Category Archives: everyday theology

Between Despair and Hope

 As we wander through the tangled landscape of the coming election, if you are anything like me, you totter between despair and hope.

I dare not let go of hope because the possibility of a Trump presidency, a clear turn to autocracy, demagoguery, and authoritarianism, terrify me. All I hold dear: freedom, an arc bending toward justice, kindness, diversity, inclusion, equality and so much more, stand threatened by others’ fears and hatred. 

One thing I know is that when people are afraid of me, for whatever reason, the feeling easily and readily, transmutes to anger and then to hate. And while I think I’m immune to internalizing self-hatred I fear for the many who will be vulnerable to that.

And then I remember Paul saying that ‘love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18a 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;)

How in the hell am I supposed to love?

I have come to believe that first, and perhaps most important, we must love ourselves and claim ourselves. to be beloved children of Godde. It is an immutable truth from which we must internalize our infinite value. Loving oneself and claiming Godde’s love secures our sense of self in the face of the hatred, vitriol, and self-righteous prejudice of others. 

Second, is that we love one another. As we join in resistance from disparate places by shared oppression, exclusion, rights denied,  and resistance to fascism, we must never collude with those in power referring to ‘good negroes’ or ‘good gays’ or ‘good women’ ad infinitum. Instead, we must challenge the threat of a dystopian future by embracing one another in the entirety of our spectrum. We all matter. We are all children of Godde. Not just those deemed acceptable or agreeable to those in power. 

We will know Sophia active in us as we live into a world where we embrace each one as a child of Godde. Regardless of age, race, culture, class, gender, religion, or expressed sexuality. Regardless.

And finally there’s the love your enemy bit. The one I resist most. But I know hate dehumanizes not only my ‘enemy’ but hatred dehumanizes me. We cannot, must not,  participate in dehumanizing either ourselves or others and still be able to bring a different reality into being.

So how in the hell do I love my enemy?

I’m certain love of my ‘enemy’ is NOT a warm, fuzzy feeling. Loving my enemy means that I must be willing to invite mutuality and refuse power differentials. We must be willing to acknowledge that both the oppressed and the oppressor need to be freed to a new reality. I am also certain that my hatred will only demean me and preclude any chance of systemic change.  

Let us march through the tangled landscape of the coming election and lean into hope. 

Let us lean into the difficult tasks of loving ourselves, loving others, loving our enemies.

Let me close sharing this song of hope – please take a moment to listen:

Where There is no Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Proverbs 29:18a

One of my favorite scripture quotes. It feels so visceral, so challenging, so immediate. For those of us it speaks to, it challenges to us is to dream. To hope.  To imagine a world worth working toward.

When decency seems to fail, when violence is commonplace, and when the ascendence of white masculinity is viewed as the norm, we must dream powerful dreams. We must dream to survive.

The question for us is: how do a terrified and sometimes broken people dream?
Let our visions be informed but not driven by our anger.
Let our visions be informed but not driven by our pain.
Let our visions, instead, be informed and driven by hope. 
Now is the time we need to dream big. We need to risk daring a largeness. The seemingly impossible.

We are heirs to visionaries throughout time, including the dreamers who founded this nation. We will be no more perfect than they were, but we stand on their shoulders and can move what we share of the vision forward. Our imperfections do not reflect on the vision, but on our ability to bring it fully to fruition. It is okay to be imperfect. It is not okay to let our imperfections keep us from doing the work. We are farther along because of the many who went before us.  Let the work continue.
Now is our time.  

Embrace Your Inner Moses

This nation is in the midst of a mythic battle between right and wrong, truth and lies, life and death, and… good and evil. Yep. I said it.

Sometimes it has felt like I was watching a fast-moving train careen around corners. I sucked in my breath, heart thumping, waiting to see if the cars would fall off the rails or down the side of a mountain or churn over a trackless canyon to disintegrate as it plowed into the earth.

Sometimes it has felt like I was watching a slow-moving train with no engineer, no known direction, and no one in control.

The visuals have changed. There are not trains in my present day imaging. Rather a battle where the weapons of truth and lies have equal value. Where the end result will either be life-giving or death-dealing. Where our nation, and even the world will choose for their organizing principle to be those of good (freedom, justice, community, mutuality, diversity, law) or evil (control, vigilantism, division, hierarchy, homogeneity, and power).

It helps to change the imagery. Trains are massive metal containers pulled by even more massive engines that take miles of track to come to a stop. There is no way to turn a train unless pre-prescribed tracks are involved. The way is laid out and diversion is precipitated by disaster.

So… how might this conflict be reimagined? What would it mean if we did not see ourselves as powerless? And what, in this world where we experience so much as being out of our control, can we do to make a difference?

Here is my proposal: let every one of us claim our inner Moses. Imagine the power shift!

Hear me out. The people were inured to an intolerable and seemingly hopeless situation. They might dream of freedom and justice but felt powerless to make change. They may not have realized, because of its universal nature, that slavery was evil. When every day is about survival, enough to eat, enough to pay rent, enough to put gas in the car, then fighting for an idea, even a holy one, can take the back seat.

Moses rose up from his privilege to challenge the status quo and lead the people on the dangerous journey to freedom. Let us take a lesson from that for the present. Those of us who see what is going on must use whatever privilege we have to challenge the power of the right as it seeks to control women, demote queers to second class citizens, eliminate trans folk, and disenfranchise people of color. Period. It means making mistakes, trusting Godde, and learning from one another and from the journey how to be free.

Free and just. Free and mutual. Free and diverse. Free and always learning more deeply what true freedom looks like.

We must recognize the evil before us and stand up to those who use their power to keep power. We must risk ourselves and talk back to lies.
We must raise up an idea that is better and greater than our immediate security.
The idea of a world where personal gain and personal power are not the highest values.
Where freedom is everyone’s birthright.
Where all voices are heard.
Where we cast our lots together for the greater good of the whole.

We must step out in faith that Godde calls us to cross over seas that overwhelm us, trusting that Godde makes a way out of no way.
We must challenge the idols of control and wealth.
We must do the difficult work of learning what it means to be truly free.
We must do the work even if we do not end up living to see the results of our work.

Godde doesn’t care if you ‘stutter’ or whatever hindrance you believe keeps you from the work. Use the gifts you have with whatever challenges you have. The time in NOW. Our nation and our world need us.

Embrace your flawed, wonderful inner Moses and step out in faith.

Is There No Balm in Gilead?

 

We do not need to be cured.
We need to be healed.
Healed from the grief
and despair
of all that has been lost.
But mostly we need to heal
into hope
into believing
that what is to come
can be better.

To heal
we must give up privilege
but refuse to release it
to those who use their
white privilege
to spew hate.
We must use
whatever privilege we have
to end privilege.

To heal from fear
our souls need
the balm of forgiveness
even though
there is much
we may not yet
be able to forgive.

We need to be healed
from the betrayal
of  our nation
and  our neighbors.
Healed from the betrayal of
those who choose
alienation and hatred,
over values
we once sought to share.

We need to heal
from despair.
into hope.
Hope empowers
us to make change
and to love our neighbors,
seeming enemies, all.

The balm we seek
may be the balm we reject.
Love, the life-giving intention
for all creation,
doesn’t fuel our fear.
Love casts out
the fear to act
to stand
to speak
to keep on keeping on.

Love is the balm that heals us.
Damn it.

 

 

 

 

Making a Way: the Power of Connection

Sometimes, when I am hurting or scared, I am like a wounded elephant. I want to go off by myself to die. And yet.
And yet I yearn for connection. I want others to care but I am afraid my grief or pain is  too much.
There are times I  cried for days, weeks, months even, sitting in my pain with a friend who listens. Not tears leaking down my cheeks but full on sobbing with snot and hiccoughs and incoherent babbling. It is then I am at my most vulnerable. I fear rejection. I’m afraid  my feelings will alienate the ones reaching out to me. And the sad thing is that my feelings have alienated people. I have hurt so bad at times that the animal instinct to protect myself morphed my pain into rage. Anger at the unfairness of it all. Anger at my hopelessness. Anger at my powerlessness. Anger that there was no comfort, however lovingly offered.

It was, finally, the power of those who persevered that created the space for me to heal. It was those who maintained connection when I withdrew. And those who did not, would not, take my pain and anger personally who helped me retrieve myself.  Otherwise, I think one of a few things could have happened:
– I could have isolated, withdrawn from life, and lived on half alive.
–  I could have returned to the larger world, isolated from myself and others by living inauthenticity.
– I could have become hateful, distrusting, and hopeless, diminishing my ability to be more fully human.

But I didn’t. And I’m telling this story as a cautionary tale. So many of us are in pain, grieving, hopeless, angry… with our neighbors, fellow citizens, politicians, – even friends. The political landscape can seem hopeless. The fast-moving train of racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, and climate change denial barrels toward our uncertain future. I don’t think I’m alone in mourning the loss of the progress we were making or being enraged at the our seeming powerlessness to protect people of color or a woman’s right to choose or our planet’s health.
I’m not referring to fleeting feelings but the ones that, when reading the news, sends electrical shocks through your chest. Or the times before drifting off to sleep a sadness settles over you like a blanket of hopelessness. Or when rage rises up and you fight off secret desires for another to die.

And you wonder, is there any way to get to the other side.

Here is my tentative and small suggestion. Let us sit with one another. Stay connected. Keep reaching out. When one is weak another can be strong. When one is hopeless, another may be able to see a path more clearly. When one rages, the other can make space for that truth. When you have the strength to reach out, do it. If you should be tempted to withdraw from life, allow the touch of others. My experience tell me  that we can only make our way together. Together we help one another remain authentic. We can refuse to disavow what we value deeply. We may not see the path out of our current failure/challenge/disaster… but together let us make a way out of what seems like no way.

Lost Time

A year and a half, nearly two years –
and we continue to wrestle with lost time.
How have we filled our hours
and days
and months?

Has fear divorced us
from our neighbors?
Isolated us
from our friends?
Quarantined us
from the world
so much so
that we refuse to live?
Have we marked time with
resentment
fear
anxiety
and the troubled anguish
of our souls?

Let us instead
open ourselves
to the time allotted to us,
acknowledge each day as
a gift to unwrap
a challenge to meet
a promise to be kept.

Let us open ourselves
to the cosmos
the wind,
the raspy pollen,
the green of burgeoning life,
the gray of life expended,
and devote ourselves
to the untamed spaces
within

Let us unearth
the faceted layers
of our souls,
confront  our fears,
and dare to follow
where the Spirit beckons.

This time need not be lost.
Rather,
let us embrace
as possibility
what once we ignored,
discover our uncharted hearts
and the hidden wealth of  wisdom
we unknowingly possess.

This is an invitation for us
to live deeply
to honor our losses
while choosing to live.
This is an invitation
to grasp life’s energy
with both hands
to embrace
to challenge
to drink the nectar
of the Sacred sap
flowing in our bones,
pulsing in the stars,
and thrumming in the veins
of our holy, holy world.

Come with me
to places
not confined
by this disease
and let us explore
the boundless terrain
of our souls.

A Nation Stuck

 

One of the most helpful books to me, as a pastor and counselor, is James Fowler’s  Stages of Faith. In the same way psychologists use models of psycho-social developmental stages, Fowler examines the development of spiritual growth.

When I look around at our current political dilemma and try to understand how we got here and why, I find myself returning to his text. I have done no research so my hypothesis is based solely on observation. That being said, I believe a good part of this nation is stuck in Fowler’s stage 3.

Stage 3 is adolescence to early adulthood. Fowler calls it the Synthetic-Conventional stage in which peoples’ believe without critical examination. They believe that they have been taught and in what everyone around them believes in. There is a strong sense of identity with the group with whom they share belief systems. A particular feature of stage 3 is a lack of openness to question because questions are frightening. People at this stage of spiritual development tend to trust implicitly people in authority (external authority) and don’t recognize the box or circular thinking that is internalized when their beliefs go unexamined.

Sound familiar? I don’t mean this as a judgment on people but on the systems that  stunt spiritual and intellectual growth.  And not only stunt it, but condemn questions as faithless. A questioner myself, I find it terrifying. However,  it is important that my fears not  engage with the terror of  those mired in stage 3. It will accomplish nothing and most likely escalate fear on both sides.

What are the systems that stunt?  Fundamentalist religion and public education. Fundamentalism has a sharp stop at the door of questioning. The theological tenets of fundamentalism are circular arguments that defy challenges. Having worked with many folk healing from fundamentalist pasts yet thirsty for Godde, the fear of being wrong and ‘disobeying’ the authority figures of their pasts is inextricable tied to the fear of eternal damnation.  Fostering absolute trust in authority figures subsidized Trump’s ascension.

Then there’s our educational system. When we began ‘teaching to the test’ we encouraged children to think in absolutes.  Your answer is right or wrong. Facts are pandered to as knowledge rather than critical thinking.  When you spend twelve years of your life being ‘taught to the test’ the way you engage and interpret events in the larger world is stymied. It fosters  tribalism, manifesting in a shared identity with like-minded people, setting up a false ‘us and them’.

I keep thinking back to the opening chapter in C. S.Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In it the professor, after helping the children discern the truth of a troubling situation, sends them forth saying to himself (something like), “Aren’t schools teaching children how to think these days?” If we are afraid of children learning to think in a spiritual or theological context then, of course, we would be fearful of children learning to think in an intellectual context. Surely that fear is the origin of the seared phrase ‘intellectual elitists’. Those who have learned to question are deemed questionable.

My friend, Erin, says I put an ‘altar call’ at the end of my blog posts. Today I don’t have one. But join me in the effort to hear the echoes of faith that repeatedly reassure us to ‘be not afraid’,  Be not afraid to think. Be not afraid to question, Be not afraid of being wrong. Be not afraid of not knowing the answer. Be not afraid of many answers all being ‘right’. Be not afraid of the One whose identity is Love.

 

Fear and Hope

In these times I wrestle with abject fear.

Fear of people who no longer share the vision of the idea and ideals on which this nation was founded.
Fear of those in power being invested in power rather than service.
Fear of the ‘religious’ right.
Fear of armed violence.

And then there all the people I am afraid for, including myself:
Fear for women.
Fear for people of color.
Fear for immigrants.
Fear for Asia-Americans and African-Americans and Latinx-Americans.
Fear for the LGBTQAI community.

We have spent decades bending the arc of history toward justice, as Dr. King proclaimed.
And now.
And now the backlash.
And now the hysteria.
And now the fear.
And now the hatred unleashed in thousands of different ways
in our churches
in our legal system
In our laws

And I am very afraid.

Add to that that I am a pastor and called to speak hope.
How do we hope in the face of terror?
How do we sing in a land that has become strange to us?
How do we stand against a mighty storm?

Parts of Psalm 137 float in my head:

                 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
               5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
              6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you…

Part of hope is remembering who we are called to be,
to not forget who we are, no matter how short we have fallen.

And sometimes hope is the beacon toward which we strive in apocalyptic times.

The writers of biblical apocalyptic literature faced the threat of death, annihilation and, what seemed to be, overwhelming odds. Many were tortured. Many were killed. Many hid away in underground caves. Demonized and dismissed. Who could speak hope in those times? And what was hope? It seems to me that in some ways hope was holding on to the vision, believing that something greater than the current evil not only exists but will triumph.

I think of the hope of  the apocalyptic writers of a holy city, of a place where every tear is dried, where the table is open to all, and groaning under the lovely burden of more than enough.  Jessie Jackson taught me something about preaching hope in dark times.

I think of his chant “Keep hope alive!” and his call to us:
“You must never stop dreaming. Face reality, yes, but don’t stop with the way things             are. Dream of things as they ought to be. Dream. Face pain, but love, hope, faith and   dreams will help you rise above the pain. Use hope and imagination as weapons of survival and progress, but you keep on dreaming, young America.”

He offered hope as a pastor and has taught me the value and the courage it takes to speak hope in the midst of terror. I leave you with the close to his speech given in Atlanta in 1988 during the Democratic National Convention:
” Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don’t you surrender!
Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end faith will not    disappoint. You must not surrender! You may or may not get there but just know that you’re qualified! And you hold on, and hold out! We must never surrender!! America will get better and better.  Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!”

 

Circle of Grace: we are different and very much the same

We thought we were different. And we are. Though I have discovered the ways in which we were like every other spiritual community I know.

Let me wax poetic a moment about how we were/are different.
We challenged every doctrine and tradition of the church as we formed a worshipping community. We still do.  It is hard work to do with intellectual and spiritual integrity… so none of our conclusions is carved in stone. We know that we do not know. I love that about us even though it is emotionally and spiritually strenuous.

We work to be not only non-patriarchal but non hierarchical. Reimagining power is an ongoing challenge. While we challenge the power of the pastor and name a circle as our way of sharing power, like many assumptions we bring to the table from our pasts, it can be almost impossible to implement.

We reimagine  images of Godde. We use inclusive language about both Godde and humanity in our liturgy, in our hymns, in our conversations. And it’s more than inclusive of male and female. We are inclusive of race, ethnicity, mental health status, gender identification, class, education,  and spiritual backgrounds. We press ourselves to see the Divine in every expression of humanity.

We are a place of spiritual healing for many who have been hurt or abused by the institutional church, making room for the hesitant, for the ones who have been in the stranglehold of doctrine, for the ones who live in fear. We make room for one another, honoring different beliefs and understandings. Our unofficial motto is that we may not all believe the same things in the same ways but we are journeying together. Often we  learn and deepen from our differences because we aren’t afraid (mostly) of them.

We are different.
And we are very much the same.

We experienced crisis in community more than once. Sharing life is fraught with all the idiosyncrasies of personalities, relationship challenges, brokenness of body, mind or spirit… and sometimes we rise and respond with grace. And sometimes we don’t.

Like every other community, as people come and go, we sometimes lose sight our central commitments to one another.  Sometimes the work of being community in crisis is too difficult and people cut bait.  Sometimes we find ourselves sitting in judgment of one another and the circle is broken.

But like many spiritual communities we get up and keep on trying. We limp along in Godde’s grace, holding onto Godde’s dream for humanity, and keep on trying to live deeply  into our relationship with the Divine.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because I am working to understand the brokenness  we experienced. My own brokenness and the way the community was torn apart. And I am confronting my arrogance that assumed because we are different  we would avoid the pitfalls of being in human community. We are not that different. And I bow to this challenge to my assumptions.

 

 

The Bible Idol

I’m not sure when I stopped worrying about what the Bible says.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that book. It is filled with the stories of my spiritual journey. It has provided the construct for my theological questioning. This book challenges me to look deeper and think harder. To question myself and to question Godde. So I am not dismissing it. Nor am I saying that I accept the New Testament but not the Old. If I did, I would miss too much wisdom, too much poetry, too many stories that speak to the deepest parts of me.

What I mean when I say I stopped worrying about what the Bible says is I’m not sure how young I was when I stopped thinking of it as a dictation of rules and behavior. Unlike some, I never had the misfortune of thinking it contained the secrets that would keep my out of hell. My relationship with Godde negated the idea of hell.

Godde is too big for the Bible and I don’t think the writers’ intention was to capture Godde in its contents. Rather, it is the story of a people grappling with their relationship with Godde, one that assumed ongoing revelation – personal, communal, and political.

In seminary I learned to wrestle with the languages of the Bible (Greek and Hebrew), to parse meanings of words, to contextualize the stories, to do literary criticism – basically to engage with the text in intimate and creative ways. Thanks be to Godde. And for myself, after years in ministry, I love this text that is both flawed and profound, beautiful and horribly misused.

Do you want me to make an intellectual and spiritual argument for, oh say, the rights of women or LGBTQ rights using the Bible? I can.  And another can use the text to refute my arguments. I think if I hear one more time that you can prove anything with the Bible I might scream. It demeans the Bible to use it as a proof text to reinforce what one already believes.

I am left with the question of how to minister with people who have been beaten up with the Bible being the whip that scars the soul insisting on the brutality of self-hatred. How do I minister with those who need a new way of seeing for their wounds to begin to heal?

Fundamentalists, it seems to me, have turned the Bible into an idol, replacing direct relationship with the Divine with the rigidity of rules over compassion for the human condition. The psychology of using a peoples’ fear to control their behavior is deeply disturbing. I am often asked by my fundamentalist friends if I am not afraid of going to hell. And then I’m asked why would people be good if there were no hell.

1 – I am not afraid of going to hell. I am afraid of hurting people with religion. I am afraid
of religion used to manipulate people in their deepest vulnerabilities.  I am afraid of
the permission to hate in the name of Godde.

2 – I believe, as Ann Frank said, that people are basically good. That we are communal
folks who want and need to live together in society. I believe the Bible is filled with
stories of people trying to figure out how to live together.

3 – I am grateful for a book that has stories of Jesus in it. A revelation about how
we might all embody the love of Godde, and in doing that, change the world.

My invitation today is to let Godde out of the Bible box and the Bible out of the Godde box. Don’t be afraid. The peace of Christ be with you.