Struggle to Hope

How does one speak hope to a hopeless world? To a nation divided? To communities of strangers?

How do we speak hope to one another when our hearts are breaking? When the safety of the world is at stake? When the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are drawn with stark harshness?

How do we speak hope in our homes when families are ripped apart by dogma that neither gives life nor saves it? When parents and children are estranged and sisters and brothers renounce one another?

How do we speak hope when the way forward is through shadow lands, up steep inclines, and through inclement weather? When the road is covered by floodwaters? When parks are littered with monuments to hatred and the least among us is left to suffer?

How do we speak hope to a nation who is killing its own? Its own immigrants? Its own people of color? Its own queers?

Let us begin with remembering. Remembering who we are, who we strive to be, who we can imagine ourselves to be.

When I am asked how I can be a Christian in a world where the label means closed-hearted and closed-minded, I don’t deny the truth of what Christianity has become and how it has fallen far from it’s tree. Rather, I embrace the walk of Christ as a path to which I aspire and reach for what I can be.

As a nation, now is the time to embrace the tenets of our founding. Not that we have ever truly lived up to them, but that we embrace the challenge and the ideals of a nation built on the principles of justice, law, and constantly expanding rights.

Each week at communion we share the bread saying, “Remember who you are.” It is both our hope and our challenge.

Let us speak this hope to one another: Remember who we can be. Remember who we are to one another as a nation of immigrants and exiles. Remember the ideals that form us. Remember the hope and the challenge of striving to be a nation of justice and freedom.

 

 

They Don’t Just Hate Hillary

When the feminist movement reemerged in the 1960’s and 70’s I embraced it with all the passion of a young woman who wanted to make life choices based on my skills, abilities, passions… I was on the front line of challenging the ‘roles’ women were delegated to as wives, mothers, and workers. I freed myself from the constraints that dictated my sexuality and embraced my love and attraction for women. I was gloriously free and too naïve to be afraid. That came later.

That came after my life was threatened. After the threat to take away my daughter. After, after, after I experienced and recognized a hatred of women that permeates our culture.

Yes, hatred. Which most likely is just the leading emotion for fear. Nevertheless, the day came when I had an out of body experience of the systemic nature of misogyny. It was like the totality, the absoluteness of the oppression and suppression of women was experienced by every cell in my body. My mind stretched to reach around the reality of the truth until I thought I might break open. My heart shattered as I allowed myself to perceive the depth and universality of the hatred. It unleashed my fury.

Women can’t really live in that reality all the time. It is too harsh. Too heartbreaking. Too frightening. So I walked up to it, acknowledged it, and stepped back. Not from the reality of it but from the powerlessness misogyny assumes.

Then I lived my life. I came to have deep friendships with men and learned the difference between sexism (they all suffered from some form of it) and misogyny. I channeled my fury into making change. I learned to love complicated people and paint them with many colors and textures. We were moving forward on that slow arc toward justice about which Dr. King spoke. As a woman identified woman I came to experience what is now called ‘intersectionality’ – what we learned as women reached out across class, race, education, gender expression, and sexualities. We were forced to recognize the ways we internalized our own oppression. It was good stuff. Challenging. Inspiring. World changing.

Like people of color (at least those my age) I watched societal changes. Hell, I worked to make them happen. I believed we were changing things. Slowly but surely. Very slowly and very surely. Young women told me the battle was won, that we are in a post-feminist era. I should have been delighted – and there are ways I am grateful that young women now don’t have to question their value in many sectors – but I also know that my experience of the depth of the reality of misogyny didn’t concur that we were in a post-feminist world any more than we are in a post-racist world.

However, I was lulled into thinking that our trajectory was on course and would continue. Then came the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I was excited and hopeful that another (and great) barrier would be knocked down. As with the election of Obama, it was time. We had a great candidate. A perfect ‘transitional’ leader. So competent that no one could suggest she didn’t have the ability or experience or stamina to do the job.

I expected the haters.  I believed the meanness, the vociferous, strident hatefulness unleashed by the right was contained. But then my Bernie Bros signed on to misogyny with out compunction. And white women forgot that their privilege is based on both their race and being heteronormative. They forgot, if they ever knew, that we are all in this together.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/hillary-clinton-what-happened-donald-trump-deplorables-misogyny-new-book-a7943016.html

This is the systemic hatred of women I knew existed at a primal level. On election night 2017, I had that out of body experience again. I’m betting many of us did. Though our hearts are broken we are being forced, once again, to recognize and name the demon, to confront it, and to exorcize it. Most of all, I pray we re-member that not one of us is immune to the oppression of misogyny and we need,  every one of us, to make the change that needs to happen.

 

 

 

 

Trump’s Reichstag Fire

In 1933, the German Parliament building, the Reichstag, burned to the ground. Newly elected Hitler declared the fire to be a communist conspiracy and used the event to round up and imprison communists, including elected members of parliament. He became dictator within a month of the fire.

Hitler described the fire as ‘a beacon from heaven’.

“You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in German history…This fire is the beginning,” Hitler told a news reporter at the scene.

I dreamed that I saw a nuclear bomb detonate on the near horizon. I shared this with a friend who told me that she, too, had dreams of nuclear blasts. And the question arises for me: how will Trump fan our fears so that he can consolidate his power?

Clearly he feels powerless. But how far will he go? Will he suspend civil rights? He’s already started. His justice department has removed LGBT folks from civil rights protections. An amicus brief filed by the U.S Justice Dept. in July with the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York runs contrary to the position of Obama’s Justice Department as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both expanded the view that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans employment discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to sexual orientation.

The implications extend well beyond employment law. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a powerful weapon against discrimination, is generally interpreted in sync with rulings on the employment discrimination law. That’s how the Obama administration justified its efforts to enforce bathroom and locker room equity for transgender students.

First they came for the gays. But since I wasn’t gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender and have some ambivalence about them anyway. So I didn’t speak up.

And now states are emboldened in Trump’s wake: Missouri passed a law that women can be fired for using birth control, confining them to low level jobs that don’t require continuity.

Then they came for the women, but I am not a woman or am uncomfortable with the changing roles of women, so I said nothing.

What might Trump conspire to commit that could concretize his power? He undoubtedly feels constrained by the limits of the power of the presidency. Hitler called the Reichstag Fire a ‘sign from God’. Trump surrounds himself with sycophantic religious ‘leaders’ who come close to hailing him as the Messiah. Very close.

Will North Korea be his Reichstag Fire? Pay attention, folks.

Are You Afraid?

Are you afraid of what is going on in Washington?

If you’re not, you need to be.

Everything that comes out of the White House is frightening: the leaks from staff who say they are staying, though it may ruin their careers because of the crazy they have stopped, the rule of law that is ignored, the almost certain collusion with Russia, the infant at the helm with access to nuclear codes, and the blatant white nationalism that demeans and threatens people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. All of which hides the opportunism making Trump richer every day. Trump’s passionate base hates Jews in addition to the groups listed above.

Why do I want you to be afraid? Because if you are afraid then you get it. If you are afraid then you see the parallels between what is happening now and what happened in pre-Nazi Germany. Because if you are afraid it means you have the sense Godde gave you. I want you to be afraid so your fear motivates you to stand and speak and act. Be afraid so you vote while you still can.

Use the fear. Don’t let it intimidate you. Do whatever it is you do to confront fear. The word in academic circles is ‘intersectionality’. Faith leaders have put it this way from time immemorial “We are all connected.” Find your power. If you have the privilege of race or gender or class: use it. If you don’t, recognize the power you have taken for yourself and don’t give it away.

My friend just reminded me that many times in Scripture we are urged to “Be not afraid” or “Fear not”. So why am I, a pastor, a follower in the Way, asking you to be afraid? Because if we are not afraid then we are blind to the present reality. But being afraid, recognizing the road down which this nation is travelling, is essential. To not be afraid you must first recognize what it is that you fear.

If you are afraid then let me encourage you to ‘fear not’. Don’t let the fear paralyze you. Don’t let the fear suck your power. Don’t let the fear intimidate you. Don’t let the fear make you too tired to act and speak and stand.

Be afraid but don’t be afraid of the fear. It is telling you what you need to know.

What Time Is It?

     I haven’t posted in over three weeks and as I sit here before a blank page I keep cycling through outrage at the President’s continuing message of hate, hope in my sisters and brothers who RESIST every day in many ways, grief over what is happening in our nation as our light dims, and fear that we will not be able to turn back the tide of evil.

Then there are my duties as pastor, family member, writer, and therapist. Life hasn’t stopped. No matter how horrific Trump’s behavior I still need to earn a living, clean house, cook meals, pastor my flock, respond to the needs of the vulnerable in my community, listen deeply to the journey of my clients, and write.

Now you might think I haven’t been writing but the truth is, I finished the manuscript that was seven years in the making.(!) I am told it is normal for a first book to simmer that long. My story has found its final shape and I even like it. Now I am free to begin my next project.

Most of us live busy and fractured lives but that is not the full picture. Just being alive means at any given moment we may be dealing with loss, stress, joy, love, times of celebration, times to make love, and times of grief.

Many of us in the resistance are on care overload. We feel and are deeply responsible for our macro as well as micro existence. For the world, the nation, our families and friends, and ourselves.

We cannot, MUST NOT stop caring. To do so endangers real people, real values, real events, real history. Nor can we ignore the needs of those in our immediate purview. What good is it to work for a better world if we neglect those closest to us?

So this is not an either/or reflection. Nor is it a both/and one. Rather I am reminded of the deep wisdom of being in the moment. Maybe this should be our spiritual challenge: to recognize the moment we are in and the needs of that moment.

The writer of Ecclesiastes said it best:

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

May we be blessed in our discernment, our work, and our passion for there is much to be done. We must find our way one day, one moment, one act at a time.

Today I leave you with a question only you can answer for yourself: what time is it?

 

 

 

 

Jesus Talks Seeds of Resistance

            You know those stories you’ve heard a thousand times? The ones you almost know by heart, that are so entrenched in your psyche you assume you know their meaning? The ones that are kind of boring you have heard them so often?

That’s what happened to me with this past Sunday’s lectionary gospel passage. Matthew relates Jesus telling several parables about what the kin-dom of heaven is like. At least that is what I thought it was about. Jesus says “The kin-dom of heaven is like… a mustard seed or yeast (in these stories).

So familiar. As a child my Mom gave me a necklace with a mustard seed enshrined in a clear bead. That seed represented the seed Jesus referred to but the actual seeds he was talking about were more like dust than the seed I wore around my throat.

I have heard it preached a hundred times that a mustard plant would grow almost to the size of a tree. We are all amazed at the girth of a plant that comes from the seed that tiny. Here is where many of us make the leap to thinking the kin-dom of heaven is like this huge bush. But that is not what Jesus says. He says it’s like dust.

The problem is we don’t trust the value of small things. We tend to think that what is valuable is what is bigger, better, more powerful. The truth of the matter is that the kin-dom is millions of small acts of love, comfort, compassion, and justice scattered into the world trusting that enough will fall on fertile soil.

In these murky days, where power and might, money and privilege are worshipped it is important to remind ourselves that our small acts of resistance matter. They are the seeds of connection. The seeds of healing. The substance of hope. The revolutionary seeds we plant to honor all that is sacred in one another.

So do not be discouraged. Scatter seeds of love for immigrants. Seeds of comfort for those facing the hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, and trans-phobia exposed and encouraged by this president. Seeds of compassion for those who have been seduced by fear that someday dialogue may be restored. And scatter seeds of justice, even if you have to fight like hell to plant them.

I Will Not Leave You Comfortless

I can imagine no pain greater than one’s child dying. It is out of the natural order of things. It is difficult enough to lose one’s parent’s but we know that death is the natural end to a long life. It isn’t the natural end to a young one.

I will not use names because I respect the family whose loss is so recent, so raw, so unexpected. But I will tell you about a young woman with a huge heart, kind and loving, who adored her fur-kids, and lived out loud. She loved her family and they adored her. Now you might not think that needs remarked upon, and it wouldn’t, except that she was a lesbian born and raised in the South.

Born and raised in the Baptist Church where her family still worships. Where the pastor refused to hold her memorial service.

Mister, you make me ashamed to be a Christian. Or more truthfully, you make me ashamed that you call yourself a Christian. Over the years I’ve been told I wasn’t really a Christian because: a. I am an activist. B. I’m a feminist. C. I am a lesbian. And D. my theology is heretical. My piety credentials don’t pass muster. And that’s alright by me. Lest we forget, Jesus’ piety credentials didn’t pass muster either. If yours do, then I want no part of what you call Christianity.

It breaks my imagination to conceive of a ‘pastor’ who would refuse comfort and grace to a grieving family. Show me where you can justify your actions by asking what Jesus would do. Or show me, even if you worship rules, how you can refuse to offer comfort. Is it because the skirts of your self-righteousness might touch the ground? Is it because rejecting a soul that has been in the care of your community from birth is what you think is the ‘faithful’ thing to do? Is it because you simply don’t want to challenge your own discomfort? The discomfort of others? Are you afraid that the offering plate might not be so full?  Whatever the reason, there is no justification for the ham-handed, soul-less way you treated a family, all of whom, living or dead, are children of God.

To my dear friend’s family: I hate that you had to deal with the grief of rejection in addition to the enormous grief of your loss. One of the sure times we rely on our faith community is at the death of a loved one. Please know that wherever you find comfort and love, acceptance and shared grief, God is with you. The community of Spirit may look unfamiliar but  whatever colors, beliefs, disbeliefs, genders, or sexualities, know  you encounter Jesus there. You were not left alone. Jesus sits with you, holds you, lends you comfort in every face that is turned toward you and not away, in everyone who shared in her life and shares in your sadness, in ever person who reaches out in small ways and large. God enfolds you with grace and care. And God embraces the one we have lost with a love we can hardly imagine.

                 John 14:18  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Meet Me in the Streets

Recently, my dear friend, Linda Bryant, posted a thoughtful blog ‘Meet Me In the Field’ https://charisgrandma.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/meet-me-in-the-field/

Take some time to read it. It is a challenge to those of us who live in a polarized society. It calls us to a kind of faithfulness, no matter our faith tradition, that requires compassion, authenticity, and the willingness to listen. What she has to say is important for us all to hear.

She posted it right before I posted my last blog, ‘Put on Your Big Girl Panties’. It seems like we are polar opposites in our calls to address the same problem.

While she encourages us to face our fears and withhold judgment I said things like:

“It’s time to change the conversation. We don’t need to be in dialogue with those who would destroy our values and vision of a nation whose arc is ‘bent toward justice’.

 It’s time to stop compromising about the lives and deaths of our fellow citizens.

It’s time to get up, gird up, and put on our big girl panties.

We cannot afford to wait and see how things ‘play out’.

We are the majority and we need to assert our power. Even if it is for the first time.

Vote now. Get involved now. Be the change now.

This is not the time to make nice. It’s time to make policy.”

Is there any way both of us could be right? Could both of us good people? Is only one of us faithful? My answers are yes, yes, and no. As feminists, both Linda and I believe there are many ‘right’ answers. Our perceptions are not so contrary to one another as they are coexistent. How can that be so?

I used to be afraid that I was not spiritual enough because of my loud, radical, and often coarsely worded calls to justice. I choose words for impact, to move people, and to challenge systems of evil. Those calls and words are important. They are part of the long-standing tradition of prophetic speaking. Prophetic calls to justice are often harsh, uncomfortable, and urgent. They are never a call to destroy ‘the other’.

Linda’s pastoral call to faithfulness is equally important. We need to be challenged to live faithfully in ways that stretch us. Facing our fears, the willingness to listen and be vulnerable, to love those difficult to love are the challenges of a deepening faith. However,  it should never compromise our call  to stand for justice.

Both perspectives are necessary. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it the ‘cost of discipleship’. Carter Heyward coined the phrase ‘justice-love’. The nature of faith is dynamic. The expression of faith kaleidoscopic. Our many ‘right’ ways move together to form a pattern of the whole. The call is to live our faith . The gifts of sharing the journey is that it deepens our relationship with the Sacred and challenges us to live authentically.

 

 

Put On Your Big Girl Panties

   

We have not lived up to the ideals of our democracy. Ever. But there is a beacon that leads us in the direction of justice. Principles that inform our path through history and by which we find our bearings when we get off course.

America is built on the idea of inclusion in a just society. We thrive as new people and cultures add their colors, design, warp and weft, to our tapestry. The Americans with Disabilities act aided citizens with disabilities to more fully participate in families, in the workplace, and in the political arena. The expansion of women’s rights and LGBT rights have all grown our understanding of human worth and dignity

Now our elected officials want to build walls, to isolate us – not only from the world but also from one another. The rights of the most vulnerable are being eroded one law, one amendment, on step at a time. Those who gained protections are losing them. When I was little I was taught that the United States was a melting pot. Later I loved an essay by Norah Roberts who imagined us as a tossed salad. Republicans play into our fears and construct the myth of ‘the other’. They persuade us to distrust immigrants, to disrespect a woman’s right to make reproductive decisions, to openly and sometimes viciously discriminate against the LGBT community, and encourage racism as usual and acceptable, disregarding  the sanctity of black lives and brown lives and native American lives. They fan the flames of distrust and fear. So much so that I cringe when I hear a crowd chanting “USA! USA!” What I hear is: “Us not them! Us not them!”

It’s time  to change the conversation. We don’t need to be in dialogue with those who would destroy our values and vision of a nation whose arc is ‘bent toward justice’.

 It’s time to stop compromising about the lives and deaths of our fellow citizens.

It’s time to get up, gird up, and put on our big girl panties.

We cannot afford to wait and see how things ‘play out’.

We are the majority and we need to assert our power. Even if it is for the first time.

Vote now. Get involved now. Be the change now.

This is not the time to make nice.  It’s time to make policy.

Wisdom: Day Two

Some of you may have noticed a lag between this and my last Wisdom blog (Day One 5/22/17). I’ve had a lot to say  about  our recent elections and their fallout . We are at political DefCon Alpha. Current events get in the way of more general thoughts about life.  As a student of history, a world traveler, a user of the Oxford comma, and a person of faith I  have a whole lot to say about our Orwellian present.

    But today let’s veer off the political track for a moment and let me tell you about a practice I am new at and love: laughing at myself.

One of my character flaws is that I take myself seriously. Those who love me say  I take myself too seriously. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I do. Okay,  lots of times. That being said, when I laugh at myself something happens. My perspective shifts and I experience a sharp drop of stress. It’s a two for one special:  freedom from self-judgment and openness to self-acceptance.

So the entirety of my wisdom for today is this: learn to laugh at yourself – your foibles, your missteps, your idiocy – and don’t wait until you are my age to do it. Life will be so much easier to navigate.