Category Archives: A Gracious Heresy

Messy Spirituality

Loving Godde is messy.
I often find that people tend to think that being ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ means being at peace, centered, above hardships when they occur, and being without internal conflicts. My experience is very, very different. I invite you to join me in exploring a kind of relationship with Godde that is large enough to hold your grief, your despair, your doubts, your anger, you hatred, and every feeling that places you off the chart of what is considered spiritual.

Last week I wrote about my hate. Well, that’s certainly not seen as spiritual. But hate is also a spiritual event. How it moves me and focuses me makes it a spiritual event. It places me squarely in the middle of a personal struggle that I want to work out with Godde.
My experience is that being authentic is more important than being what is expected.  If I want a vibrant, engaged relationship with Godde I start where I am. Struggle where I am. Tell the truth to myself and to Godde. Then I’m being spiritual.

I am not being spiritual when I say what people think I should say or believe what people think I should believe. I am not being spiritual when I put a bandaid over a gaping hole in my soul. I am being spiritual when I lay myself down before Godde with all of who I am and with the arrogance of one who knows herself to be well-loved.

I am willing to say things that make people uncomfortable because I am only  ‘spiritual’ when I am my most authentic self.  I am a cussing, passionate, tender, justice-seeker engaged with Godde’s world. Godde meets me there. It’s where we hammer things out. It’s where I am challenged and transformed – even when I dig in my heels and raise my fist. Godde is never absent. When I am as authentic as I can be, when I am present with myself, I am present with Godde.
Join me here. Step off the high dive of your fears. The water is fine. For my Christian friends I would add, splash around in the grace of your baptism. Those waters are a buoy, not an undertow.

Here’s my altar call:
When Godde says ‘do not be afraid’, believe it.
Don’t be afraid to let your spiritual life be rough and tumble at times.
Quiet and centered at times. But mostly and always, authentic.

If you believe that you are a beloved child of Godde,  act like it.

The Audacity to Walk into the Fray

Who are these so- called ‘neighbors’
I keep seeing?
Fellow citizens
sporting swásticas
waving  confederate flags
and spewing hate?
They didn’t  just move in
they’ve always been here,
but now they’ve been given the courage
to display their hideous sympathies by
their great leader.
In our names.

These folks stoke my every fear
by their willingness to dehumanize others
and their shameless hate.
But more important,  as all this has unfolded
like a slow motion train
plowing toward a non-existent trestle,
is who I have become.

The truth is
I have become a hater.
I have become a hater of Trump and his minions.
There I said it.
I hate how you hate
I hate your self-righteousness
I hate your intractability
I hate what you stand for
I hate that you have no shame in your hating.
I hate how your hating makes me afraid.

I don’t like hating
I don’t want to be twisted by
my own hatred.
And I don’t like being afraid.

Scripture tells me
that love casts out fear.
I don’t want to love right now.
But I will try to remember that I am loved.
Because that Love bestows
courage we need to face these times..

So as we move forward
remember how deeply loved you are
all the way out to your edges
all the way down to the breath you draw.
It will not protect you
but it will give you what you need
to do what must be done.
and say what must be said.
Do not be afraid.
For the love of Godde
gives us the audacity
to walk into the fray.

Invitation to Easter of the Un-believer

My friend, Maggie, could put a dead stick in the ground and it would grow.

Her husband, Ernie, worked on the line at the local GM plant and Maggie made their home. Their son was born with cerebral palsy. Maggie and Ernie left the church the day women from the congregation visited after Butch’s birth and ask why God was punishing them and what was their sin. Maggie was having none of that. She channeled her energy into helping start the CP Center here in Atlanta where she volunteered with the children every day. Then  Butch died of pneumonia when he was 16.

Their world got smaller and revolved around their older child, a sassy, smart, independent daughter named Ginny. As their long-time next door neighbor, I became a part of their family.  Ginny died from breast cancer in her early 50’s. When Ginny died, I was fresh from seminary and had the difficult privilege of walking with  them through her illness and death. We met to talk about her funeral and  they decided  on  a brief service at the cemetery. Maggie wanted the 23rd Psalm read, other than that she wanted little mention of God. It would already be tense because I (a woman!) was leading the service and their gathered family (absent during Ginny’s illness and otherwise) were pretty rigid fundamentalists. Indeed, they managed to find inappropriate ways and times to comment on how wrong it was that I was presiding at the service. Would that they had kept their thoughts to themselves and comforted  Maggie  and Ernie in their gaping grief.

It was during that time that I got a lot of clarity about Easter. It has nothing to do with what you believe about the resurrection of the body, nothing to do with what you believe about anything. It is the powerful experience beyond words: that death is not final, that justice is not finished, and that love responds to  our struggles with hope beyond our wildest imagination.

Maggie taught me not to demean Easter with doctrine.

Today, I invite you to Easter beyond belief.
Easter is the uneasy time when our hearts are broken open and we stand in the naked beauty of unknowing, bathed in a grace that neither requires answers nor rejects our questions.

Today I invite you to the Easter of the Un-believer.

Connecting the Dots

I keep worrying the question: how did we get here?
Lots of folks have told me, in different ways, that we’e always been here.
I respectfully disagree. We are now galloping toward a future that is on a trajectory few of us have envisioned before now. Before now our trajectory has been very different. I. grew. up in a community that believed we were plodding toward ‘a more perfect union’, toward (with plenty of struggle, anguish, destructiveness, and pain) bending the arc of history toward justice.

Now we seem to be embracing and moving quickly toward self-first, everyone else be damned trajectory. Neither of these directions embraces the entirely of our society, but our past indicated that we could withstand challenges to power and open doors (however slowly and at great cost). The present feeds the fears of the soon-to-be minority and locates economic and political power in the hands of a few.

So how the hell did we get here? Let me say at the outset that I am not either a conspiracy theorist or an alarmist. I am an amateur historian, a working theologian, and an active citizen. I am open to being challenged and interested in being heard. That said, here are the dots I am connecting:

It all started with Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” that laid the foundation for a more radical social conservatism (racism, anti-immigration, anti-women’s rights, anti-LGBT) cloaked, once again, in financial conservatism and a distrust of government.
It expanded with the advent of the Tea Party and the influx of Republicans who publicly stated their refusal to compromise with the Democratic Party. Maybe it needs to be stated that compromise or finding ‘a third way’  has been the basis for our two party system since its inception.
We no longer have ‘the loyal opposition’.
From the introduction of the Contract with American in 1994, our political discourse has deteriorated to such an extent that our politicians no longer engage in productive dialogue. The power grab engaged in by the right has left our way of governing in tatters.
And, Godde help us, there is no shame. No shame is eschewing their oath of office. No shame in supporting lies. No shame in supporting a president with no morals, no ethics, no intellectual capacity, and no qualifications for the job.

So how did we get 30+% of the population supporting the president and the party that is against their best interests?  Here’s a dot: No Child Left Behind. When we teach children to regurgitate facts rather than to think critically and be able to sift fact from fraud, then we. open ourselves  to an entire population that can be easily manipulated. And when higher. education  is looked on with distrust, our problem is compounded.

Here’s another dot: the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Wealth is power.
That is a problem in a democracy when the few can purchase influence,  votes, representatives, senators, and even presidents. When money consolidates power in the hands of the few, we no longer live in a democracy.

Another dot: voter suppression and gerrymandering. It seems clear to me that Republicans don’t think they can win if they don’t cheat. Period. Which brings me to my final dot (for this conversation).

The rise of white nationalism and of white people who believe they are threatened by POC and women and the LGBT community. As a nation we have allowed with impunity the infiltration of the military, police departments, and politics (both local and national) if white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. Racism, sexism, and homophobia is being normalized overtly rather than covertly by people with physical power.

And now we have Donald Trump in power.

Here are my modest proposals:
– include critical thinking and empathy into school curriculum nationally
– take money out of politics: dark money, PAC money, lobbying money
– make national laws about gerrymandering
– make voter registration automatic at the age of 18
-make Election Day a national holiday
-root out white nationalists from the military and police forces

Let’s start here.

Sometimes I have to smile: a lesson in humility

I met an author I admire this summer. I have bought and read many of her books. I even took a class from her years ago. She’s smart and insightful. In the course of the conversation I shared with her that my book had been nominated for an award and she asked after my book. I shared the title, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet.

“Who’s the prophet?” she asked.

“Me.” I answered sheepishly  and was promptly dismissed with a not-too-subtle eye roll.

Damm. Here’s the thing. I don’t call myself a prophet out of any sense of:
1- success;
2-  exceptional job done, or
3- any claim of spiritual insightfulness.

Maybe I shouldn’t have included that prophet thing in the subtitle.
But it really is a part of my story of speaking truth to power, as they say. I claim it from an educated view of prophetic speech that is not in any way about the one speaking.  Still, it was hard to be taken down a notch.

So let me share a few words from my book to clarify:

“A prophet? Are you kidding me? Thirty years ago I would have been right there with you. Believe me, I would never have called myself a prophet. Prophets are special. I am not. They have a direct line to God and the go- ahead and where-with-all to do all kinds of miraculous things. I do not. They rail at people for being idiots. Well, sometimes. They declare impend- ing doom. The most I can claim about impending doom is that I’m often scared. Prophets occasionally foretell the future. Not me. They are righteous in the extreme and above the fray and trials of this messy business we call life. Again, not me. Not in any lifetime. Not on any planet.
Boy, was I wrong. In seminary I learned just how wrong I was. I dis- covered that prophets are wonderfully flawed and chaotic people. Just like me. Folks often thought they were crazy. True here. Eventually I got to know the prophets as chums who spoke passionately and acted hyperbolically. I identified. I am not above the bedlam of life. I am neither a soothsayer who predicts the future nor a miracle worker. I am not particularly righteous, though I have been known to be self-righteous. To be honest I am a flock of flaws, surrounded by a majesty of misunderstandings, hobbled together with an impediment of imperfections. I am not special in any way to anyone except, maybe, to my mom and dad and daughter. I don’t have a direct line to God and when the party line is open, I often don’t hear—or more truth- fully, don’t listen—to what God is saying. I am strong willed and sometimes lazy. I get stuff wrong. A lot.”

So when I’m taken down a notch I need to remember to smile. Someone once told me my spiritual gift was humility. If that is true then it is only when I smile at myself.
Only when I smile.

Hope Creeps In

When I was a child
hope exploded each Christmas
like a  natal star,
twinkled in the colored lights,
enchanted in carols of joy
Expected
Anticipated
Delivered each Christmas morning
without exception.

But now I am a woman
and have put away childish things.
Now I search for hope
through a glass darkly
and hope sidles into
my faithless heart
refusing to be denied.

I have put away my love of tinsel
of sweets
and excess
and in the darkness of this hour
hope creeps under my door
and offers itself
to my fear
my grief
and my  disillusionment
with the unexpected power
of love.

People who live
in the darkness of our times
can see a great light.
A promise
A new way of being
a challenge to our despair
that evil cannot overcome.

May we accept
Godde’s invitation to hope
in this holy season.
though we only see
its dim reflection
in our busy celebrations.
Hope is seeking us
in the  dark corners
of our deepest need.
.

 

 

*a reflection on Christmas and 1 Cor. 13:11-13 and Isaiah 9:2

 

 

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.

 

 

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.