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

Changing the World with Words

Say a word. Any word. Something comes to mind.
An image, a feeling, a context…
We hear some words as neutral.
Some words are so loaded that our reactions are visceral.
We reject the concept or feel the sucker-punch in our gut.
And sometimes we feel the expansion of warmth and light in our chest.

Words are one of humanity’s most important tools of communication.
As a person who loves words I like to make them dance and sing, hunch and cry… I like to toss them into the air and watch to see where they land.
I also approach them tentatively, having some sense their power.
And then there are times I forget everything I know about words.

Like when I say the word Godde.
It’s such a loaded word, filled with judgment, fear, joy, love, distaste…
The word ‘Godde’ (and I use it a lot in my profession) is packed with more than issues of gender and hierarchy.
Somehow, my religious/spiritual education eluded the image of the old, white man with a beard sitting on a throne, flinging judgment at humanity.
Instead, to invoke ‘Godde’ with a word takes my breath away. My chest fills with warmth and my heart expands to embrace a Mystery my mind cannot fathom.

The seminal questions becomes: “How do I bridge the divide between the word I speak and the word that is received?”.
I don’t have any answers yet except that I will always need more words to talk about the big words, more words to draw pictures, shape images, invite responses. More words to talk about something that is beyond words. Though perhaps Jewish wisdom is the best response: the name of Godde is unspeakable.
Still, I will keep trying to talk about Godde because when hearts and minds open
to different rhythms and sounds, ideas and images, it can change the world.

Herding Non-Doctrinal Cats

My writing group friend ,who is also a pastor, asserted this morning that people don’t come to church because of doctrine. “If you stood outside the doors of the church on Sunday morning and asked people if they believed what they had just heard, if they were honest they, would say, “No.”

I found that astounding. She went on the say that most people aren’t interested in doctrine. They come because it is a place of welcome, a place they belong, where they have a sense of family. My daughter responded that she doesn’t go to a church because of doctrine but there are churches she won’t go to because of doctrine.

One would think then that being a non-doctrinal church would be easier to establish among the young, but the truth is it takes a certain amount of spiritual maturity, a certain amount of personal history that challenges everything you thought were certainties.

When Circle of Grace started I insisted that we be non-doctrinal. It’s easier said than done because one of the first things someone asks of a church is, “What do you believe?”.  Our covenant is one not based on belief but on relationship. We wrestle with the questions, “How do we relate to Godde?” and “How do we relate to one another and to the created world.” In 1993 we wrote our covenant:
We, the Circle of Grace Community Church, as Christians, covenant with Godde and with one another to:
– Live with compassion and seek justice
– Continually discern that to which Godde calls us
– Build spiritual community that is inclusive of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class,      culture, age, and religious backgrounds.
– Provide safe haven
– Worship together using language about Godde and humanity that is inclusive.
– Live in right relationship with Godde and one another
– Speak truth to power

Our covenant is a pointer and directional marker, challenging us to a different kind of faithfulness and a beacon in the wilderness times. And, yes, it was hard making space for  passionately pro-life and pro-choice people, for those who needed substitutionary atonement and those who found the crucifixion to be a judgment on humanity.  We even discussed whether or not to put “as Christians” in our covenant because of what people assume it means when you say that. But we ended up saying we were reclaiming the word in the same way lesbians reclaimed the word “dyke”.  We would define what it means to be a Christian and, for us, we could agree it meant to follow in the Way of Jesus.

The beauty and the challenge of herding non-doctrinal cats is how much we can learn from one another. I confess that, as a pastor, I was often filled with anxiety. The question uppermost in my mind was, “How can we make room for one another?” – though, truthfully, sometime it was, “Will everyone be able to tolerate this?’. It’s different when you say out loud that a church is non-doctrinal than it is silently living with the reality of it.

I like to think it is some of the important work we do, re-imagining what spiritual community can be in all its unsettled and unsettling differences, making expansive statements that call us to live into a way of being, every gathering and worship service an exercise in herding non-doctrinal cats. Circle of Grace’s commitment and experience is a necessary beacon of a different possibility, a different way of being in the world while still being authentic.

As the world churns with uncertainty and fear for the future, it is seductive to reach for doctrines that give us absolute sureties . But doing that only perpetuates the current miasma. We need a different vision of how to live in the world with all our differences.

Our world desperately needs to become a herd of non-doctrinal cats who choose  to make home together.

 

Broken Spirit Seeks Hope

Yesterday I was at a gathering of ‘good Christian folk’ who all seemed to have good intentions. They would say they were loving and faithful. They were the neighbors who live down the street with such different lives from mine, uncomplicated by any urgency for justice because they don’t live outside of its possibilities, and  are privileged in ways they can’t comprehend or acknowledge.  They were ‘nice’.  My friend reminds me that ‘nice’ comes from two Latin words, ‘ne scion’, meaning ‘to not know’.

But that wasn’t the point. Some would tell me I shouldn’t have been talking politics. Unfortunately, that thinking ends up perpetuating the myth that we can’t have the important conversations and that we can’t work through our disagreements.  We have fostered generations of folks who cannot or will not listen to one another. Even within their own families.

I broke that taboo yesterday and shared my fears about our current political situation. As a student of history I talked about the parallels between some of what we are seeing today and the advent of Nazi Germany.  The response was, and I quote, “All politicians do it, they are all alike.”

This is where my spirit is broken: she could not see any difference between the evil of children in cages, the rise of rampant racism, the control of women’s bodies and autonomy, violence against members of the LGBTQ community,  and common corruption. Has Trump and the Freedom Caucus (sic) so normalized abhorrent behavior that it is seen as acceptable political discourse? How can I not challenge the nice, Christian lady who is blind to her privilege?

I am sad and frightened and when I meet people who are nice and blind, I struggle. How can we move forward? Where is the hope? I cannot stay in this place, though it is important for us to live with the sadness or we deny and belittle the current reality. What we cannot do, what we must not do, is despair. Despair kills our ability to act and destroys our ability to hope.

We cannot live without hope. We can be broken, tired, grieving, perplexed, and overwhelmed, but our souls shrivel and die when there is no hope. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann once said, “Hope  is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion.”

To my fellow broken spirits: keep seeking hope. Refuse to accept the ‘reading of reality’ of the majority – even the ‘nice and blind’ majority. We must keep our eyes open to what is in front of us and name it for what it is. Yesterday I said out loud to the ‘nice’ lady that there is a difference between corruption and evil.

Seek hope not as a light and airy feeling, but as the quiver in your voice when naming and challenging evil. Hope is not polite. It is grieving, broken people refusing to accept that we cannot be better than this. So stand, or kneel beneath the weight of the evil perpetuated in our names, and refuse to be blinded by whatever privilege you carry. Keep your eyes open and do not normalize the current moment. That is the hope we must carry into the world.

 

 

 

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.

Are you my tribe? and other silly questions

For those of you who have read my book, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet,  (and if you haven’t, please do! Shameless plug: It’s available at Charis Books, Barnes and Noble,  Amazon and from the publisher, Wipf and Stock) then you know a recurring issue is that I claim tribes that don’t claim me back. I’m sure there is some way to unpack this psychologically or metaphorically but, really, the living of it is just part of who I am.

Here are some good descriptive words: audacious, silly, bold, self-deceived, hopeful, entitled, and brave.
Here’s a good question: what was I thinking?!

Which brings me to the story of the week. As an author I am also learning to be a marketing   person. ‘Learning’ being the key term. The best advice says one must identify one’s audience. Who would want to read the book? In my mind it could be anyone: army brats, people of faith, queers of all sorts, feminists, memoir readers, southerners, third culture folk… give me a minute and I could add to that, but you get the idea.
Then there’s the problem that the book, or me for that matter,  doesn’t quite fit into any of those categories. Take  the ‘people of faith’ category. It  isn’t the best fit because I am messy, flawed, unabashedly sexual, and salty. So my story isn’t inspirational in the usual way, nor is it filled with such spiritual insight and practice so as to invite others more deeply into their spiritual lives or impress them with mine.

You get where I’m going here? But I digress. That’s just some background to tell the story of how I and a dear friend travelled to a conference to give a presentation that virtually no one attended. I’ve come to believe it’s yet another case of me claiming a tribe that didn’t claim me back. As I tell this rest of this story be clear: I am not angry, dejected, or sad. Oh, I was but I don’t want to live there and frankly, it would be dishonest, because I might could have anticipated it. Today I am laughing at myself.

…So Erin and I drove to Oxford, MS to Ole Miss to the Southeast Women’s Studies Association Conference to talk about being queer in the church in the South. We were in the pedagogy path and ready to talk about the lived experience on which theory is based. As another dear friend reminded me: stories are lived theory. On the day of our presentation we arrived early at our scheduled room. It was set up for about 75 with our table at the front.
We got the lay of the land and waited for our captive audience to arrive.
They didn’t.
The moderator came in, looked around, and spoke with us briefly. No one was coming in for our presentation. I think she went out, grabbed a faculty member, and strong-armed her into coming in. Soooo… we gave our presentation to the moderator and the strong-armed faculty member. We were articulate, engaging, challenging, and charming – all the things you would hope for in a presentation at a conference. And more fun than most because we are both storytellers by profession and nature.

On the drive back we talked about how to describe our experience. “Though the room held 75, we managed to provide an intimate experience.”  Okay, it took a couple hundred of miles of driving to get to the belly laugh,  but I think we both  wanted to get there. Eventually.

Back to the question. Are you my tribe? I assumed that the SEWSA conference was  part of my tribe because, well, I’ve been living as a bold, out lesbian, feminist in the South since the mid 70’s.  In a gathering of feminists and queer theorists it just seemed like a seamless fit. I claim my tribe.  I have something important to add to the conversation. Thoughtful, nuanced, and lived.
But… as so often happens, my tribe did not claim me back. They are not alone and I do not fault them. Much. This experience helped me name a bigger truth: most of my tribes don’t claim me back.

Here’s the thing. I’m gonna keep on claiming you. I’m going to keep insisting that I belong. I’m going to keep on doing it because it’s at  the center of my story. And it’s what makes my story universal. It’s at the center of my theology, the way I am in ministry, and the way I live my life:  with the absolute certainty that we all belong.
Our deepest truth is that  we are all members of the same tribe.
So look for me. I’m coming to a meeting, a group, a gathering near you soon!

 

To My UMC Siblings: Follow Your Gift

Let me begin by saying I was once a United Methodist, baptized as a teenager into the communion. I left when the church didn’t reflect my commitment to and passion for civil rights and women’s rights and against the Viet Nam War. At 17 and today, the most urgent needs of humanity ground my understanding of a life in Christ.

At 25, as a lesbian, feminist, justice-seeker I experienced a call to ministry. The year was 1977. My book tells the story of how I figured out what that meant. Well, I still am, all these years later, nonetheless…  may I offer the insights of my journey?

I became a Presbyterian (now PCUSA) because their structure and theology, in theory, offered a way to challenge their then anti-gay stance. I learned a lot about what it means to challenge a church you love. Today, with love, offering comfort to your grief, and standing with you in your passion and anger, I want to offer whatever small wisdom I have garnered:

The most important thing you can do is honor one another by holding the tension that there is no ‘one right way’ to respond to the events of the General Conference.  Some will be called to stay. Some will be called to leave. Some will be kicked out. Some will leave their faith – and perhaps not just the UMC but the Christian faith. All these choices must be honored because each experience of faith in community is different, no matter how shared.

For some, what has happened reflects continued abuse and rejection. It is okay to leave.
For some, it is a family argument. It’s okay to stay.
For some it is a betrayal. It’s okay to question or even reject Christianity.
What matters is that you remain authentic to your journey.

Some of you have the gifts to stay and fight: the intellect, the history, the strength, the spiritual grounding, to take on an institution that summoned you to your spiritual journey. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

Some of you have the gifts to leave. The intellect, history, the strength, the spiritual grounding to strike off into uncharted territory. No telling where it might take you- to what denomination or if you will sail untethered. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

Some of you have the gifts to refuse to be abused or betrayed: the intellect, the history, the strength, the spiritual grounding to remove yourself from those things that have hurt and controlled you. While your experience is not necessarily a universal one,  many have been abused or betrayed by institutional Christian power structures. If this is your truth, speak it. You are not obligated to protect your abuser. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

As your journey through this time of anger and grief, please know that you are held in the prayers of many in your city and state and around the world. The answers you discover as you move through this painful time must be your answers. There are no wrong answers. Your history and your gifts must direct you. However you proceed, may you always be held gently in the heart of Godde.

 

Christmas is Not About Facts

Frankly, I don’t care if Jesus was born in April or December.
Whether it was a stable or guest room.
I don’t care if Mary was a virgin or not.
I don’t care whether Christians enfolded the celebration of winter solstice or any other spiritual celebration into the celebration of Christmas.

They all point to the same star, comet, or whatever.
They all point
to hope
to Godde’s intervention
to the lesson that
Godde is with us
and in us.

Our stories are stories
to mark time
to mark shifts in understanding
and new openness
to unimagined possibilites
and outrageous dreaming.

Our stories try to
wrap the gift of Love
in beautiful words
and extraordinary pictures
in characters that resonate
across time.

Is it true? I have been asked.
And I wonder what the questioner means
am I being asked,
are the facts of the matter true?
We will never know by scientific method
or any other method
so I must believe the ‘facts’ have no meaning.

What has meaning is
that we experience Godde-with-us
that we stand in awe of the vulnerability of the Sacred
that we bear the Light of hope
that we see visions of Godde’s dream for humanity
that we are utterly undone by the miracles
we experience every day:
birth
and life
and connection
and the Mystery
and Miracle
that moves among us
every time we see Godde
in unexpected places.
Every time Godde calls us
to bear witness to something
both wonderful
and beyond our ability to
comprehend.

Scrappy and Spiritual

Mentors, friends – even heroes and heroines – challenge me to nurture spiritual discipline by their example. They have deep spiritual practices. Their prayers, unlike mine, are not spewed while driving in rush hour traffic  on I-285.  Nor is their language coarse and ribald.

Like my mom, many rise in the morning and spend time with scripture and in prayer. They journal. They draw on and into a deep peace. They center.

Well, I center, too but somehow it looks really messy. Today I unleashed a barrage of foul language and beat my steering wheel in frustration while merging onto the highway. The driver’s utter disregard for the rules of traffic as she passed me in the merge lane flew all over me.  It was only after I lost my cookies that I told myself to take a breath and center. And then these thoughts occurred to me:
– I couldn’t be that angry with her, what was I really mad about? (I figured out it was reflexive and I needed to chill)
– What was happening in her life that gave her that sense of urgency?
– What if I just let go and loved her?

I ended up being my best self. By Godde. Sometimes I wonder what would it be like if I weren’t a scrappy, earthy, unleashed woman. I don’t mind that I cuss like a sailor (though it drove my mom nuts). I agonize that I am undisciplined.  I sometimes wonder if I am spiritual enough. I always ask if I could do better.

The truth is I can do better. That’s the thing about being spiritually engaged. We don’t really arrive anywhere, we just ‘be’ more deeply ourselves and ‘be’ more deeply with Godde. At the same time I am enough. And you are enough. It’s okay to be imperfect. Any relationship, even – or especially – our relationship with Godde takes time and attention. It  can look different for different people. And while I remain deeply grateful for those who pray, meditate, and center on Godde in a more disciplined way, while I will always  learn from them, be inspired, and even convicted by them,  in my better times I know that how I pray and meditate and center is good, too. It only takes doing.

Find your way.
Embrace it.
Practice it
Keep getting better at it.
Be intentional.
Be yourself.
Be enough.

 

Loping Toward Advent

 

As we lope toward Advent the days get shorter and nights are longer. Cold seeps in under doors and around windows. We begin to hunker down and turn inward. The gift of the dark is gestation. We turn toward the work of the soul. We wait for a new thing. We wait for light to return. This is what we do each year as we linger in creative hope during  in the Advent season.

These past two years I’ve needed Advent more than ever before. I’ve needed to know that it is okay to sit in the dark. It is important to hope against hope. It is necessary to to do the gestational work that will bring about the birth of change.

This year it would be easy to drown in hopelessness as I see the president’s disregard for the lives of many who sacrificed on behalf of my country. Or to see how he shows no compassion for fellow citizens killed in raging fires in a state that ‘voted against him’. It would be easy to become inured to his hate speech in the name of the United States…

But then the unexpected happened. The creative work of coalition building, of connecting neighbor to neighbor,  of incubating strategies, of growing a movement, birthed in the fullness of its time. And we changed the face of our nation. Women, people of color, people of differing sexualities and faiths, Native Americans and immigrants were lifted up by people in every state.

Our representative body is beginning to look a little more representative: 

We are still living in dark times. There is still work to do. But the light will come again when we do the creative, difficult, exciting, hopeful work of the dark.
But the light is coming, friends. The light is coming.

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!