Category Archives: everyday theology

Dear Friends… Do Not Let Despair Defeat Us

Dear Friends,
Another week of living, breathing, grieving, working, and loving amidst a pandemic has passed and weeks of the same loom before us. In the midst of trying to navigate life with closed parameters, we witness more and more accounts of our fellow citizens being murdered and maimed,  white supremacists wielding weapons with the intent to kill protestors, and a president who encourages hateful division as his best method of retaining power.

How are you managing? How is your heart? Mine is awash with grief and wrestling each day not to descend into despair.  It is from this place I am  urging  us not to succumb. Despair sucks the life out of our ability to hope  and paralyzes our ability to act. So I write  not to deny the despair you might be feeling but to beg you not to surrender to it.

Despair is manifesting in a couple of ways (at least). Some are striking out blindly like a cornered animal.  Let us, instead, calculate our acts of resistance  to achieve the better outcome and make the necessary change we seek. Still impassioned, but result oriented or, as Michelle Obama said, ” When they go low, we go high.”  The other way despair manifests is in giving up. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that nothing we do will make a difference. This is the kind of despair I am hearing from so many.

For those of us mired in despair: we cannot surrender to it. If we do,  we are lost.
So today I invite you to the difficult task of refusing to give into despair. Challenge it by believing that each of our small acts make a difference. Challenge it by doing necessary and important menial work: get it involved with voter registration, become a poll worker, participate in texting, phone banking,  or letter writing campaigns urging people to register and vote.

Whatever you do, do something. We cannot let despair be what defeats us.

Dear friends,  I promised to offer hope in the weeks leading up to this most important election.
Today, this is the hope I offer:
You choosing to fight feelings of despair.
You refusing to descend to the shadow side of resistance.
You finding the small acts that make a difference.
You committing to vote and making a plan.
You standing shoulder to shoulder with all who seek justice.

You.
You are the hope.

Blessings and peace,
Connie

p.s. the song on a loop in my head today:
I will hold the Christ light for you
in the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
speak the peace you long to hear:

 

 

Dear Friends… It’s the end of the world as we know it

Dear Friends,
As a pastor I know that  one of the most important aspects of ministry is to offer hope. I must confess that sometimes when I wake in the morning, see the light of dawn breaking through my window, hear the first birds greeting the sun, feel cold water slushing  my face as I complete my ablutions, run downstairs to take the dog out, and wait for the aroma of coffee brewing that I forget to hope. You’d think with all those sensory blessings hope would come naturally and eagerly, but it doesn’t.

I blog each week with an offering of hope that sometimes I have to dive deep to find. Because here’s the truth: it’s the end of the world as we know it. As I wrote that last sentence I realized that  this is the hope I can offer. It is terrifying and promising. We stand on a precipice: we will either descend into a scruffy form of nazism in which the state will institutionalize the elimination of marginalized people or we will harness our power to make change.

From now until the election I will write to you each week. Letters of encouragement. Letters filled with rage. Letters offering hope. But be sure of this, this election is the most important election of our lives. White people once saw racism ‘through a glass darkly’. Men once saw sexism, heterosexuals saw homosexism, citizens saw immigrants – all through a glass darkly. If our eyes are not opened now. If we cannot see the dehumanization of others. If we close our eyes to the violence perpetrated on black bodies through out our history. If we allow ourselves to be blind to those truths, then we will not be a part of bringing about necessary, long-overdue change. Even worse, we will be allowing evil to persist.

What hope can I offer you today? If we dare to open our eyes and open our hearts, then we have the hope of a new dawn, a new reality that we must do everything in our power to usher in. The hope of hearing the other, even if the reality they speak is different from our own. The hope when we offer our hearts and our bodies to that cry for justice that is truly sacred. The hope the comes when we both trust and live into knowing that love is greater than hate.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. Thanks be to Godde.
Connie

Centering in Gratitude, Finding Hope


Last night, while online with my spiritual community for a time of prayer, I felt the heaviness of all we are enduring during this pandemic: the chaos of authoritarianism, if not fascism, the small and daily losses we face, the heaviness of systemic racism and sexism in our nation. And it came to me as we were sharing and praying that in the midst of so much suffering, rage, and fear we weren’t praying any prayers of gratitude.

Gratitude is a spiritual practice that centers me. It keeps me from dropping into an abyss of hopelessness. So I invited (okay harangued) everyone to share something, one thing, even a small thing, for which they were grateful. And as we began to share small lumens flickered. Fireflies of grace blinked into view, if only for a moment.

And our tentative lights strengthened into the ‘luminous darkness’ that Howard Thurman talks about. When diving in the ocean we are first illuminated by the light from the sky. Further on, we enter deep darkness where light does not penetrate. And then. And then when we have gone deeper than we think we can bear – there is a the unexpected light at the bottom of the ocean given off by unknown sea creatures.

While not as dramatic, through our gratitude practice we encountered unexpected light. Even more, we began to hope. And the hopes we shared for a better world were glorious. I hadn’t realized how much hope I had given up. I could dream an end to this time of hate, disease, fascism, isolation, anxiety…  but I hadn’t hoped for what we could be.

Last night as hope began to burn within us we dreamed of the wonderful ways this tragedy could be transformed. Eager. Excited. Animated. Things we hadn’t been or felt for so long. It was like gasping  a deep breath after nearly suffocating. We were astonished by our very ability to hope – and not just little hopes, but to hope large.

So today I invite you find gratitude where you can. Small or large, let your gratitude become a place of luminous darkness. And may it carve out space in your heart for the possibility of hope.

I Am Curious

For some reason, I know not what, I spent some moments not reacting to the onslaught of daily and new atrocities to find a nook in my mind to entertain questions. I wish these were deep, theological pondering but they are not.

I am curious as to why a disease, experienced in nations around the world, is considered to be a hoax by some. If hoax means to trick people into believing something that is false, why on earth would someone (who?) want to trick us into believing Covid19 is real? If that is true then it must be some great international conspiracy. Have all these deaths been manufactured by the media? The refrigerator car morgues? The overcrowded hospitals and overworked medical personnel? I am deeply perplexed by the lack of anything that resembles reason. Even when I plumb the depths of my imagination I can’t answer those questions. I mean – do people really believe that this pandemic  could be manufactured and perpetrated by scientists, medical personal, and regular citizens? And  that it would be done to thwart one man? I am curious.

Which in turn makes me curious about the educated people who are perpetrating the idea that this is a hoax. Senators and governors and representatives who refuse to wear masks and insist on opening both the economy and schools in the face of dire consequences. Is power so intoxicating that they are willing and able to sacrifice the people on the altar of their hunger for it? so, why? I am curious.

I am curious about how once shared values have been scuttled. In our history, in times of crisis, we have worked together, sacrificed together, struggled against common enemies together. What happened?  I am curious.

I wonder how or if we can bridge the gap between those who are not extremists but still follow Trump and those of us who fear authoritarianism, seemingly unsolvable cultural divides.  How do we reach across to one another when the rise of racism, heterosexism, and misogyny is personally threatening?  These questions trouble me most of all and I am curious.

Is anyone truly sure that they are absolutely right? In my life I question everything, even my most deeply held beliefs. I know that it is taxing and uncomfortable so I also understand why one would be reluctant to question one’s beliefs.  I have experienced the anxiety and  urgency to hold onto a belief that is being challenged. Certainty can give us the illusion of safety. It can also stand in the way of growth and connection. Would our conversations be more productive if we respected one another’s fears?  I am curious.

But my final question and the one about which I am most curious
is not how did we get here
but rather
how do we get out of here?

 

Today

Today

We wake again
to plot another graph of time
linger over coffee
bemoan tragedy
fear
for our lives
our nation
…our sanity

Today we set again
a way forward
while standing still
a way out
while enshrined within
the walls of our imaginations
confined
by discontent

Today we bring again
to the table
new beginnings
old understandings
mental meanderings
distracted by the present

Today time again enfolds us
with the luminous space
between
past and future
encasing our loneliness
and demanding
our now

Today we choose again
to live with
the unknown
seeking hope in
our uncertainty
and peace
in our fleeting plans

Today we again touch
our tomorrows
hesitant to dream
but insisting on the ridiculous hope
that lodges between
breast bone
and back bone
that today is the only
and best
gift we are given.

Liberated by History

I have been taught history (a subject I love) in a myriad of ways. Fortunately, not as a series of dates to be memorized but as political movements and change influenced by  disease, technological, medical advances, religion, nationalism, power, and personality.

In seminary I had the great good fortune of reading Justo Gonzalez’ two volume history of the Christian Church. Imagine telling the story of the early Christian church through the challenges that ignited differing theologies and their struggle for primacy and the intersection of politics and nation building with growth of Christianity. HIs history telling is a well researched and clear-eyed exploration of how the political and theological world as we know it came into being.

I wish we taught history this way so that people could see the development and  movement of ideas. Could engage with ideas about how we are connected and  how today is built on what has gone before.I wish we were able to accept historical figures as bound by their time and examine how they were a part of moving us and our ideals, understandings, and values into our present.

As a working theologian, I am always aware that I am in dialogue with ideas that have come before and that my new perspective can offer correction or challenge. But the Ideas of those who lived and struggled before us are important because they open the dialogue.  Liberation, Black, Womanist, Feminist, Process,  or any other theology does not exist in a vacuum. We are all a part of global, historical conversations about faith and our understanding of the universe.  We are informed by science, history, and the constant influx of new information, new generations and populations. For me, Christianity is not about what people believed or how they lived over two thousand years ago. It is about what remains relevant at its core. How the truths of the faith engage with present reality.

Is it not important to know that the world view of first century Christians was very different from our world view today? How can it not be. The same with our politics. It is important to ask the questions of the framers of the Constitution. How were they bound by history and culture? How did they contribute to the conversation that has moved us into where we are today in the struggle for freedom? Do we need to reject what we now see as absolutely unacceptable? of course. But I truly believe we must also see ourselves in a historical relationship that, by its very nature, encourages the tough conversations we are having as a nation today around race, gender, personhood, and human rights.

As a nation, our history is built on what is often called ‘the Great Experiment.’  Rather than reject what and who have come before us, let us do what all experimenters do: build on what works and reject that which does not. This nation is built on glorious ideas tried for the first time in thousands of years (if you think of Athens as a democracy, and then it makes my point that American democracy took much of what worked in Athenian democracy, discarded the rest, and built on it for the then modern age.) We must move forward informed by new voices, differing experiences, new ways of perceiving both the mistakes and the triumphs of our historical past.

May our new understandings of history liberate us to the work of making real the promises of our shared dream.

 

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.

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.

I Have Been Silent

I have been silent
but not absent.
Hesitant
wondering what wisdom
if any
I might share.

I have been silent
but not absent
from my fears
or my hopes
wanting to center
before sharing

I have been silent
wanting to share my anxiety
without increasing
the anxiety of others

I have been silent
even in my prayers
but not absent
from Godde

Today I offer
my care
my concern
my solidarity with those who suffer
whether from the universal crisis
of this hour
or the challenges that life brings
that would have happened
before.
Those who are ill
whose relationships are broken
who have lost work
whose work takes them into danger
who have found new love.

I have been silent
but present.
In the quiet
I am listening
to our lives as we
move into unknown territory.

I will not be absent
to your heart
your dreams
your struggles.

This is an invitation
to reach into my silence
not for answers
but for presence.

 

A Lenten Invitation

Dear Friends,
Okay, it’s after Ash Wednesday when these plans should have been made.
But it’s not too late to add a practice and it’s never too late to begin.
Many of us who give something up for Lent don’t experience spiritual grounding
or awakening
or inspiration.
I, myself, have given myself a congratulatory pat on the back for giving up coffee or caffeine or dessert… and even back in the day, cigarettes.
I once belonged to a community that fasted ‘religiously’ during Lent and had a blow-out party on Easter whose excesses had me questioning the practice, if not my sanity.

In the interim I’ve learned that my Lenten journey is best practiced as an act of mindfulness. This is an invitation to a certain kind of mindfulness.
Please join me in giving up plastic for Lent. At least as much. as you can as often as you can.
–  keep your grocery bags in the. care
– buy produce without putting it in a plastic bag
– refrain from drinking from plastic bottles: try reusable containers or cans
– most of all don’t forget to recycle what plastic (and cans) you are unable to refrain from using.

Let every act, even those that feel like deprivation, be an occasion for  mindfulness of how we are all walking together on this planet. How will you embody Sacred  will in this time? What is it worth to you to lose convenience and gain connection?

This is my invitation to you. May we all be blessed by our choices this Holy Season,

Connie