Category Archives: A Gracious Heresy

The Struggle: Updated


I don’t know what to tell my sister when she feels isolated from friends that in the past she  would have disagreed with yet remained friendly. I’ve known my sister all my life and she has always had friends on both sides of the isle. But things have changed. The isle is now a wall built with ‘alternative facts.’ What can she do, she asked me, when the disagreement isn’t over opinions, but over facts?

As a therapist I have said more than once, “Feelings are not facts.” By the same token, I want to say, “Opinions are not facts.” Even more than that I am reminded of what a professor at Agnes Scott once said to me, “You have to earn the right to an opinion by doing the work that lays the groundwork for your opinion.” At the time I was gob-smacked but a life of learning has proven him correct. Now days I hear opinions propounded by those who haven’t done the work.

I don’t know what to tell my sister when someone tells her that President Obama isn’t a U. S. citizen. It is a fact that he is. One – he was born to an American mom. Our laws state that a child of a citizen is a citizen. For example, Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Junior were born to Ivana who, at the time, was not a U.S. citizen but they are citizens because of their Dad. (Ivana became a citizen in 1988). Two- President Obama was born in Hawaii at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children and his birth certificate is registered with the state.

Here is what is absolutely important to remember:
– a fact is a statement that can be proven true or false, based on objective evidence.
– an opinion cannot be proven true or false because it is just what someone thinks or believes – it is subjective.

The difficult thing is that those who believe President Obama is not a United States citizen cite unreliable sources. They disregard the fact of state certified documents and the fact that his mom was a U.S. citizen. Instead, they fall prey to conspiracy theorists, who for all the world, sound absolutely sure of themselves without substantive data. Either these purveyors of falsehoods believe what they are saying or they want us to believe them. And once an opinion is accepted as fact they build a house of ‘alternative facts,’ one on top of the other. Just because someone believes what they think is a fact, it is only a truly a fact when it can be objectively proven.

Here’s the problem: if we remove one card the entire structure collapses. So the Limbaugh’s and the O’Reilly’s are going to hold onto that card with a ferocity that borders on fanaticism. Like gossip, the untruths spread wildfire. And, for goodness sake, something isn’t true just because you want it to be true. None of this really addresses my sister’s concern because opinions can be discussed and argued but facts cannot.

A horrible wrong has been perpetrated on our nation in the name of conservatism. It isn’t the conservatism we have known in the past. The extremist right has stealthily overtaken the Republican Party (beginning with Gingrich and escalating to the Tea Party and beyond)and Republicans has given extremism legitimacy that creates and feeds a chasm between the American people.

So, Sherry (that’s my sister’s name) I don’t know what to tell you. I wish I did.

I know that if we have any chance at all to overcome the divide that was created with both intention and malice, we must be willing to have difficult conversations about objective facts.
I know we can’t be complicit with falsehoods, no matter how well intended.
I know we can’t be complicit with ‘false equivalencies’. A false equivalency, for example, is presenting two sides of an issue as if they are balanced when in fact one side is an extreme point of view. Say one presents a scientific theory as being contentious when more than 99% of scientists studying the topic accept it as being true (climate change, for example) and only a distant and non-authoritative few dispute it. That’s false equivalency.
I know most of this is not about rational thought but about ideas that reinforce emotions, most often fear and hate.

Your friends and neighbors are not, for the most part, evil. They love their children and obey the law of the land, they work and pay taxes. They may be homophobic or racist or sexist or anti-Semitic or anti- immigrant but they not beyond redemption nor do they lack the capacity to change. I must confess that there are times I just want them all to go away. Sometimes the greater part of me. But, as Dr. King reminds us, only light can drive out darkness.

We must overcome sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigration sentiments if we are to find our way back to one another. We have to help one another get to the place of acceptance, inclusion, and celebration of our differences if we are ever to be a great nation again.

I just don’t know how to do it but we can’t give up. Keep shining the light, Sherry, keep shining the light.

UPDATE:  When first posted this I failed to mention that my sister identifies as an agnostic/atheist and my response was to her from that perspective. For Christians and people of faith I would add that we must also be informed by the vows of our baptism.  Those vows include the promise  to see the face of God in everyone and to resist evil.

Does it make conversations easier? I think not. Many do not share the sense of urgency I feel about creeping authoritarianism, white nationalism, children housed in cages –  the list of evil perpetrated in our name goes on.  I vowed to resist those evils on the day of my baptism. I also vowed to see God in people who support those stances. It is a challenge. For me, the hope and the work ahead is to encourage the oppressor to see God in the oppressed. Christ was an immigrant, a person of color, and a person oppressed by the empire. He taught love from that perspective, not from the perspective of privilege. We still have much to learn.

Those of us who stand with the hurting ones, who stand on the side of the ‘least of these’, who refuse to demonize those who are not like us must answer the call to love one another, even our enemies, in ways that are transformative for everyone. Keep shining the Light!

 

 

 

 

 

Worship at the Ballot Box

When I was younger  I heard, as most of us have, that “money is the root of all evil”.  Later, my mom clarified it for me that it was the love of money that was the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) So I set out to not care about money. To be honest, it has led to some problems for me as I enter my theoretical retirement years but the idea stayed with me.
Greed is bad. Loving money looks like this: your time is spent getting money, hoarding money, and protecting your right to both get it  and keep it (by almost any means necessary).

To be perfectly clear, I am referring to Trump, the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVoss, and other self-made oligarchs in the United States but I’m really talking about something bigger than that. I’m talking about the love of money being at the root of many of our current laws and social programs. The White House, Senate,  House, and  Supreme Court have made both policy and law based on how best to accumulate and keep wealth. If those decisions aren’t based in the ethos of the love of money I can’t begin to imagine what would be.
Corporate capitalism has many flaws and when we allow those flaws to go unregulated evil flourishes. The rampant greed on Wall Street and in the boardrooms of major companies is the worship of evil. There, I said it. We are in a world of trouble when our concerns are more for protecting the wealthy than for the welfare of the general population. It trickles down: we don’t fund infrastructure because unless it aids in the trade of goods and services, we don’t fund healthcare because the wealthy will always be able to afford good healthcare, we don’t worry about climate change because the wealthy believe they will have the means and technology to live with its effects.

There is some irony that the 9-11 attack on this nation was on the World Trade Center. The heart of the current values of our nation were metaphorically as well as physically attached. It was a horrific event and a tragic loss of life. It was also a condemnation of what our enemies rightly believe we hold dear.
Sadly, even the poorest among us worship wealth with as much vigor as the richest. Perhaps in the belief that if they worship well enough, right enough, enthusiastically enough,  the God of Greed will reward them. Greed has become so much a state religion that those among us who do not share the belief that money is God are considered heretical. We are hated and feared with all the passion that a fundamentalist of any religion feels for those who do not share their world view.

What we forget, what I was reminded of after Trump’s election, at a worship service at Ebenezer Baptist, is that there are more of us than there are of them. There are more of us for whom issues of money and greed are nuanced. More of us than there are of them who worship at the temple of justice. More of us than there are of them who care for the least of these, who are the least of these, who care for the stranger, the immigrant, the ‘other’.

Right now we need to worship in one voice -Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, Pagans and Spiritual but Not Religious – at the ballot box this coming election.

 

A Sermon for World Communion Sunday

Why is this meal different from every other meal? Some of you might recognize this question from the time you when you celebrated a Passover Seder. The entire Seder is an answer to that question and all the questions that arise from that question.So today, I pose this question: why is this meal different from every other meal?

From the very beginning of the church, the formation of Christian community, communion has been a central part of our worship. Over the past 2000+ years, as the church has grown and morphed and split into denominations, our understanding of the meaning of communion has changed and morphed, expanded and contracted, been used to include or exclude, but always it has been a central and sacred rite.

Good theology is important, because bad theology distorts our understanding of God. We are not saved by good theology nor are we condemned by bad theology. Christianity has never been theologically or doctrinally perfect. We hear preachers urging people to “get back to the faith once delivered.” By this, they mean the early apostolic church – and they assume those churches had a complete and uncorrupted understanding of the faith. The truth is those apostolic churches were not perfect, either. The whole of the New Testament is the story of the struggles of this new, extremely diverse, connectional community to make sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They often got it wrong. So let’s not worry, as we think about the meaning and doctrine of Communion (otherwise known as the Eucharist).

When I was young I was mortified by the idea of being a cannibal. I didn’t want to eat Jesus and I sure didn’t want to drink his blood. But I did want to be a part of what seemed to be holy and mystical. I wanted to be a part of whatever it was that brought us to our knees, part of whatever it was that felt like Godde was touching us. Could I do that without eating flesh and drinking blood?  Could I find a way to understand and experience communion without being a spiritual cannibal?  Here’s the thing: there is not, nor has there ever been ‘one right way’ to understand or experience communion.

All Christians don’t experience communion or interpret communion in the same ways. Some actually believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Some believe that the Spirit of Christ is present in the elements and that when we eat and drink this meal we experience a spiritual union with Christ.
Some follow Scottish reformation leader, John Knox’s understanding that we should only celebration Communion quarterly so as to give proper time for reflection and inward consideration of one’s own state and sin. So on this Sunday, I want to ask all my quarterly communicants  if they have spent the last three months properly reflecting on your state of sin? Most of us, not so much.

The Presbyterian Church and other reformed churches have been considering whether to restore more frequent communion, including weekly communion. Turning away from the idea that communion is basically a memorial service at which we remember Jesus’ life and death  and toward the understanding that communion is a sacrament of grace.

But back to the question:  why is this meal different from every other meal? This meal is different from every other meal because it’s a meal shared by the communion of saints. When we eat this meal we sit at table with all who have gone before us and all who will come after us. This meal takes place outside as well as inside of time. I eat this meal with my mom and dad, with my grandmother, with Peter and Paul and Mary Magdala and Prisca – and with Jesus. It also means we are sharing a meal with those who might hate or despise us (or that I hate or despise) for political reasons or humanitarian reasons or just because. We share this meal with people we think are our enemies including Mexicans and Muslims. We share this meal with people we genuinely dislike. Gathering at this table means we have to lay down our weapons to pick up the bread and the cup. It means we have to acknowledge that we are all children of Godde.

Why is this meal different from every other meal? This meal is different from every other meal because it calls us more deeply into communion with Godde. Eating is sensual, it is wordless, it is experiential. We can eat without words, without understanding, without explanations. It calls us to use all of our senses: we hear the tearing of the bread, the wine poured from pitcher into cup, we smell the rich yeast and the sweet tang, we feel the texture of the bread and the smoothness of the cup. And we taste and see how good Godde is. We take Godde into our bodies. That can mean many things. One way I have expressed communion is that as the bread is shared I say to each one, “Eat and remember who you are.” Which is the short way of saying : when you experience yourself as created, alive, embodied you are called to remember that you are a child of Godde. And when I offer the cup I say, ‘Drink in the promises of Godde’. I say that because the cup is the sign of the covenant and the covenant is basically the promises of Godde. So then I say: as you take Godde’s promises into your body may you become those promises embodied in our world. Godde is in us and we are in Godde.

Why is his meal is different from every other meal? This meal is different from every other meal because it is a sacrament of grace. Years ago, when the Presbyterian church was considering whether the table should be open to people who had not been confirmed (meaning that they had an intellectual understanding of the ritual) my friend, the Reverend Erin Swenson, stood and spoke of her experience as a chaplain at the Georgia Retardation Center, an institution in Atlanta that cared for severely and profoundly disabled children and adults. There was a lot of argument about maintaining the integrity of the communion table and that those who came should understand it’s importance. She rose and spoke feelingly about her congregation, whose mouths watered at the sight of the bread and the cup. Some could not see. Some could not hear. Some could not swallow. But she took the bread to each one in the over 60 wheelchairs who gathered for worship and everyone could touch and smell the bread. Everyone met with Godde that day and no one was turned away.

Why is this meal is different from every other meal? Because at this meal we become a living communion. The church is called to be the body of Christ in the world and this meal reminds us what that means. Sometimes it means sacrifice. Sometimes it means remembering for ourselves and reminding others that we are children of Godde. Sometimes it means that we make space for peace between us in a world where it seems there is not peace.

This meal is different from every other meal because however it is that you come to the table, however your heart yearns toward Godde, however you hunger for this feeding, however you fear it, however ambivalent you are, we say to one another:

The gifts of Godde for the people of Godde.
Thanks be to Godde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abuse and Redemption

 

Sometimes when I write a blog post  I end up discovering even more of my story. I thought the book told it all. Last week, somewhere near the end of the post about going to Columbia Theological Seminary to read from my memoir I said I was “…wide open and vulnerable to Godde” in my time there as a student, and that those in power (at the seminary) abused my vulnerability to Godde.

People (usually men) in power don’t tend to understand or appreciate how their power intersects with the emotional and spiritual vulnerability of the powerless.
In a week where women around the country have been traumatized and re-traumatized by the obliviousness and blatant disregard by men in power I am more deeply aware of how intimate abuse is, whether it is physical, sexual, or spiritual. It occurs in our homes, our schools, our political institutions, our churches, synagogues, and mosques – wherever men are in power. It arises from the systemic evil of sexism and heterosexism.  So how do we make change so that no other woman or gender non-conforming person is ever abused again?

My experience of redemption begins with one.
It begins with one person in power being willing to listen.
It begins with women being in and sharing power.
It begins with witnesses.

Nearly 50 people came to hear me read from my memoir last week at Columbia. Women and men, cis gender, gender non-conforming, LGBT, and straight. And they listened. At the end of the forum, the president of the seminary, Leanne Van Dyk, rose and spoke, saying that on behalf of the institution, she was sorry for all I had been put through.
In that moment, redemption began.
A woman in power.
A woman in power listened.
A woman in power said what I needed to hear for my healing to continue.
And so it begins.
Redemption begins with giving women power.
It begins with listening.
It begins with acknowledging  past wrongs and committing to new ways of being.
It begins when we have the strength to speak, the willingness to listen, and the power to make change.

Returning to the Scene

Who woulda’ thunk it? Thirty-two years after after I graduated from Columbia I have been invited back to read from my memoir and talk about my experiences there.

I have mixed feelings about it. The strongest feeling I have is gratitude. Never would I have thought this day would arrive. What a graceful moment to come full circle and return to a campus where once I was a stranger in a strange land, an unwelcome alien, and a proverbial thorn in the side of this august institution. I am grateful not only to be welcomed and given a voice but I am also grateful (and astounded!) to see the course  ‘Ministry With LGBTQIA Youth’ offered.

But to be completely honest, the other thing I am feeling is anger. Now we all know that anger is often a ‘leading emotion’ that conceals or protects us from the underlying and original emotion. So if I follow that thread I must confess that my anger is trying to  protect me from hurt. So there you have it. The hurt is old. It is the hurt of being silenced and demeaned. It is the hurt of being dismissed. Hated. Feared. It is the hurt of being wide open and vulnerable to Godde and having those in power abusing that vulnerability.

I met a few weeks ago with a wonderful woman from Columbia who invited me to be a part of this event. She is ordained. And a lesbian. And open. All in the Presbyterian Church (USA). After a long, truthful, and profoundly intimate conversation she asked me what I would like from Columbia. It surprised me when I teared up and said  “I just want someone to say ‘I’m sorry’. ” Funny that.

This Wednesday I am invited to be a part of worship and to share my story. To talk about my journey at the institution I both love and hate. I have come to believe that giving me a voice may be the most profound apology I could be offered.

 

The Book, the Party, the People

It was a wonderful night!
Thank you to all who came out to celebrate with me!
Thank you to all who were there in spirit!

After eight (count ’em) years of working on my memoir it is time to celebrate!
So bring on the music – O Happy Day, Sing Lo-Sing O Sophia, and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round, sung and led by three talented singers and a phenomenal pianist.  We celebrated diversity and connectivity.  Being interviewed by Imam Trina Jackson was enlightening and fun. (I love her so much!)
Celebrating at my alma mater, Agnes Scott, brought special joy, as did working with Tina Pippin (Religious Studies) and Kate Colussey-Estes (chaplain of the college). The college has come so far since I was there with their now profound commitment to diversity and inclusion!

And then there were all the friends who provided the ‘pot luck’ reception of extremely excellent food- both savory and sweet. And those who stayed to party.

After two weeks of wrestling a severe case of the flu topped by bronchitis I was able to step out and share stories of blessing and struggle. What was profound was the gathering of people who care, the sharing of food and life, and the hope for the future as people continue to stand against all that dehumanizes in the name of Godde.

I Sent My Book To Hillary

I sent my book to Hillary. Something in me wants to share my story with her. The truth is, her story is a part of my story, in the same way that all of our stories are a part of the larger epic writ large in our time. I identify with her as a woman in times of great change who has faced defeat while challenging institutions entrenched in sexism. She, perhaps, with more grace than I.

Make no mistake. I am no Hillary. I don’t have her intelligence, experience, or fortitude. But I know what it is like to be seen as a threat and to be the object upon whom people project their fears. I sent her my book because her story resonates  with me and I hope mine resonates with her. We are sisters bound by our age, gender, and passion for justice.

So I sent her a copy. Because, well,  we are “stronger together” and my small piece is joined to her very large piece and every other piece women bring to the table.

In my Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments I say, “Though I would not choose to live my life differently, I have learned that sometimes the dragon wins.”

The dragon won this round but he ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Because sisters, our stories are stories of strength, persistence, stamina, and dreaming large. So watch out, because we will change the world, one life, one story at a time.

 

Good Enough

Here’s a paradox: the story I tell in my book, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, is an extension of the work of my life. Another way I bear witness. Another kind of prophetic ministry. Now hold that in one hand. In the other hold the idea that I am a creative person who dances with language and paints pictures with words.

1-  Faithful to a call in which ego often gets shoved out of the way
and
2-  writer as artist with ego to spare.
Interesting intersection. Actually, not a new one for me. I teeter on a balance beam between the two and list one way or the other depending on the time of day, my frame of mind, and how centered I am in Godde on any given moment.

I am not particularly good or saintly. If you read my story you will discover a gleefully imperfect woman.  I do  have a wicked little voice in one ear that berates me for not being perfect. But there is a stronger voice in my other ear that says, “do your best and let it go” and “you will never be without flaws but don’t be without integrity”.
I wish I could be as good to my writer self as I am to my human self. But maybe that’s the answer to my dilemma today: to know that my work is not perfect, but I  have done it with integrity.

Wow. Thanks for listening to me untangle that internal knot.  I invite you to do the same. Unravel the  cords that bind you to the falsehood that  you are not good enough because you are not ‘perfect’.

 

Why I Wrote the Book (and a sneak peek)

People often ask me why I wanted to write a book – that was during the years I put my head down and trashed a thousand drafts. I always said it was because I had a story to tell. Now that my book (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet) is published I need to think about the answer to that question in different ways.

It’s still true that I  wanted to write a book because I have stories to tell.
But there are lots of reasons.
I wrote a book because my life is unusual – or as some have said, ‘interesting’.
I wrote a book because I love words and language.
I wrote a book – and will probably  write more – because the creative process gives me juice.
I wrote this book because it is insight into a small part of the history of change in the church and the nation.
I wrote this book because I wanted to confront myself and share the humanity of struggle.
I  also wrote this book because I have a big ole’ creative gene begging for expression.

Here is a preview, a snippet, a snapshot from the book. It is from the time my mom and I visited Dachau when I was ten:

“I leaned into my mother’s warmth, hungry for the security she offered as I took in the pain and horror. Questions I would struggle with the rest of my life were forged in those moments. Forever, my questions about the Sacred and the human, history and theology, politics and prayer seek answers in those grim, gray rooms filled with the remains of the innocent and the stench of intolerance.
That day I left the camp in the safety of my mother’s embrace. It did not occur to me that she was like other mothers and that there were things from which she could not protect me. We passed through the gates of the camp returning to a world filled with magic and color and sunlight. I did not know then but Dachau will be a part of me until the day I die.
We returned home and over the next weeks and months, my fear and outrage receded to tolerable levels. Back in school, I turned to my studies and friendships.

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 I heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons not only the consequences of evil that has been done to us but also the 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.”

A final plug: it can be ordered from Amazon or directly from the publisher: https://wipfandstock.com/a-gracious-heresy.html

 

Silenced by a Lie

I heard yesterday that I am “just an angry lesbian.”
It takes only one phrase,
uttered by those in charge of writing history,
to erase the reality of those not in power.

This is not a new thought.
Oppressed people
know who writes history
and it is not them.
It had never been so personal before.

If I were writing my history
this is the story I would tell:
Godde called me to ministry.
I had to figure out what it meant.
I went to seminary with the intention of being
authentic
open
vulnerable
and willing to engage in difficult, often hurtful conversations.
I made that choice
It came with a great price.
I got to experience personal rejection
even hate
and ignorance in the name of God
that daily crushed my spirit.

And yet I believed
I had the strength to engage
To stay.
To listen.
To retain my integrity.
So I did.
And I thank Godde for sustaining me in that time.

I didn’t realize that
years later
my witness would be silenced
by a lie.