Category Archives: Christian feminist (radical and otherwise- or is it all radical?)

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.


The Power of our Stories

Yesterday we said these words in our Seder meal:  “Laughter and tears life and death, good and evil – these are bound  irrevocably together. We bless them together for we know that with without death we would not fully value life. Without tears we would not fully value laughter. As we learn to maximize the good and valuable, let us  remember the evil we would reject, lest it creep, unrecognized, back into our presence.”

Has Pharaoh crept back into power? In our day ‘pharaohs’ are the ones who live in luxury while families struggle to make ends meet. ‘Pharaohs’ are those who get tax cuts while the most vulnerable lose benefits like meals-on-wheels, childcare assistance, reproductive healthcare, social security, and disability benefits. ‘Pharaohs’ are the ones who wrangle power from the people and centralize it among friends and family.

Today I wonder how we can celebrate the journey to freedom when Pharaoh skulks around every corner working hard to corrode our freedoms. Pharaoh lives in the White House, in the Senate and House. Pharaoh now resides on the Supreme Court.

So how do we become free? We remember our history and tell those stores along with new stories as we begin again our journey to freedom. For those of us in the United States our stories are of our constitution and bill of rights, and stories of our march toward the liberation of all: the abolition movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the movement for LGBTQ rights, for immigrant rights. These are the stories we need to remember

How do we become free? We wake up for the hundredth morning and grope for words to describe what is wrong. We engage in small heroic acts of disobedience until our disparate voices come together into the cry of the people. We continue to move forward even though the way looks impossible and pharaoh nips at our heels.

We open our doors and make ourselves see the crimes of rape, violence, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and the dehumanization of those called ‘other’ who are really our sisters and brothers and friends. And we care enough to act.

We have begun. We are marching and speaking and writing and calling and voting. We are wading into a sea and we are in it up to our necks. But our stories give up hope and tell us we will make a way through to the other side. So let’s keep telling our stories and singing our stories as we travel on the road to liberation. Let the children of today represented by the Children’s Choir of Boston sing a story for us and inspire us not to let anyone turn us ’round on this journey.

 

 

 

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.

One Thing We Learned

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Today I need words. Great words. Large thoughts. I need to rise to the challenge of my faith to face hate with love, sorrow with comfort, and fear with hope.

Last night’s election was terrifying. Incredibly sad. Revelations about who we are as a nation shock and terrify us. The underbelly of hatred, fear, persecution, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny reared up and surprised us with the breadth of their power. And we need to talk about it.

We need to name the miscalculated and often denied venom of misogyny. Racism drove the election, absolutely and in no small ways. Xenophobia drove the election, without question and to our deep shame. But clearly revealed, often not spoken, perhaps unconscious driver in this election was the visceral fear of women in power. Even from liberals and millennials. Even from women. If we are to move forward toward a more just and kind world we must name this form of inhumanity that crosses race and culture and make change. It is some of the most important work before us. Just as it is clear that we are not in a post-racist time, we are surely not in a post-sexist time.

Today I challenge all the young women who told me women’s battles have been won.I challenge all men of good will who have never grasped the depth of our cultural hatred of women. I challenge all women who accept misogyny as status quo.

It is difficult to make this argument  given the privilege some women have because of race or wealth, but they are not immune. Race and wealth do not give women the protections we think it does. It rears its head when we are dehumanized by the porn industry and the fashion industry. It bays at our heels when we are dehumanized by sexual assault – either verbal or physical  –  and hides under our beds passing as a misdemeanor or worse that ‘boys will be boys’.  Women and men need to make misogyny a central political and spiritual issue because we live in an age when leaders can brag about ‘grabbing pussy’ and still get elected, when sports heroes are given a pass for rape, and when a perpetrator of repeated incest with a 12 year old gets 6 month jail sentence.

This call to arms  does not mean we rest in our fight against racism. It does not mean we  rest in our fight for the rights of sexual minorities.It does not mean we rest in our fight for those who have no voice: for the powerless, the poor, children and the elderly. But we also must not rest in our fight against the often invisible, multi-cultural hatred of women.

Wow. I said it. Hatred of women. But that’s what misogyny is. Using the word misogyny just sounds better than saying that the hatred of women drives our culture and politics. Wikipedia’s definition is:

Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or  girls.   Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including social  exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual  objectification.

In the extended article these observations were made by sociologists and philosophers:

According to sociologist Allan G. Johnson, “misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred    for females because they are female.” Johnson argues that:

Misogyny …. is a central part of sexist prejudice and ideology and, as   such, is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies. Misogyny is manifested in many different ways, from  jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be   taught to feel toward their own bodies.[4]

Sociologist Michael Flood, at the University of Wollongong, defines misogyny as the hatred of women, and notes:

Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by             women against other women or even themselves. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male- dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women  in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making.

[…] Aristotle contended that women exist as natural deformities or  imperfect males […] Ever since, women in Western cultures have   internalized their role as societal scapegoats, influenced in the twenty-first century by multimedia objectification of women with its culturally sanctioned self-loathing and fixations on plastic surgery, anorexia and             bulimia.[5]

It is painful to look when a light is shown on the power, pervasiveness, and insidiousness of misogyny when there are many men we love – fathers, sons, cousins, friends, lovers…                                                                                                        Women of all colors, all ethnicities, all classes, all sexualities must learn to recognize and name misogyny. We must choose to refuse to hate ourselves. We must speak our truth to power, even to men we love, – only then will we change the world.

Today I call on all good men, all thoughtful women, all institutions of power to name and challenge misogyny where you find it. Everywhere you find it. You will get a taste of what people of color experience when they talk about their experience of racism and are told how they are too sensitive and how much things have changed. You will be embarrassed because sexism is a more acceptable form of oppression, more tolerated, even by good liberals, that you might  hesitate to speak up.

But we must speak up. Just as people of color and white people must recognize and speak out against racism, tolerating the discomfort and backlash. So must women and men must learn to recognize and speak out against misogyny and sexism and be willing to tolerate the discomfort and backlash.

Until we do and until we begin to actively work against the real hatred of women we cannot have lasting change for the human race.

 

 

The Importance of Raising Righteous Kids

copy-of-globe-plus-childrenMary Boney Sheats, my professor in Religious Studies at Agnes Scott College, encouraged me to think about how I wanted to raise my daughter.

She posed the question, “Do you want her to be innocent or righteous?”

My answer: “Righteous!”

I realize now, more than I did then, what is required to be righteous. You can’t be righteous and uninformed. I allowed my daughter to be exposed to much of the injustice and hurt in the world. As a parent I directed her response toward empathy. I offered an alternative to despair: to work for justice with compassion. I let her know it was okay to be angry. I always pointed out the good or, as Mr. Roger’s mom taught us, ‘to watch for the helpers’.

The ‘innocent’ are walled off from the realities of life. Their protected innocence Isolates them from the complexities of the world and puts them at a disadvantage when they near adulthood. Of course, you give children only what is manageable for their developmental age but keeping children unaware of what is wrong or bad in the world leads to an unrealistic perceptions and expectations.  I’m also of the mind that protracted innocence is a source of internal turmoil when one eventually confronts both the evil in the world and the shadow side of the self.

At a certain age innocence transforms into piety, a tricky thing, not all bad, but most often the party is misinformed and reduced to simplistic reasoning about complex issues.

All this thinking about innocence and righteousness points me to the ethical dissonance between the political and religious right and political and religious left. The divide comes down to piety (the right) and righteousness (the left).

Now I’m not saying pious people can’t be righteous but it is not a natural partnership. Righteousness implies a passionate commitment to justice and I just don’t see that as a natural consequence of piety.

Today and in the days to come we need a population of critical thinkers who value justice and admit to the complexities of a multicultural world. We need a population able to make difficult decisions not based only on ones self-preservation but with a commitment to universal justice.

We need to raise righteous children.

 

Faith and Forgiveness

ForgivenessThe truth is it is easy not to forgive. When I don’t forgive it feels like I have a protective layer against further emotional aggression. When I don’t forgive my anger feels righteous (whether it is or not). When I don’t forgive there is no way to siphon off my anger.

When I forgive someone who has hurt me deeply I kind of resent it. Perhaps that is not forgiveness. I would rather say it is not completed forgiveness. It has taken me a while to understand forgiveness as solely my internal process. Let me break that down:

Solely, mine alone, without any action or reaction on the part of another, mine to wrestle with, mine to resolve, mine to engage without expectation of changed relationship with anyone other than myself.

Internal, the change that forgiveness makes is in me. In me. In me. Forgiving changes my physiology. It changes how I view the world. It reorients me to something greater than myself, a way that my faith calls me to move in the world.

Process, I have come to understand that forgiveness for any unjust or emotionally harmful event is not a one-time thing. Sometimes I have to forgive a person who betrayed or hurt me several times a day. Each time I do, I move toward wholeness. Process is choosing over and over again to be the person my faith calls me to be. Sometimes I resent that I am choosing to forgive, but I choose it anyway. The process requires time and emotional energy to continue to make the choice  until it becomes my default response to painful memories, lost dreams, and dashed hopes.

I know I only do this because of my faith. It is easy to hold anger because the anger seduces me into believing I am protecting myself. It is my faith that instructs me to be vulnerable, to change the world by first changing myself. It is my faith that gives me the strength to continue the process of forgiveness because I don’t always gravitate toward forgiveness.

 

 

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.

Confessions of a faithful patriot

flag

Let me unpack that for you because I hear a million red flags flapping in a hurricane force wind.

In the U.S. every citizen can be involved in the political process. (though some rights in some places have been repressed: i.e. voter participation) For me being political means acting in such a way as to influence governance. I vote. I write letters. I make phone calls. I sign petitions. I protest. Like almost everyone else in the country I want to have a say in how we run this nation. Here’s the rub: what I want or believe is (or should be) checked and balanced by the constitution of the United State. That means if I want to legalize discrimination against any group it can be challenged in court. It would not be enough for me to believe that a group was sinful or demonic or non-Christian or…

I am a Christian. I try not to cringe when I say that – not because I am ashamed of my spiritual journey but because I know I will be lumped into a group that I find abhorrent: fundamentalist, literalist, fear-mongering people who have hijacked (very successfully) the public perceptions my faith.

As a Christian I speak and act politically. I support economic policies and social programs that feed the hungry, home the homeless, make prisons tolerable, help people get the mental and physical healthcare they need, create jobs, and liberate the oppressed. I expect my government to allow everyone the freedom to follow their spiritual path except when someone’s religion infringes on basic rights – say the right to marry or use the bathroom.

I am a patriot. I am not nationalistic. Not that I think our country is without significant and severe problems. But the ideas our nation is founded on inspire and enable the movement toward an ever-deepening understanding of justice.

In this frightening time when the politics of the right stokes fear, hatred and divisiveness I still believe that the essence of our national identity is something very different. We can find our way forward. Not to perfection, but to the ongoing process of understanding and implementing freedom and justice for all.

Rather than let the religious right abscond with Christianity or the Tea Party with the Constitution,  we must take back the words and the meanings. Expand them with new and greater understandings as we arc slowly toward justice.

So today I plant my flag. I am a Christian (progressive, feminist, justice loving) and a patriot (grounded in the ongoing movement toward freedom and equality for all with a love of the diverse cultures of our nation).  Today I take back the meaning of those things dear to me.

 

 

retro- Wednesday- How Can It Be Different?

 

 

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originally posted August 16, 2010

How different can you ‘do church’ from traditional models?  So far the answer is a resounding ‘somewhat’.

Here’s the thing: we want to share power.  We don’t want to replicate any kind of hierarchy.  We named ourselves Circle of Grace because all the points on the circle are on an even playing field.  In theory that translates to equal or shared power.   In practice, people are often uncomfortable with the thought of exercising power.  Maybe they are afraid of being ‘wrong’ or maybe they are afraid they will have to ‘bring it’.

In our model everyone has a voice.  That’s a good thing.  What’s difficult (I’ll refrain from saying ‘bad’) is that not everybody is willing to exercise his or her power.  As feminists, we redefined power.  For us, power isn’t ‘power over’ anything.  Power is what we share.  For some of us it is uncomfortable – but we agree it is important.

This breaks down pretty significantly when commitment and responsibility are iffy.  It is a pretty big trade off.  For some reason, in hierarchical power structures those with power are able to require a certain amount of responsibility.   Not so much in a non-hierarchical situation.  In my bad moments, I hate that.  I hate that we don’t have a structure I can wrangle to get something done quickly, without discussion or dissension.  Sometimes I hate it that everyone has a voice but not everyone has the inclination to do the work that needs to be dome.

So how different are we from more traditional churches?  Sometimes not at all.  Sometimes power lands in the lap of a few because of lack of interest.  Kind of like state and federal elections.  We have the power to vote, but too many people don’t give enough of a damn to exercise their power.  As pastor, I am sometimes left with too much power by default.  (Default: no one else wants to do it)  Fortunately, I don’t want the power even when I have to exercise it.

Sometimes we are very, very different from traditional churches.  There is no power of ‘right thought’ or ‘right belief’.  One of the most challenging aspects of being in our community is that we are not bound by shared belief.  There may be someone who believes in substitutionary atonement and another who vehemently does not (in fact most of us don’t).  We have had times of members who opposed abortion and those who worked for choice organizations.  We have learned to make room for one another.

That’s the wonderful part.  It is wonderful enough to balance out the trials of a lumpy sharing of power.  How different can it be?  Different enough that we keep on trying to figure out how we’ve been socialized and work against what is easy or comfortable.  We know we are on a huge learning curve.  I guess that’s how different it is.