Category Archives: everyday theology

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.

 

Do You Love?

Today we celebrate love
and my first question is:
Who do you love?

Who do I love?
And before that question is the question:
What is love?

I’m going philosophical on you today.
These are meant to be big questions
not small ones.
These are questions
without firm answers
except maybe to star-struck lovers
and new mothers and fathers…

This week I am preaching  the Sermon on the Mount
not just the beatitudes
but three long chapters of teaching
that includes the challenge for
my interior life
to match my actions
to love those
who I might otherwise
hate
to risk a kind of living
that is as dangerous
as it is
difficult.

So today, I ask myself:
Who do I love?
And part of me answers:
no one.
And part of me answers:
everyone.

The whole of me answers:
my daughter, with all my heart
my family, to the best of my ability
my friends, who have refused to
abandon me.
But am I that small?

So I reach further back
and ask:
What is love?
Is it feeling?
An intention?
Or is it the will toward goodness
for every life?
Isn’t love the activity of justice?
The care of and for each life
no matter their doctrine,
skin color,
gender orientation
nationality?
Isn’t Divine love
what propels our planet
through the cosmos
and insists on recognition
in the most unseemly places?

This day of hearts and flowers
lovers and dreamers
is also a day that invites us
to think bigger
act larger
open wider
to the Love
that both drives  planets
and searches out our deepest
secret places
to insinuate itself
into our beings.

So if you are buying flowers for a loved one today
or strewing rose petals across the bed…
if your heart is racing as you hold the image
of your beloved in your imagination
let the feelings  grow
let them grow big enough
to hold the whole world
in it’s embrace.
So that what thrives
deep within you
grows the bigger question:
‘how will I love the world?’

 

Grief and Faith

For all those who have grieving friends
For all who are grieving
For those whose pain seems unbearable
For those who are uncomfortable witnessing pain
For those whose loss shifts reality so deeply that you cannot stand…

It will be better. Your grief and pain does not mean you have no faith.
It does not mean Godde has abandoned you.
It does not mean there is no hope.

It means that something in your life matters that much.
That you loved that much
tried that much
cared that much
strove that much
that the loss means you must redefine your world, or your place in the world,
or the dimensions of your world.

And when you are not a container large enough to hold the pain and grief
look for the people who are not afraid to come to you
and to sit with you in your darkness.
Look for the people who know who you are
no matter how different you seem
in this time that seems to stretch without end.

And if you are a witness to a grief that unravels
or to a pain that shreds both heart and gut,
hold the light of the one who suffers
because the day will come
when they will need it
to find their way back to the land of the living.

Change and Healing


I actually prayed today before I began writing. Something like, “Is there a word for me to speak?” And then my mind took off on it’s own about how little difference it would make and the problems of our time are too large and it what I might have to say doesn’t matter anyway. You know. All that self doubt, self-negation, self-flagellation. The sin of women.

And then a whisper came. Not what you say, sweetie. Not how loud or large your words. It’s how you live.

So maybe that’s what I want to say. We make a difference by how we live our lives. We make systemic change when we engage with our whole selves – especially one-on-one. Change happens on the world stage when laws and policy are changed. Healing happens when we are changed by one another.

What heals us is contact, connection, shared experiences, and maybe most of all, listening to the voices of those whose life journeys are different from our own.
Holding the pain of others, imagining what they endured and still endure, is hard. And it can be even more difficult to feel powerless to make change.

Healing is mutually transformative work. It is important for us to be authentic as we engage with one another. A caveat here: often those who are traumatized by our system don’t necessarily feel safe enough to be authentic back. And it’s got to be okay. Until… there has been enough listening, enough ‘standing under with’, enough staying,  to earn mutual authenticity.

The real change I can make, that all of us can make is to do the work of healing relationships in community and to be connected in a disconnected world. We must take time to sit, to reach out, and to listen. To care when it is not easy. To act when we aren’t sure of what the right or best action is. To be willing to be confronted and even to be wrong sometimes.

How we live heals the world into making change.
Don’t stop marching, writing or voting – but don’t stop there.
Live ways that demand something of you.
Live in ways that call you to your best, highest, brightest being.
This is what heals us.
It’s not how large or loud your words are, sweetie, it’s how you live.
And I got that from a very good source.

 

Do Not Be Afraid: Are You F***ing Kidding Me

 

Someone once told me that the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” is in the Bible 365 times. Once for each day of the year, I guess.  I don’t know if the count is correct but it does seem to be a biblical theme of some importance.

In my life I’ve been afraid (and often overcome the fear) of:
dying
giving birth
coming out
sharks
mad cow disease
being in a wreck
having a terminal illness
losing someone I love
flying
failing
… the list goes on, but you get the gist.

These days I’m afraid in ways I’ve never been before. The constants in our lives are no longer certainties. Not longer can I assume that:
-our governing bodies ultimately put the nation over self-interest
-our president is not the pawn of a foreign and hostile nation
-our structure as a nation of laws will survive
-our people stand on common ground amidst disagreements
-our nation is bending the arc of history toward justice.

Those are things I believed, that grounded my way of being in the world. Yes, I know there was much evidence to the contrary, but my experience was that our deeper values of freedom and justice would prevail because I have seen and been a part of years of radical change – albeit slow – of civil rights for African-Americans, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights… We are not there yet but our trajectory was on course.

Now I am deathly afraid of this slow-motion dive. If our nation was a jumbo jet I feel like I’m watching it break apart in v-e-r-y slow motion while diving at the speed of sound. We see it. It’s happening. Solutions are sluggish when  we need immediate and desperate measures. Many of our leaders appear to be wearing blinders at best or are colluding with a hostile power at worst. It is not a paranoid statement when  I’m referring to Senators and Representatives who are funded by Russian money siphoned through the NRA.

So how the hell do we not be afraid? Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods or could it be inviting us into a way of living when fear overwhelms us?  Maybe it’s an invitation to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Do what, you might well ask.

So far this is what I can imagine doing  while terrified:
-fighting for the ideals on which this nation was founded
-speaking out, speaking up, making noise,
-living as if we will emerge from this horror.

When my daughter was in high school I took her to see Richard Harris in Camelot. The closing scene is of Arthur telling a young squire to remember what Camelot was: a place where majestic dreaming commenced. He sings this song in the midst of the smoky ruins of battle. Before the curtain dropped I began to cry. I cried all the way to the parking lot and sat in our car with my head pressed against the steering wheel until my wrenching sobs quieted. The loss of hope, of a time of justice, of seeking the good, was too much for me to bear. I’m feeling like that now but I and we cannot afford the luxury of letting our fears and grief overwhelm us.

I believe a pastor’s most important task is to see and offer hope. Here is what I can offer today:
– when others count on our fear to paralyze us, we discover our courage
-when the plane is plunging into destruction, we pull up
-when fear isolates us, we come together to make change

Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods when it repeatedly encourages us not to be afraid? I think not, though sometimes I feel like it is. ‘Don’t be afraid’ means to me that we live into our truths, that we don’t allow fear to control us. It means we can pull up. As afraid as I am, I have another vision of our crashing plane and it’s this:

We can make it through these times if we hang together.
Hold me up and I will hold you up.
I am less afraid when you are with me.

 

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.

The Trouble With Needing People to Be Perfect

I ‘m on a tear today. First, because I was woken up by my car mechanic with bad news about the OUTRAGEOUS cost of a car repair that is absolutely necessary. It wasn’t the start of my mood, but it didn’t help.

This whole week, since the death of President George H. Walker Bush, I’ve listen to remembrances, eulogies, and critiques of the man. Depending on the opiner, he was either  a saint or a demon. Not much of what I have heard is nuanced. So here’s my two cents worth.

I didn’t like his domestic policies, by and large. But then, I often disagree with Republicans over domestic policy. His were no worse than other Republican presidents and better than some  others. But it never occurred to me that he didn’t have the interests of the nation at heart, no matter how misguided or tone-deaf he was. I didn’t always agree with him about international policies but, in retrospect, I see how important the way he handled the collapse of the Soviet Union contributed to world peace. It takes a decent man not to gloat.

As a man, and not a political figure, I admire his love for his wife and children, his kindness to people with whom he disagreed, his love of baseball, and his genuine humanity. He was not perfect. He was a good man who could make bad decisions that affected millions of people – even the entire world. But I get that his desire was to do good, to work for the betterment of the country.

I can’t be bothered to hate a man who tried to live an ethical life; who, like my own father, lived a life in service to the nation. I can’t hate a man because we disagreed or because he wasn’t perfect.

What I do hate is the judgment and intolerance of others. I hate it with a passion. To those who are intent on a harsh and final judgment of George H. W. Bush,  I would like to say, you are going to hate it when someone holds you to an impossible standard. You may hate yourself right now. I humbly suggest that we critique ourselves and others by a standard other than perfection, one that allows for our humanity.

We live in a time where our current president can be distinguished by his lack of humanity. Let’s save our judgment for that.

 

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.