Category Archives: Circle of Grace

Passover Heresy

To some:
It is a heresy to celebrate a religious holiday on a day other than the prescribed date.
It is a heresy to place an orange in the middle of a seder plate.
It is a heresy to adopt a tradition outside one’s own.

To me, it is only ‘heresy’ when my tradition (Christianity) appropriates the meal to give it ‘Christian’ meaning. The story is universal. It is the story of the Jews. It is the story of humanity. The question for me is, “where do our stories intersect?”.

My answer this year is this:
they intersect in the places we are oppressed
they intersect in the places we oppress others
they intersect when we examine the journey of the faithfulness/faithlessness
they intersect when the story we recall resonates in our hearts and minds

With great thanksgiving for the Jewish tradition of the Passover seder,
we celebrate the meal each year
and we remember
and we learn
and we internalize
and we encourage
and we mourn
and we celebrate
and we learn to hope again

We challenge authority and the misuse of power. We encourage one another to resist. We remember to trust that Godde’s vision for humanity as one of freedom.

And we learn with our bodies. We take it in.
the flatness
the bitterness
the heaviness
the sweetness of safety at the expense of slavery
the price of freedom
the joy of shared stories
and the celebration of hope.

This is our gracious heresy: that our stories are shared and that they call us again and again to remember who we are  to one another and to Godde.

The Consequences of Being Present: a Lenten Practice


          At Circle of Grace we are exploring the spiritual practice of ‘being present’ during Lent, especially in worship. Since we are a small community it is easy for all of us to participate.

We began the season with a discussion of our own mortality and how Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are made of dust and to dust we shall return. So if the beginning of Lent invites us to ponder our own deaths, how do we respond? Sometimes experiencing the death of a loved one makes one pensive. We think about the meaning of life and become self-reflective. Another response is to become intensely aware of being alive. Colors become more profound, sounds sharper, taste richer, flesh more sensitive. We become more fully present in our bodies, our lives, and our world. We find that we need to be honest.

How to incorporate that awareness and the desire to be present with Godde?  How could I structure (loosely) worship to reflect this practice? So far, these are the things we find helpful:

-Laying down our burdens. At the beginning of the service we go around the circle and speak the burden we need to lay down to be more fully present. Most often it is a worry or anxiety we carry. No comments, no fixes, only the attempt to release the busy-ness that keeps us from being in the moment. It is a conscious struggle, sometimes not attained but, at least, attempted. We then begin worship with words we have repeated since our inception: “Step aside from the busy-ness of the day. Let us open to the touch, the breath, the power of the Spirit. Let us draw a circle around ourselves in this place and step onto holy ground.”

-celebrating the physicality of the Eucharist. We pass the bread before it is broken so that each one might feel the roughness or smoothness of its texture and smell the scent of yeast and salt and flour. We listen to the sound it makes when it is torn in two and watch crumbs fall to the patent below. We pass the cup to look at the depth of color and take a moment to savor the aroma of its sweetness. And as we serve one another we savor the sharing and the tasting, present with each other and with the feast that invites us into life.

I have found that being present is not only a physical and spiritual activity, it is a political one. When we experience ourselves and one another as part of an intrinsic whole our world view can no longer take the shape of ‘us and them’. Christ’s call to love justice passionately moves us from awareness to action.

I have found that being present isn’t the end game. For me, it is a practice that brings me more fully into the struggle for peace and justice in the wider world. It makes me more honest in speaking out and less afraid of the consequences of living with integrity.

 

Calling In A Paradigm Shift


I haven’t written since before Christmas what with preparing both our home and the church for the annual celebration. It was a good and full time tinged with the cyclical sadness of the anniversary of my mom’s death.
I preached Christmas and Epiphany services. Old stories. New words. And was struck again with how Christians (I can only speak to my tradition, though I believe it exists in every spiritual tradition) are charged with challenging the dominant social paradigm.
I am not interested in saving of my soul from a vengeful and angry God. I refuse to afraid of Godde. It goes against every light fiber of my being.
Nope. I am ready to call Christians to be Christians and stop being  moral puppets for right wing ideologues. Morality is not about ruling the minutia of the bedroom, the ‘place’ of women, or the arrogance of claiming that the wealthy are favored by Godde.

Here’s the new (for the last two thousand+ years) paradigm Christians are challenged to shift into:
– share so that there is enough for everyone: food, water, housing, healthcare
– act out of love, not warm-fuzzy feelings, but with the intent for the well-being of others
– claim the power to forgive so that you are freed from destructive impulses and a space is made for the possibility of peace.
– be a compassionate conduit of grace
– see the face of Godde in absolutely every creature you meet.
– work against oppression in all its forms
– don’t base your actions on results you can calculate but  trust the call to live in a different way
– don’t be afraid

To all you Christians and former Christians out there: it’s time to take back our faith. It has been coopted by the powerful and twisted in to shapes unrecognizable. Even as a pastor I am sometimes ashamed to say I am a Christian because of what it has (rightfully) come to mean to the majority of people. But now I want to invite all you closeted Christians, all you exes who have bitter bile in your throats, all you who have stretched beyond the confines of rigid morality, all you who have been oppressed and broken by the church to take back our faith and drink in the sweet nectar of grace.  It’s time to become the paradigm shift Christ calls us to by living it into existence. It’s time to do  the faithful work of changing the world.

 

Advent Revolution: Be Like Mary


Godde is shocking and if you aren’t shocked by  Godde then you haven’t been paying attention.
Since forever the clash of the religious has been between piety and justice. Righteousness and goodness.  Godde always strains towards the people we reject, devalue, or dehumanize. Or should I say ‘demonize’ ?  And then she goes and does something radical by inviting the people one least expects (or likes) to be Godde-with-us.
Like women. Like foreigners. Like children. Like the outsider and the oppressed.
Can you see Mary, mother of Godde-with-us, in the picture above? If not, then maybe you have been looking in the wrong places. Morality doesn’t lie in transcendence (the way Mary is usually depicted), it lies in the gritty choices of everyday life. Is what I’m doing benefitting only me or is it in service to the greater good? Do I choose to make money over clean water and air? Fair wages? Accessible healthcare? Does my vote reflect not only my interest but also those of  the  most vulnerable among us? Do I place more value in the humanity of a person than their adherence to my sexual, gender, or cultural norms?
These are the questions we need to be asking. These are the concerns to which Mary calls us to when she is overcome with thankfulness and sings an ancient song of liberation and freedom:
‘My soul magnifies our Godde,
47     and my spirit rejoices in Godde my Saviour,
48 for She has looked with favour on the lowliness of her servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is her name.
50 Her mercy is for those who hold her in awe
    from generation to generation.
51 She has shown strength with her arm;
    and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 She has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 and has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

This is what counts as shocking to those who believe that their religion saves them from eternal damnation or that the amount of money they have amassed shows that they are favored by Godde. Which, in a way, is seductive because it gives the impression that we are in control. If I remain a virgin till marriage, don’t come out, don’t transition, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t curse, don’t wear make-up… then I can control my fate. But piety never protects us. Instead, it  sets up the juicy conundrum that men can both objectify and abuse women with impunity. In the name of God.
 Godde calls us  to revolutionary actions not pious acts.  Mary is overcome by Godde and her response is to give voice to Godde’s call for liberation and freedom.
In these days when we look for Godde-with-us, check out the places you don’t usually look and the people with whom you don’t feel comfortable. Women who are pushy. Immigrants. #Me, too. #Black lives matter. They are doing the holy, revolutionary work of Godde.

 

I Will Not Leave You Comfortless

I can imagine no pain greater than one’s child dying. It is out of the natural order of things. It is difficult enough to lose one’s parent’s but we know that death is the natural end to a long life. It isn’t the natural end to a young one.

I will not use names because I respect the family whose loss is so recent, so raw, so unexpected. But I will tell you about a young woman with a huge heart, kind and loving, who adored her fur-kids, and lived out loud. She loved her family and they adored her. Now you might not think that needs remarked upon, and it wouldn’t, except that she was a lesbian born and raised in the South.

Born and raised in the Baptist Church where her family still worships. Where the pastor refused to hold her memorial service.

Mister, you make me ashamed to be a Christian. Or more truthfully, you make me ashamed that you call yourself a Christian. Over the years I’ve been told I wasn’t really a Christian because: a. I am an activist. B. I’m a feminist. C. I am a lesbian. And D. my theology is heretical. My piety credentials don’t pass muster. And that’s alright by me. Lest we forget, Jesus’ piety credentials didn’t pass muster either. If yours do, then I want no part of what you call Christianity.

It breaks my imagination to conceive of a ‘pastor’ who would refuse comfort and grace to a grieving family. Show me where you can justify your actions by asking what Jesus would do. Or show me, even if you worship rules, how you can refuse to offer comfort. Is it because the skirts of your self-righteousness might touch the ground? Is it because rejecting a soul that has been in the care of your community from birth is what you think is the ‘faithful’ thing to do? Is it because you simply don’t want to challenge your own discomfort? The discomfort of others? Are you afraid that the offering plate might not be so full?  Whatever the reason, there is no justification for the ham-handed, soul-less way you treated a family, all of whom, living or dead, are children of God.

To my dear friend’s family: I hate that you had to deal with the grief of rejection in addition to the enormous grief of your loss. One of the sure times we rely on our faith community is at the death of a loved one. Please know that wherever you find comfort and love, acceptance and shared grief, God is with you. The community of Spirit may look unfamiliar but  whatever colors, beliefs, disbeliefs, genders, or sexualities, know  you encounter Jesus there. You were not left alone. Jesus sits with you, holds you, lends you comfort in every face that is turned toward you and not away, in everyone who shared in her life and shares in your sadness, in ever person who reaches out in small ways and large. God enfolds you with grace and care. And God embraces the one we have lost with a love we can hardly imagine.

                 John 14:18  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

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.

 

 

 

Those Damn Angels

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

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

Donald Trump will be our next president.

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

And I spiraled into grief and hopelessness and fear…

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

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

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

Screw that.

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

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

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

 

We Need A Little Christmas…


wood_street_mission_santa

Not here we said.

Never here.

But it is here

and it is now.

Wealth so repulsive, unethical, self-serving

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

the left out and left behind.

Power so arrogant as to despise kindness and human dignity.

 

We need a little Christmas right this very minute

We need a vision of the beauty in creation

the ethic of vulnerability

the power of love.

We need a story that emerges in the midst of

an oppressive state

corrupt power

religious factions.

We need a story of perseverance

Right over might

Love over hate

Goodness over evil

Truth over lies.

 

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

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

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

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

The story of this nation isn’t over.

The story of the incarnation isn’t over.

It is just beginning.

Our hope is being born in the muck,

in the stench of poverty

in the belly of the oppressive beast.

We must allow hope to be born in us

with power and  passion

for the facing of this hour.

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.

 

 

retro- Wednesday- How Can It Be Different?

 

 

images

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.