierced my heart. All the laughter that made room for the many and differing ones of us. Suffice it to say I had a wonderful time.

I was affirmed as a writer and accepted as a person of faith. Unlike some gatherings , my faith and call did not relegate me to the kiddie table.

And I met some amazing people. Part of me thinks that being in a place where I could read new work to an attentive audience was the best thing. Part of me thinks that being on panels with other writers (many of whom were best-sellers and have published multiple works) was the best thing. Part of me thinks that my musings about the writing process being received and appreciated as equal to my panel compatriots was the best part… but really, the best part was the people I met and connected with. The best part was taking master classes with Dorothy Allison and Judy Grahn. The best part was the deep conversations about life and writing.

The very best part was being a part of a tribe that welcomed me in, accepted my gifts, and encouraged my growth. And I don’t think my reflection would be complete if I didn’t lament that this is where the institutional church often falls short.

The Rev. Connie Tuttle, author
A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet