Category Archives: everyday theology

Returning to the Scene

Who woulda’ thunk it? Thirty-two years after after I graduated from Columbia I have been invited back to read from my memoir and talk about my experiences there.

I have mixed feelings about it. The strongest feeling I have is gratitude. Never would I have thought this day would arrive. What a graceful moment to come full circle and return to a campus where once I was a stranger in a strange land, an unwelcome alien, and a proverbial thorn in the side of this august institution. I am grateful not only to be welcomed and given a voice but I am also grateful (and astounded!) to see the course  ‘Ministry With LGBTQIA Youth’ offered.

But to be completely honest, the other thing I am feeling is anger. Now we all know that anger is often a ‘leading emotion’ that conceals or protects us from the underlying and original emotion. So if I follow that thread I must confess that my anger is trying to  protect me from hurt. So there you have it. The hurt is old. It is the hurt of being silenced and demeaned. It is the hurt of being dismissed. Hated. Feared. It is the hurt of being wide open and vulnerable to Godde and having those in power abusing that vulnerability.

I met a few weeks ago with a wonderful woman from Columbia who invited me to be a part of this event. She is ordained. And a lesbian. And open. All in the Presbyterian Church (USA). After a long, truthful, and profoundly intimate conversation she asked me what I would like from Columbia. It surprised me when I teared up and said  “I just want someone to say ‘I’m sorry’. ” Funny that.

This Wednesday I am invited to be a part of worship and to share my story. To talk about my journey at the institution I both love and hate. I have come to believe that giving me a voice may be the most profound apology I could be offered.

 

I Sent My Book To Hillary

I sent my book to Hillary. Something in me wants to share my story with her. The truth is, her story is a part of my story, in the same way that all of our stories are a part of the larger epic writ large in our time. I identify with her as a woman in times of great change who has faced defeat while challenging institutions entrenched in sexism. She, perhaps, with more grace than I.

Make no mistake. I am no Hillary. I don’t have her intelligence, experience, or fortitude. But I know what it is like to be seen as a threat and to be the object upon whom people project their fears. I sent her my book because her story resonates  with me and I hope mine resonates with her. We are sisters bound by our age, gender, and passion for justice.

So I sent her a copy. Because, well,  we are “stronger together” and my small piece is joined to her very large piece and every other piece women bring to the table.

In my Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments I say, “Though I would not choose to live my life differently, I have learned that sometimes the dragon wins.”

The dragon won this round but he ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Because sisters, our stories are stories of strength, persistence, stamina, and dreaming large. So watch out, because we will change the world, one life, one story at a time.

 

Good Enough

Here’s a paradox: the story I tell in my book, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, is an extension of the work of my life. Another way I bear witness. Another kind of prophetic ministry. Now hold that in one hand. In the other hold the idea that I am a creative person who dances with language and paints pictures with words.

1-  Faithful to a call in which ego often gets shoved out of the way
and
2-  writer as artist with ego to spare.
Interesting intersection. Actually, not a new one for me. I teeter on a balance beam between the two and list one way or the other depending on the time of day, my frame of mind, and how centered I am in Godde on any given moment.

I am not particularly good or saintly. If you read my story you will discover a gleefully imperfect woman.  I do  have a wicked little voice in one ear that berates me for not being perfect. But there is a stronger voice in my other ear that says, “do your best and let it go” and “you will never be without flaws but don’t be without integrity”.
I wish I could be as good to my writer self as I am to my human self. But maybe that’s the answer to my dilemma today: to know that my work is not perfect, but I  have done it with integrity.

Wow. Thanks for listening to me untangle that internal knot.  I invite you to do the same. Unravel the  cords that bind you to the falsehood that  you are not good enough because you are not ‘perfect’.

 

Why I Wrote the Book (and a sneak peek)

People often ask me why I wanted to write a book – that was during the years I put my head down and trashed a thousand drafts. I always said it was because I had a story to tell. Now that my book (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet) is published I need to think about the answer to that question in different ways.

It’s still true that I  wanted to write a book because I have stories to tell.
But there are lots of reasons.
I wrote a book because my life is unusual – or as some have said, ‘interesting’.
I wrote a book because I love words and language.
I wrote a book – and will probably  write more – because the creative process gives me juice.
I wrote this book because it is insight into a small part of the history of change in the church and the nation.
I wrote this book because I wanted to confront myself and share the humanity of struggle.
I  also wrote this book because I have a big ole’ creative gene begging for expression.

Here is a preview, a snippet, a snapshot from the book. It is from the time my mom and I visited Dachau when I was ten:

“I leaned into my mother’s warmth, hungry for the security she offered as I took in the pain and horror. Questions I would struggle with the rest of my life were forged in those moments. Forever, my questions about the Sacred and the human, history and theology, politics and prayer seek answers in those grim, gray rooms filled with the remains of the innocent and the stench of intolerance.
That day I left the camp in the safety of my mother’s embrace. It did not occur to me that she was like other mothers and that there were things from which she could not protect me. We passed through the gates of the camp returning to a world filled with magic and color and sunlight. I did not know then but Dachau will be a part of me until the day I die.
We returned home and over the next weeks and months, my fear and outrage receded to tolerable levels. Back in school, I turned to my studies and friendships.

As a woman and a lesbian I wear the first hand scars of the injury done to my soul by sexism, heterosexism, and the not so subtle message that I am “less than.” I also carry within me secondary scars of evil. As a white person, I the carry the secondary scars of racism, as a non-Jew, the secondary scars of Nazism. As a citizen, the secondary scars of violence. As a human being, the secondary scars of intolerance.
I guess I made that up, secondary scars, or maybe I heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons not only the consequences of evil that has been done to us but also the evil that is done to others. We are not separate from that which is perpetrated on others. We are injured either by our complicity or our compassion, whether conscious or not. It is those scars that make it impossible for me to remain silent.”

A final plug: it can be ordered from Amazon or directly from the publisher: https://wipfandstock.com/a-gracious-heresy.html

 

Pick One Thing

I had breakfast this week with an activist from Indivisible-Georgia that I have long admired.  We crossed paths many times since the election but never had the opportunity to sit down together. I am so glad we made the time because I came away a little more hopeful and a lot more invigorated. My take away was simple and it is important because I believe it can stop us from giving into hopelessness and keep us  from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the shit storm we are living under.

If you are like me, you want to do it all. After the daily bombardment of news that makes my skin crawl, my heart ache, and my anger boil, I want to march, to protest, to write letters, to register voters, to work against gerrymandering, to work against voter suppression, to work with great organizations like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March, the ACLU, and the Democratic Party. I am ready to get things done but the amount that needs to be done and the odds we are up against can suck the hope out of me.

So I walked away from our breakfast thinking, “I need to get the word out” because  so many of us are battle weary. So many of us teeter on the edge of being hopeless. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO STOP, GIVE UP, OR GIVE IN.

So how do we deal with the fatigue of engaging the nightmare of our current political situation? DO ONE THING. Pick one thing and go all in. Pick one action, commit to one issue and give it your time and attention and energy. Trust that others are doing the same with other issues about which you care. But do your one thing. As much as you can as best you can.  That’s how we’re going to get this done.

Absolutes Suck

Okay people, I’m about to go on a rant. As a feminist I would like to introduce you to the concept that two seemingly opposing ideas can both be true or right or correct.  Take a breath. I know it’s difficult to give into the idea that you are not absolutely right.

I want to add to that that one can be passionate about what they believe to be ‘right’ and still hold room for other views. For example: straws. I am part of the ‘let’s do away with them’ club. They multiply. They infest our landfills and more importantly, our oceans. They threaten  and kill wildlife. Straws are a bane to our society and we should make way for alternatives. So yay, Starbucks!!!

I refuse straws when eating out and if they bring me one already in my drink (because I didn’t anticipate it- learning curve!) I bring it home and cut it into small pieces. I have my own straw. It is a pyrex straw that I clean every day. It is one of the small acts I do to make a small difference, to begin the change. And though I no longer buy canned drinks with plastic rings, but when I did, I made sure to cut them up so they would not choke dolphins or constrain turtles.

Everyone should stop using straws! Now! the future of the earth depends on it!

… Well, except… there are people with disabilities who clearly NEED straws to survive. That is if we consider the ability to eat and drink survival. Which I do. So is there room in my passion and my ‘rightness’ for understanding that my ‘universal’ has exceptions? I really hope so. Because I have friends with disabilities for whom I would also make a stand for their continued ability to use straws.

Is this really so hard? Can two things that seem to be contraindicated both be true? If  you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question, you may need to look more closely at your belief system. My hunch is that if you don’t  it will tie you up into bitter knots.

And here’s my final shot at ‘absolutes’. They keep us from being reasonable, compassionate people. Whether we are talking about legal absolutes, moral absolutes, political absolutes, or theological absolutes.
What I get when I hear someone propounding an absolute is that I am in danger.

The Red Hen: Civility and Resistance in the Age of Trump

Here are my desires:
that we are able to come together as a nation,
that we share our founding values of justice, freedom, and the rule of law.
that we find a way to civilly debate our differences.

It is also my hope (unrealized) that we agree on a few basic premises. Like the ideas that racism, sexism, and homophobia are evil, that people of differing abilities are of equal value, that immigrants are the building blocks and backbone of our nation, and that our government exists to protect the weakest of those among us and provide for our mutual welfare.

My desires are unmet and my hopes seem almost inconceivable at this juncture in our history. Not that it hasn’t always been a struggle for us but somewhere enough of us have clung to the idea that, while our approaches are different, we are essentially on the same team. Today, it is clear that lines have been drawn to such an extent that it is assumed that some, if not most, of us will be losers.

We argue about human decency while faced with the ignominy of a wannabe dictator who incites hatred and violence against brown people, black people, yellow people, red people, poor white people, women, and queers of all sorts. Part of us knows that maintaining civility is urgently important to the state of the union. Another part knows that evil unresisted multiplies.

So what are good and decent decisions we need to make about the how of our political discourse? I’d like to suggest there is no one right way and that each way has its shortcomings.

Take the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, VA. A plethora of talking heads have taken sides. They shouldn’t have refused service to Sarah Huckabee. It was an overreach. Against our values as a nation. And yes, it is true that it is not an expression of one of our values – but it is an expression of other values. Namely that we will not participate in that which demeans another. It is called civil disobedience and Sarah Huckabee, as a representative of this regime, having fashioned herself as a symbol of Trump policies and values, is fair game.

This is an unusual time and our ideals and morals are called into question every day that Donald Trump and his cronies remain in power. How are we supposed to participate in public discourse when no one seems to be listening to one another? And then let’s raise the question, “What is a Christian response?”  Some answer that it is building bridges. Some believe it is staying open to those with opposing views. To, as Paul of the New Testament says, heap burning coals of love on their heads.

Others answer with a refusal to participate in or validate a system of hatred and oppression. Dietrich Bonhoffer, a Lutheran pastor,  wrestled with the same issues during the reign of Nazism in Germany and ended up actively working for the resistance – even being  privy to attempts to assassinate Hitler. His writings from the time remind us that  “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”

I have come to believe that any way we resist the present culture and the forces of intolerance and hatred is the right way. What is right for me may not be right for you. The more important question is:  what is right for each of us? Figure out how you are going to exercise your freedom to speak and act and stand against the devolution of us while we still have those freedoms.

Are you ready to speak? Are you ready to act? Are you willing to resist and to support others who resist this horror show? Can it be okay what we are not perfect at it? Can it be more important that we take responsibility for what is going on in the choices we do make? Can we support one another’s efforts as we challenge something none of us have been up against to this degree before?

The theologian, Martin Luther, would encourage us to “sin boldly” – that is, to do the best we can and then be bold about it.  I support the Red Hen Restaurant because they did not insist that their workers participate in their own oppression. I am glad they did it civilly.
I am glad they acted at all.
Their actions call us to action.
May we all step up and take responsibility for what is happening.
One imperfect act at a time.

 

Naming the Evil of Donald Trump

I saw Hamilton the other night (it was fabulous!- from the cast to the lighting, the music to the musicians- but I digress) and I remembered something it took me a long time to learn: our heroes have clay feet.
No one is perfect. Everyone I have ever looked up to has been flawed.
Yet somehow we demand perfection from our leaders, certainly those in politics or religion. A not-so-secret part of me  demanded it of myself as a pastor. But perfection is not possible, or even reasonable. Who we strive to be and who we are sometimes diverge. Sometimes by intent and sometimes, because we are just plain flawed.

Until now  we have held our politicians (and religious leaders) to unreasonable standards. I am not saying this to give people a pass but to suggest that there is a difference between making mistakes (we all do) or having blind spots (also true of us all) but to say the hope is that we are able to learn from our mistakes and acknowledge it when our blind spots are revealed.

The term “feet of clay” is understood to mean a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person. We are disappointed when someone we admire falls off the proverbial pedestal, when a flaw or weakness is revealed. Like when we grow up and find out  that the founding brothers of our nation were less than perfect. That’s one thing. It is different from downright evil.

Donald Trump does not have clay feet. Clay feet assumes a weakness or flaw in an otherwise decent human being. Say the word with me: EVIL. I will not prance around the word. We cannot excuse behavior that demeans any human being. We know racism is evil. Sexism is evil. Heterosexism is evil. Ableism is evil. ‘Other-ism” is evil. And Donald Trump perpetrates evil everyday with the people he appoints to oversee the very institutions created to protect us, with the lies he tells about himself and others, with the decisions he makes about world politics, and with the words of hate and dismissal spewing from his anal mouth.

Donald Trump is evil. I wish he had clay feet. I wish he had a conscience so that he could have clay feet. But there is no indication that it is even a possibility. Donald Trump is evil with power. And if ever there was a time we needed to recognize the truth about this man, it is now.

Evil is being normalized and the more we accept or allow his actions to continue the more complicit we become. Now is the time to call our clay-footed leaders, our representatives in government, in the churches and synagogues and mosques, in our neighborhoods to remove the scales from their eyes and see the urgency of the tasks before us.

Even if you have been called evil by the un-saintly religious, even if the use of the word troubles you because of how it has been appropriated by right-wing fundamentalists, even if you haven’t considered the concept of evil to be relevant  in the 21st century, say it: Donald Trump is Evil.  If we don’t say it. If we  continue to normalize his words and actions, evil will take stronger and stronger footholds in our institutions and our population.

I don’t  know how to end this. I don’t know where to go with this. I only know that this is an urgent time and we are a vulnerable people. I believe we must begin with speaking the word. With acknowledging what is going on for what it is. For the past two years we have repeatedly said to one another, “We cannot normalize his words or actions.” That is true. But now is the time to name them. It will give us a clarity of focus. Say it:EVIL


.

 

 

 

Who Gets to Say What a Christian Is?

Salon.com posted an interesting opinion piece suggesting that the religious right was ‘shrinking itself’ and that its overzealousness was driving people away. Take a moment to read it: https://www.salon.com/2018/05/14/how-the-religious-right-is-shrinking-itself-overzealous-christianity-is-driving-people-away/

Part of me wants to respond with a “no duh” but the other part wants to examine the issue a little further. If you think of faith in terms of stages of development then you see that the religious right speaks to those whose thinking is concretized, whose  world view is  black and white, and who are afraid they will be caught and punished for their misdeeds.

I’m not the first one to think of this. There is a terrific book entitled Stages of Faith: the psychology of human development and the quest for meaning by James W. Fowler. Read it if you get a chance – it’s not as dry as it might sound. His premise is that in the same ways we develop psychologically (think Erikson’s Identity and the Life Cycle) we develop spiritually.

The religious right tends to be stuck in an early developmental stage. For example, when asked why not to do something – that it would be breaking a rule, earlier stages of development would say something like: because I don’t want to get caught, or I don’t want to get in trouble, or I don’t want to be punished. Later stages of development say rather, I don’t want to do it because it is wrong or I don’t want to do it because it diminishes me or another or I don’t want to do it because it interferes with my relationship with Godde .

Christianity, like other religions, has means of spiritual deepening and growth that transcends our more youthful understandings. So I am not saying that those earlier understandings are bad or evil, but that they are developmentally stunted for those who want to mature in their faith. There comes a time when a childlike understanding doesn’t satisfy spiritual longing.

I am a Christian. If my faith couldn’t stretch my heart and mind and soul I’m not sure I would want to be one. If you have been driven away from the church by the religious right there is still a place for you in the Christian faith. Christianity is bigger than the smallness of their understandings. It may be uncomfortable at first and sureness will be replaced by possibilities and uncertainty – but it is worth it. In the same way we cannot let Trump define America, we cannot allow the religious right define Christianity.

You Must Pay the Rent…

When I was a young mother – twenty-four and my daughter six – I worked construction.
I got her ready for school in the mornings and hopped a ride on my boss’s truck to our work site for the day. Often it was to rehab public housing near the federal penitentiary here in Atlanta.

I came home exhausted in the evenings and made sure she got her bath, supervised homework, cooked supper, and ,once a week, prepared the evening meal for 60 children and adults in our church’s mentorship program.  Sometimes when you are busy surviving you forget you are afraid.

Our rented duplex was cold in the winter, heated only by gas space heaters that I hesitated to keep on while we slept. We bundled together in my bed, piling all of our blankets on top of one another until the mattress on the floor grew to resemble a multi-colored mountain.

One evening our landlord dropped by to pick up the rent. It was fairly early but we were already snuggled down under the pile of blankets, keeping warm while I read and she wrote poetry on 3X5 cards.  Her first effort went like this:

My dog has fleas (fleas, fleas, fleas, fleas)
All over her knees (knees, knees, knees, knees)

which we sang to the tune of The Blue Danube Waltz.

When the doorbell rang I forced myself up, padded to the door, and invited him in while I wrote the check that would wipe out my bank balance. Drafts of icy wind accompanied his arrival and departure ridding us of the last gasp of heat we had hoped would last for a little while longer.
I shivered back under the covers when my daughter informed me she had written another poem. “Great,” I chattered, trying to recapture some semblance of warmth to my hands and feet, “read it to me.” She took a breath and recited:

The night is long and wind blows cold
And I and my mother pay rent.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so I just hugged her tight.  Mother’s Day, I remembered this story and how there is, somehow, always enough. Always enough warmth.  Always enough joy to create and to sing. And most of all,  always enough  love to cast out fear.