Category Archives: A Gracious Heresy

The Scars of Evil

            As a woman and a lesbian I wear the first hand scars of the injury done to my soul by sexism, heterosexism, and the not so subtle message that I am “less than.” I also carry within me secondary scars of evil. As a white person, I the carry the secondary scars of racism, as a non-Jew, the secondary scars of Nazism. As a citizen, the secondary scars of violence. As a human being, the secondary scars of intolerance.

I guess I made that up, secondary scars, or maybe have heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons the consequences of evil that is done to others. We are not separate from that which is perpetrated on others. We are injured either by our complicity or our compassion, whether conscious or not. It is those scars that make it impossible for me to remain silent.

Godde calls us all to confront evil with love and love seems like an awfully flimsy weapon given the depth of evil we are capable of perpetrating on one another. But the activity of love is justice and Godde enlists human souls to do justice and be justice as the antidote to evil.

– from A Gracious Heresy, by ConnieTuttle

The Mystery of Hope

Words can make things that are truly unknowable seem like concrete certainties. Words get in our way of experience when we feel a need to compress and distort our experience to fit  into some preconceived, doctrinal box.

But what if we took away the words or the definitions? What if we spoke to one another about experience? Is our need for absolute certainty so great that we are willing to quash the uncertain truth that resides in us and replace it with doctrine?

We talk about resurrection as if it is something that happened once and will happen again instead of something that is always happening. We talk about it in future terms rather than very present reality. We talk about it as if it definable and measurable and dependent on our actions.

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich calls herself a ‘hardcore atheist’ but she also talks about a mystical experience she had as a teenager when she:                                                                     “saw the world—the mountains, the sky, the low scattered  buildings— suddenly flame into life.” There was no fire, but she saw “blazing everywhere.” She describes it as “a furious encounter with a living   substance that was coming through all things at once, too vast and violent   to hold on to, too heart-breakingly beautiful to let go of.”

She goes on to say she felt both shattered and completed. I love that. She describes my deepest experiences of Godde when I feel shattered and all that implies: frightened, unmoored, outside my ego as well as grounded, connected, and full.

That is how I experience resurrection. It is not a lack of certainty but a fullness of experience. I no longer have a deep need to explain or define resurrection. I only want to stand before the Mystery that gives hope and speaks the final word of love. I want to enter the Mystery that both shatters and completes me.  Join me there. We need the experience of resurrection for the facing of these times.


Am I Spiritual Enough?

This week I had the honor of having my blog  shared in an online group of fellow women clergy. I was excited until I reread what I had posted. Argh! Another political post where I talked about our nation’s need to repeat the part of our history that expresses the ideals upon which we are founded. It wasn’t bad. But was it spiritual? Did I share anything worthy of my clergy-sisters’ time and attention?

I wrestled with this a while. Some of my concerns were clearly ego. My online connection with other clergywomen is vitally important to me. What would they think? Even more important, am I spiritual enough for my cohorts in ministry?

I wondered if I am spiritual enough for myself. Here is what I rediscovered:

– spirituality has a million expressions

– whether I mention Godde or not, Godde is my ground of being (thanks, Tillich) When I act consciously I reflect my understanding of and relationship with the Divine.

– if I am not fighting injustice, concerned about ‘the least of these’ then I am not expressing my understanding, relationship, and experience of Godde.

– I would not be so passionately engaged in current politics if I didn’t name the evils of oppression, racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, ageism, and the rape of the earth and sea and sky.

Because I am a Christian I will continue to speak and act out against the policies and actions of the current administration. I may not name Godde or Christ in each post, but I have reminded myself that I am following in a Way of peace and justice for humankind.

So I may not mention Godde. I may not thump on a Bible, defend a theological precept or church doctrine (actually I don’t do those things, anyway) but I will continue to live in such a way works for a world in which the hungry are fed, the homeless housed, the naked clothed, the oppressed set free, the prisoner liberated, and the earth protected.

It is good to trust that my clergy sisters know this. I am grateful my post was shared and I am even more grateful for the opportunity  to remind myself that I am spiritual enough.

Those Damn Angels

fear-no-dan-skognes-insurance-finance-investments-motivation-blogger-speaker-entrepreneurThe electoral college voted on December 20th and something in me died.

Okay, maybe not died, but broke, shifted, was mangled.

Donald Trump will be our next president.

Some part of me, some subconscious part, some kid part believed we were better than that and clung to unreasonable hope. I really didn’t think I was hopeful. I really thought I accepted the outcome of the election. I really had not.

And I spiraled into grief and hopelessness and fear…

What is going to happen now? We will have a president with YUGE ethical challenges, hair trigger reactions to perceived slights, surrounded by right wing extremists, with a vision of our nation that is antithetical to everything I know and believe.

What are we going to do? How are we going to face the threat to this nation and to our own humanity? I am frightened. Very frightened.

And it came to pass that the days went by and the time came to read the Christmas story. And the angels appeared and said, “Fear not.” “Don’t be Afraid”. In the midst of poverty and oppression, when a people could imagine no way out, these freaking angels said, “Don’t be afraid”.

Screw that.

Here’s the thing. They were right. They are right. Whenever someone reminds or encourages to ‘not be afraid’ take it in. Listen. Breathe into it. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to be afraid of. There are. Many, many things. But we must take the challenge to heart.

Because fear paralyzes. Fear defeats us before our enemies fire a shot across the bow.

So, Fear Not. Use the scrambled energy within to stand and speak and work and move. There is more that needs to be challenged, checked, defeated, engaged than ever in our lifetime. We cannot let fear defeat us before the fight is even begun.

 

We Need A Little Christmas…


wood_street_mission_santa

Not here we said.

Never here.

But it is here

and it is now.

Wealth so repulsive, unethical, self-serving

Built on the backs of the hungry, the hurting, the oppressed,

the left out and left behind.

Power so arrogant as to despise kindness and human dignity.

 

We need a little Christmas right this very minute

We need a vision of the beauty in creation

the ethic of vulnerability

the power of love.

We need a story that emerges in the midst of

an oppressive state

corrupt power

religious factions.

We need a story of perseverance

Right over might

Love over hate

Goodness over evil

Truth over lies.

 

America is built on ideas that are important to hold on to and that many have forgotten. We are built on ideas that require a strong commitment to diversity, to a free press and undiluted truth. Assumed in our constitution, in all our founding documents is the idea that we will remain in dialogue. That respect for one another grounds us in a way of being. That relationship is necessary and disagreement is always in context of relationship. The concept of the ‘loyal opposition’ assumes we all seek the greater good for the nation.

We have lost that relationship. Lost it because, in no small part, the right is now so radicalized (see: Tea Party, white supremacists) that finding ‘a third way’ is no longer the goal. All or nothing is the goal. It has rent us in two.

So when I, as a pastor, say ‘we need a little Christmas’ I mean we need to remember the source of our faith journey. It begins in poverty, it values the outsider (moral, cultural, racial, etc) and it overcomes oppression, hate, and fear with love. Our story invites us to a kind of love that infuses a deep sense of self worth, the courage to resist, and the willingness to sacrifice.

Now the rubber meets the road. We must  live into ideas greater than ourselves and our own self-interest. For my fellow Christians, this season I urge us to embrace our story of hope, power, and promise. And let us honor faith traditions other than our own who journey beside us as they uniquely express the love of God.

The story of this nation isn’t over.

The story of the incarnation isn’t over.

It is just beginning.

Our hope is being born in the muck,

in the stench of poverty

in the belly of the oppressive beast.

We must allow hope to be born in us

with power and  passion

for the facing of this hour.

Making a Way

making a waySo I’ve been wondering: is listening truly the radical act I think it is?

I ask this because I hesitate to make absolute statements (even though some of you might challenge that if you follow me on Facebook). But here’s the thing- I post things that I ponder about or worry on or that confront my concerns, anxieties or things I dearly love or that move me or make me laugh. I post things that are beautiful. Relative to the amount I post, I write or comment very little.

Mostly I listen to reactions. When I feel moved to speak on a contentious topic I try to remain both authentic and vulnerable. And willing to change. Because, as my dear friend reminds me, true listening requires a willingness to change.

I am inviting people to listen with the ability to change, to empathize, to be challenged as a radical act of peacemaking and bridge building.

I get it how difficult it is to be vulnerable, real, authentic about one’s deepest self in the face of bigotry, hatred, and mostly fear.

I extend this invitation only to those who have the support and strength and willingness or ‘call’ to be that open. As a woman, lesbian, Christian, feminist and white, I am in no way suggesting this is the correct or only path for anyone. It is not the only way. It is one way and it is an important way but we also need people who resist. We need people to call out bigotry and hatred and injustice. We need people to stand for justice.

It is not an either/or proposition. The call to radical listening is a part of the larger picture. It is an invitation to mutuality and community. It is another kind of justice seeking. It is making a path through the wilderness.

 

 

An Invitation to Radical Bridge Buidling

bridge buildingI am a radical bridge builder and I want you to be one, too.

Somewhere in my upbringing with the experience of many cultures, many races and many people, I came to the absolute conviction that human beings are more alike than different. It is really difficult for me to go to a place of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – though that thinking permeates our cultural and political landscape.

It is hard to be a bridge builder. As difficult as it is to be a vocal activist. Both require putting one’s self on the line. Both are the important work of change and justice.

Bridge building asks of us a different kind of courage. If your call is to put your body on the line as an activist, then do it. And, oh yeah, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Both types of work needs to be done.

What is the courage required to build bridges? First, is the courage of vulnerability. You have to be open about yourself to people who dislike, hate, or fear you. You have to be willing to expose parts of yourself that are real, and sometimes the parts of you that are tender, as an invitation to mutuality.

Then you must have the courage to listen. You have to listen to things that are repugnant, hateful, fearful and, often, ignorant. You have to listen without the immediate agenda of being heard. And you have to listen with a heart of compassion as well as with emotional intelligence. Believe it or not, this is change making. This is the slow process of mutual humanization that opens the door for new understandings and new relationship.

Here’s the thing: there will be many times when you speak and will not be heard. Helping someone to hear is an important task of bridge building. It requires patience and gentleness because when people can’t hear it is because they are afraid. It may present as anger, aggression, or hate but behind those leading feelings is profound fear. And when people are afraid the most radical thing we can do, the most loving thing we can do, is walk with them through their valley of shadows.

So… I invite you to join me and be a bridge builder, too. Know that it is difficult work that requires vulnerability with those who are hostile toward you, compassion for those who hate, and the strength to listen to those who disagree with you.

We who work for justice crave radical change. We work to change laws and systems because injustice saturates our culture. We must march. We must VOTE. We must speak and not be silenced. We must challenge ourselves to root out our own internalized racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, ableism and classism.

And we must do the hard work of building bridges. Because who we are when we get to the other side is important.

retro- Wednesday: What makes a spiritual community Christian?

spiritual-community-3

 

(originally posted in 2010)

Here’s a good follow-up from my last post:  what makes a spiritual community Christian?  What seems obvious to some has been completely un-obvious to me.  Let me meander through this question a moment.

Years ago the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group comprised of nearly all current Christian denominations said that be be a member of the Council a church was only required to affirm the statement “Jesus is Lord.”

That was until the MCC, a predominantly gay and lesbian church, tried to join.  The MCC was perfectly willing to affirm and declare that “Jesus is Lord”.  Suddenly, our good friends at NCC had a problem.  The net-net is, at that time, MCC was denied membership into the National Council of Churches.  I don’t know if that has changed but either way, my point is taken.  There is more than one idea floating around about what it means to be Christian.

To me, the affirmation “Jesus is Lord” is difficult to make sense of in a democratic society where none of us has lived under a feudal system or functioning monarchy.  We don’t swear fealty to an overlord who protects us.  We really don’t have any experiential idea of what lordship looks and feels like.  I know some folks say that “Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus is in charge or that Jesus is the thing we most value in our lives or that we follow the way of Jesus above all other ways if there is a conflict of interests.  But the phrase doesn’t emerge out of our life experiences as it did in the time of Paul up to the Industrial Age.   However, it remains one understanding of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be in a Christian community.

Another understanding of what it means to be Christian is the affirmation of the phrase: “Jesus Christ is my lord and savior.”  “Isn’t this the same?” you might ask.  Well, yes and no.

Having chatted with many a ‘missionary’ on my doorstep I have discerned a distinct, rather than nuanced, difference between the two statements.  This statement infers that one believes Jesus is saving one from eternal damnation, otherwise known as ‘hell’.    If you believe in Jesus as the son of God, if you believe he came to atone for the sins of all humanity throughout all time (including yours) then you are saved.  This understanding often encourages blind faith, the accepting of things that don’t make sense or that appear, in and of themselves, unbelievable.

For some, it is a matter of believing the tenets of the ‘true faith’. The ‘true faith’ is always the faith purported by the makers of the statement, which have been varied and many.

Finally, there are those who call themselves Christian who consider themselves ‘followers in the Way of Jesus’.  They follow the teachings of Jesus and seek to live in the manner that Christ lived and taught.  Now, I’m not saying that those with different understandings of what it means to be Christian don’t do that, I’m just saying that this is how some Christians define their Christianity.

So, the question: what makes a spiritual community Christian?  I guess the answer is: All of the above.  At Circle of Grace we try to make room for multiple understandings of what it means to be a Christian.  For some, atonement is essential.  For some, the lordship of Christ is pivotal.  For most of us, being Christian is following in the Way of Christ (Jesus).  For all of us, it is essential that we remain respectful of one another’s understandings.   I guess the one understanding that wouldn’t make it here is the idea of a ‘true faith’.  It excludes the respectful possibility of differences.

So are we Christian?  I am sure some would say not.  And some might think, “Well some of you are and some of you aren’t.”   Some of us hesitate to be called Christian because they hesitate to be identified with the dominant cultural understanding of Christian as intolerant and judgmental.  But Christian we are, in most of its permutations.  What makes us a spiritual community that is Christian?

Okay, the bottom line is that I don’t have an answer to what seems to be a profoundly easy question.

Christian, feminist and church…

originally posted in 2010

My friend and our non-resident theologian, Dr. Monica A. Coleman, recently visited a feminist church at a conference at which she presented.  She then posted an idea on facebook inviting all feminist churches to hook up.  I snickered and posted back, “What, all two of us?”

      There may be more but we are so far apart and disconnected that it is hard to find one another.  On some level we may not believe that the other exists.  And then there is the question of what makes a spiritual community feminist.

      First of all, there are a lot of understandings about what it means to be feminist (among feminists as well as outside the feminist community).  After lengthy discussion Circle of Grace distilled our understanding down to a short paragraph:

        Circle of Grace is a feminist Christian worshipping community.  We are non-doctrinal and seek to re- imagine understandings of language and stories, symbols and metaphors.  Our commitment is to inclusivity.  We honor each one’s truth and each one’s journey and feel called into community as a way of faithful response.  We understand feminism to be a critique of power.

 Spelled out it means: 

  1-we don’t all have to (nor do we) believe the same things. Nothing is written in stone.  For us the journey of the spirit requires a certain fluidity (uncomfortable at times).  Theologically, members of our community range the gamut of understandings.  Biblical authority, atonement, – you name it.  This hooks up with the last sentence in our statement: we honor each one’s truth and each one’s journey.  As in, I can’t tell you what your experience of the Sacred is, nor will I try to dissuade you of it.  Need I say that making room for many truths is a challenge?  But we are committed to this endeavor because It is central to feminist thought.

 2-  Our images, stories, symbols and metaphors are not limited to the images, stories, symbols and metaphors available in the biblical text, though we do ‘re-imagine’ those in ways that, we hope, opens us to new understandings of Godde.  As feminists, we find any symbol that becomes rigid and/or absolute to be unhelpful and sometimes harmful to the journey of the spirit.  It is one thing to say Godde is like a father (or mother or eagle or bridegroom, etc.) and quite another to say Godde is father,etc.

 3-  We feel called to community as a way of faithful response.  All of us at Circle of Grace come together because we believe or intuit that sharing spiritual community both grounds and grows us.  It is the challenge of being (or trying to be) who Godde calls us  to be in the world and with one another that draws us together in worship, prayer, meals, time, relationship…     It is faithful (and feminist) to build community that is radically inclusive.  It is faithful (and feminist) to live our one’s journey of spirit informed by those who are not like us but offer new wisdom, insight, challenge and hope.   For me, at least, and others I believe, the call to community is the call to kin-dom living, the call to embody the kin-dom in real time as a beacon of hope for the world.  Each week at Eucharist we say something like this to one another as we pass the wine, “Drink in and become the promises of Godde.”

 4- We understand feminism to be a critique of power.  We also understand the Way of Jesus to be a critique of power.  They go hand in hand.  As feminist Christians we speak a critique of the power of the institutional church.  

       So for Circle of Grace being spiritual feminist community is about opening understandings of the Divine to include many images, it’s about making room for all kinds of differences and it’s about living out our understandings (and our struggles to understand and our inability to make sense) together.  It means that we get comfortable with not having all the answers.  It means that we make room for one another.  It means we critique power used and misused in both the culture (patriarchy) and the institutional church (with love…).

 So here’s a shout out to all the other feminist spiritual communities/churches out there (they are there, right, Monica?) – “what does it mean to you?”   

 And isn’t it great that it can mean so many different things? 

 

 

     

What makes me an American

 

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Writing memoir raises a slew of questions that clamor to be explored, always returning to the central question: who are you?

As an army brat, when people ask me where I am from I answer, “All over”. Growing up, I lived most of my formative years abroad.  As a child I was clear and sure that I was American even though most of my young life had been lived on ‘foreign’ soil. In places that are often more home to me than anywhere in the United States.

I do not identify as American because I was raised in a common culture with my fellow citizens,  not because I share common experiences and not because we speak a common language.  It means I don’t look like my fellow citizens who come from all over the world. It means we often disagree about faith and politics. And on our better days our differences are good and give us the richness of our ideas.

What makes me an American are the ideas and the ideals my family taught me about what it means to be an American. My Dad  instilled in me that  I am a part of a grand experiment in equality, freedom and justice. My duty as a citizen is to always stand on the side of equality, freedom and justice.

It also means that I have the freedom to explore, to try new things, to expand my understandings and experiences… and to fail.  As an American I was taught that failure, though painful, is not terminal. I can rise and try again. Try things that are born in my imagination. Fail spectacularly at reaching for the stars and make it to the moon.

Those are the things that make me an American. Freedom, equality and justice don’t stop at my borders. Having a responsibility to those ideals gives me a world vision. Knowing I can fail and not be defeated makes me ever hopeful.

And along the way I discovered that understanding myself as an American encourages me  to claim myself as a citizen of the world.