Category Archives: feminism

Tales from an Elephant Orphanage

 

Well, folks, I’ve begun working on the sequel to my memoir (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet).  The working title of the new project is Circling Grace: Tales from an Elephant Orphanage. It’s my telling of the story of Circle of Grace, a Christian, feminist, ecumenical, progressive church of which I am the founding pastor.

I am telling my part of the story though, as with all stories and especially a story about a group of people, mine is only a part. It is exciting to remember the early days, the challenges and discussions as we worked to birth this idea of a Christian feminist worshipping community. I hope, in the end, you will find the tale engaging, challenging, and, most of all, truthful.

The title comes form a conversation I once had with my spiritual director who said, “Connie, Circle of Grace is like an elephant orphanage. Wounded or sick or disabled baby elephants that have have been rejected or abandoned by their herd are taken in, healed, and taught how to be elephants.”

Check out this 60 Minutes story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hErfU4gb1GQ

In somewhat the same way, people come to Circle of Grace because their spiritual communities have rejected them. They come in need of respite and healing, starved for spiritual food and the unconditional love. She continued, “Some are able to return to their herd  (the churches they were raised in) and some, whose wounding has been too severe, remain and form a new tribe.” Her insight helps me ponder the implications and pray for and with the community I pastor.

Today I am doing what pastors do: reflecting on the story  theologically.  Immersed in telling the challenges and reliving the excitement of our early days, I was able to distill it down to a sentence:  “Creating safe spiritual space must take an uncomfortable front seat to theological differences.”

I am excited to be telling my part of the story, even while I agonize over my many and varied inadequacies. I am reminded again how important it Is that we tell our stories. Something important happens when we examine our pasts. We discover more deeply who we are. We see more clearly the challenges we face. And, Godde willing, we stumble toward redemption.

 

Should We Be Afraid?

 

This week I boosted an ad on Facebook for my book. In the past I sent it out to the 25-45 age group. This time, I thought , “I’ll send it out to my age peers, 45-65.”  That choice unleashed a fury of responses that took my breath away. I was called names, quoted scriptures at, and somehow invited a level of hate that astonished me. It scared me. I have been aware of the growing anger and hatred in public discourse. I’ve experienced it as a woman. But I’ve never experienced a virtual mob of verbal pitchforks and torches.

Are some of them bots? Most of them? Are there really people out there who feel entitled and justified in threatening people who believe or live differently? It’s scary folks, made more real by nearly daily mass killings. The relatively small way I experienced the vitriol of the religious right shook me. I started worrying about public appearances – readings, speaking engagements, things I would naturally post to facebook and invite my friends to join me. So far I haven’t shared ‘upcoming events’. I am allowing my fear to silence me.

Women,  African-Americans, people of color, queer folk of every sort, know what it’s like to be afraid. To cower behind silence. It is how the oppressed are controlled.

Howard Thurman who, in Jesus and the Disinherited, taught  how fear silences and disenfranchises the oppressed:

“A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of  his  relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life.”  Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 51

There are hundreds of times that scripture urges us to “be not afraid”. Most likely for the same reason. Here’s my point: in this time when domestic terrorists are empowered by the current president, we must choose not to be afraid. We cannot allow fear to strip us of our basic identity  as children of Godde.  We must choose to live as if we are free, as if our lives matter, We must not allow fear to silence us. Otherwise we are enslaved by hate and lies.

Look, I’m still afraid. But I don’t want let  fear control me. Are there very real things going on in our world today of which to be afraid? Absolutely. But I want to be brave enough to not let fear control me.  If the best I can do is to choose to act like I’m  not afraid then I want to make that choice.

We do not live in comfortable times. The danger of the hate  unleashed by current leadership is real. It’s reasonable to be afraid. But hate wins when we allow it to silence us.  Maybe the question isn’t, “Should we be afraid” but “Can we have the courage to live our truth out loud?”

I’m trying. I hope you will join me.

 

Changing the World with Words

Say a word. Any word. Something comes to mind.
An image, a feeling, a context…
We hear some words as neutral.
Some words are so loaded that our reactions are visceral.
We reject the concept or feel the sucker-punch in our gut.
And sometimes we feel the expansion of warmth and light in our chest.

Words are one of humanity’s most important tools of communication.
As a person who loves words I like to make them dance and sing, hunch and cry… I like to toss them into the air and watch to see where they land.
I also approach them tentatively, having some sense their power.
And then there are times I forget everything I know about words.

Like when I say the word Godde.
It’s such a loaded word, filled with judgment, fear, joy, love, distaste…
The word ‘Godde’ (and I use it a lot in my profession) is packed with more than issues of gender and hierarchy.
Somehow, my religious/spiritual education eluded the image of the old, white man with a beard sitting on a throne, flinging judgment at humanity.
Instead, to invoke ‘Godde’ with a word takes my breath away. My chest fills with warmth and my heart expands to embrace a Mystery my mind cannot fathom.

The seminal questions becomes: “How do I bridge the divide between the word I speak and the word that is received?”.
I don’t have any answers yet except that I will always need more words to talk about the big words, more words to draw pictures, shape images, invite responses. More words to talk about something that is beyond words. Though perhaps Jewish wisdom is the best response: the name of Godde is unspeakable.
Still, I will keep trying to talk about Godde because when hearts and minds open
to different rhythms and sounds, ideas and images, it can change the world.

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!

 

The Struggle: Updated


I don’t know what to tell my sister when she feels isolated from friends that in the past she  would have disagreed with yet remained friendly. I’ve known my sister all my life and she has always had friends on both sides of the isle. But things have changed. The isle is now a wall built with ‘alternative facts.’ What can she do, she asked me, when the disagreement isn’t over opinions, but over facts?

As a therapist I have said more than once, “Feelings are not facts.” By the same token, I want to say, “Opinions are not facts.” Even more than that I am reminded of what a professor at Agnes Scott once said to me, “You have to earn the right to an opinion by doing the work that lays the groundwork for your opinion.” At the time I was gob-smacked but a life of learning has proven him correct. Now days I hear opinions propounded by those who haven’t done the work.

I don’t know what to tell my sister when someone tells her that President Obama isn’t a U. S. citizen. It is a fact that he is. One – he was born to an American mom. Our laws state that a child of a citizen is a citizen. For example, Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Junior were born to Ivana who, at the time, was not a U.S. citizen but they are citizens because of their Dad. (Ivana became a citizen in 1988). Two- President Obama was born in Hawaii at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children and his birth certificate is registered with the state.

Here is what is absolutely important to remember:
– a fact is a statement that can be proven true or false, based on objective evidence.
– an opinion cannot be proven true or false because it is just what someone thinks or believes – it is subjective.

The difficult thing is that those who believe President Obama is not a United States citizen cite unreliable sources. They disregard the fact of state certified documents and the fact that his mom was a U.S. citizen. Instead, they fall prey to conspiracy theorists, who for all the world, sound absolutely sure of themselves without substantive data. Either these purveyors of falsehoods believe what they are saying or they want us to believe them. And once an opinion is accepted as fact they build a house of ‘alternative facts,’ one on top of the other. Just because someone believes what they think is a fact, it is only a truly a fact when it can be objectively proven.

Here’s the problem: if we remove one card the entire structure collapses. So the Limbaugh’s and the O’Reilly’s are going to hold onto that card with a ferocity that borders on fanaticism. Like gossip, the untruths spread wildfire. And, for goodness sake, something isn’t true just because you want it to be true. None of this really addresses my sister’s concern because opinions can be discussed and argued but facts cannot.

A horrible wrong has been perpetrated on our nation in the name of conservatism. It isn’t the conservatism we have known in the past. The extremist right has stealthily overtaken the Republican Party (beginning with Gingrich and escalating to the Tea Party and beyond)and Republicans has given extremism legitimacy that creates and feeds a chasm between the American people.

So, Sherry (that’s my sister’s name) I don’t know what to tell you. I wish I did.

I know that if we have any chance at all to overcome the divide that was created with both intention and malice, we must be willing to have difficult conversations about objective facts.
I know we can’t be complicit with falsehoods, no matter how well intended.
I know we can’t be complicit with ‘false equivalencies’. A false equivalency, for example, is presenting two sides of an issue as if they are balanced when in fact one side is an extreme point of view. Say one presents a scientific theory as being contentious when more than 99% of scientists studying the topic accept it as being true (climate change, for example) and only a distant and non-authoritative few dispute it. That’s false equivalency.
I know most of this is not about rational thought but about ideas that reinforce emotions, most often fear and hate.

Your friends and neighbors are not, for the most part, evil. They love their children and obey the law of the land, they work and pay taxes. They may be homophobic or racist or sexist or anti-Semitic or anti- immigrant but they not beyond redemption nor do they lack the capacity to change. I must confess that there are times I just want them all to go away. Sometimes the greater part of me. But, as Dr. King reminds us, only light can drive out darkness.

We must overcome sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigration sentiments if we are to find our way back to one another. We have to help one another get to the place of acceptance, inclusion, and celebration of our differences if we are ever to be a great nation again.

I just don’t know how to do it but we can’t give up. Keep shining the light, Sherry, keep shining the light.

UPDATE:  When first posted this I failed to mention that my sister identifies as an agnostic/atheist and my response was to her from that perspective. For Christians and people of faith I would add that we must also be informed by the vows of our baptism.  Those vows include the promise  to see the face of God in everyone and to resist evil.

Does it make conversations easier? I think not. Many do not share the sense of urgency I feel about creeping authoritarianism, white nationalism, children housed in cages –  the list of evil perpetrated in our name goes on.  I vowed to resist those evils on the day of my baptism. I also vowed to see God in people who support those stances. It is a challenge. For me, the hope and the work ahead is to encourage the oppressor to see God in the oppressed. Christ was an immigrant, a person of color, and a person oppressed by the empire. He taught love from that perspective, not from the perspective of privilege. We still have much to learn.

Those of us who stand with the hurting ones, who stand on the side of the ‘least of these’, who refuse to demonize those who are not like us must answer the call to love one another, even our enemies, in ways that are transformative for everyone. Keep shining the Light!

 

 

 

 

 

“Building Bridges” by Kendra Weddle and Jann Aldredge-Clanton

Lately I’ve engaged with younger feminists who aren’t aware of the women who went before carving a way out of what seemed like no way. It came clear to me that we urgently need to tell the stories, relate the histories, and honor the women who began and continue the work of confronting entrenched sexism and heterosexism in both society and in the church. Building Bridges does that as it chronicles the life and work of Letha Scanzoni.

One of the hallmarks of Scanzoni’s life is that she holds space that allows for “building bridges between people, especially people of differing religious convictions.” In these days of religious and political animosity, when opposing sides lack the will to work together,   her work is especially important.

Weddle and Aldredge-Clanton consider how Scanzoni’s life and work influence religious thinking, faith experience, and activism. The reader learns of Scanzoni’s part as the co-founder of the Evangelical And Ecumenical Women’s Caucus- Christian Feminism Today (EWCC-CFT). Before I read the book I thought I had a pretty thorough understanding of Scanzoni and her work but discovered more than I imagined. I am challenged to action  not only by her words but by how she lives her faith. I believe feminists and Christian feminists will find her life story to be as inspirational as her writings.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part scrutinizes her groundbreaking works on biblical feminism and LGBTQ justice. The second part is filled with stories of people who have been challenged and transformed by her writings and mentorship. The book concludes in the third section with two of Scanzoni’s essays, both originally published in Christian Feminism Today. Each section illuminates important history, ideas, and challenges. This entire book is both a gift to the reader and a thoughtful and loving tribute to Letha Scanzoni.

Available by order from Charis Books at https://www.charisbooksandmore.com,  from Amazon, or from the publisher: Wipf and Stock Publications

Abuse and Redemption

 

Sometimes when I write a blog post  I end up discovering even more of my story. I thought the book told it all. Last week, somewhere near the end of the post about going to Columbia Theological Seminary to read from my memoir I said I was “…wide open and vulnerable to Godde” in my time there as a student, and that those in power (at the seminary) abused my vulnerability to Godde.

People (usually men) in power don’t tend to understand or appreciate how their power intersects with the emotional and spiritual vulnerability of the powerless.
In a week where women around the country have been traumatized and re-traumatized by the obliviousness and blatant disregard by men in power I am more deeply aware of how intimate abuse is, whether it is physical, sexual, or spiritual. It occurs in our homes, our schools, our political institutions, our churches, synagogues, and mosques – wherever men are in power. It arises from the systemic evil of sexism and heterosexism.  So how do we make change so that no other woman or gender non-conforming person is ever abused again?

My experience of redemption begins with one.
It begins with one person in power being willing to listen.
It begins with women being in and sharing power.
It begins with witnesses.

Nearly 50 people came to hear me read from my memoir last week at Columbia. Women and men, cis gender, gender non-conforming, LGBT, and straight. And they listened. At the end of the forum, the president of the seminary, Leanne Van Dyk, rose and spoke, saying that on behalf of the institution, she was sorry for all I had been put through.
In that moment, redemption began.
A woman in power.
A woman in power listened.
A woman in power said what I needed to hear for my healing to continue.
And so it begins.
Redemption begins with giving women power.
It begins with listening.
It begins with acknowledging  past wrongs and committing to new ways of being.
It begins when we have the strength to speak, the willingness to listen, and the power to make change.

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.

 

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

 

Silenced by a Lie

I heard yesterday that I am “just an angry lesbian.”
It takes only one phrase,
uttered by those in charge of writing history,
to erase the reality of those not in power.

This is not a new thought.
Oppressed people
know who writes history
and it is not them.
It had never been so personal before.

If I were writing my history
this is the story I would tell:
Godde called me to ministry.
I had to figure out what it meant.
I went to seminary with the intention of being
authentic
open
vulnerable
and willing to engage in difficult, often hurtful conversations.
I made that choice
It came with a great price.
I got to experience personal rejection
even hate
and ignorance in the name of God
that daily crushed my spirit.

And yet I believed
I had the strength to engage
To stay.
To listen.
To retain my integrity.
So I did.
And I thank Godde for sustaining me in that time.

I didn’t realize that
years later
my witness would be silenced
by a lie.