Category Archives: musings

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.


 

Can the Center Hold?


Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats, from ‘The Second Coming’

 

I am tired. Weary to death and yet I can’t not get up. I can’t not keep trying to speak, to work, to march, to live into my conviction that the ideas this nation is based on are redemptive and worth fighting for. Ideas that continue to expand: freedom, justice, equality, and  the rule of law and rather than the rule of ‘men’.

I would tell Mr. Yeats that the best of do not lack conviction but, for myself, I am grieving innocence drowned. The belief that our system of ideas pushes us away from demagoguery, hatred, and self-serving as the basis for our actions and toward our better selves. But the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and we must fight to come up for air.

Early on we said to one another, “We can’t normalize this.” Little did we know that the onslaught of things outside our imaginings have become more normal by merit of the volume of expressions of ‘the worst of us.’ It is daily, sometimes hourly. And friends and neighbors who are lulled into the normalization of Trump and his ilk can’t understand the urgency many of us feel. Others have climbed out of their pits and descended on us with the ‘passionate intensity,’ of their self-righteous hatred glorified in fiery rallies designed to show their ascendency.

Can the center hold? Will who-we-can-be as a nation prevail over who we-must-not-be? Ordinary people have become numbed to the insanity and I fear for our ability to extricate ourselves.

I am tired. I can imagine that many, many are tired. And it is okay to be weary. Rather tired than numb. Rather weary and righteous than well-rested and complicit. Rest now, if you need to. The center must hold.

 

The Gracious Heretic

My  posts are all over the place. Politics. Spiritual practice. Theological musings. Feminism. Personal stories. Occasional rants.
“They” tell me that if I want my book to sell when it comes out I need to brand myself.
Generate a blog with consistent, thought-provoking themes. Themes that point to the direction and scope of the book.
They tell me I need to get people to “buy in” to my writing on this blog.
Gee, wouldn’t that be great. But if  you’re reading this you’ve already bought in.

I’m not good at that branding stuff. If I pick a word or two or three or four to focus what “I am about” I lose several dozen other things that are equally important to me. Some days I’m pensive, some I’m discombobulated.

So this is what I want to know: how do you do it?  And maybe even more than that, do I want to do it? Or maybe the word brand is what gets in my way. A brand is basically the way you want other people to see you. Of course, I want you to see me as spiritually enlightened, politically engaged, feminist, Christian, wise, and if I had my complete druthers, beautiful.

Another thing about a brand is that one comes to trust or distrust a brand based on personal experience. I think that is what I strive for: to tell the truth, even when it is difficult, even when it is about myself. In those ways I try hard to be trustworthy.

So here’s the truth as I see it. I am a heretic in the classic definition of the word: I hold opinions contrary to church dogma. I also work really hard to be gracious, meaning godly, compassionate, kind, forgiving, and justice-loving. So maybe that’s my brand. The all-over-the-place posts you read are all located there. And you can trust that. Or with experience and over time, see a consistency that earns your trust.

So brand me The Gracious Heretic. It’s all I got.

Thanks for reading.

 

It’s the Patriarchy, Stupid!



 During his first run for president Bill Clinton’s ‘war room’ was dominated by James Carville’s hand printed sign “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” It reminded them not to get off message. It worked. Focus on what is important and people will respond positively. It’s a lesson we would do well to learn from.

Patriarchy is the problem. Fighting the patriarchy doesn’t mean fighting men, disenfranchising men, or eliminating men.  Fighting the patriarchy means fighting the system currently in power. The system that defines what it means to be male and female and values what is assumed to be male over what is assumed to be female. Bell Hooks reminds us, though, that patriarchy has no gender. It is a system  imposed on our theology, politics, and social interactions.

Institutions are embedded in the patriarchy. They get their power and ‘legitimacy’ from shoring up patriarchal values. The church elevates those values to ‘sacred.’  Political systems are so entrenched that resistance to change is concretized.

Here’s the thing: you can’t be a part of the world and not be subject to the patriarchy. That includes everyone: male, female, transgender folk, and gender queer, gender non-conforming. Everyone. Everyone is limited by a system that elevates one gender expression over every other. Everyone is limited when barriers are put up that keep people in or out. Everyone suffers when their expression of humanity is constrained by a system that perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism and all the ‘isms’ that define us as ‘less than’. Men are limited by the patriarchy, too. The only difference is that their gender grants unquestioned power and superiority. Most men don’t realize that it is a constructed and unquestioned system that dispenses their ‘superiority’.

Smashing the patriarchy means that men would necessarily relinquish their assumed superiority. They would need to share  power and challenge assumptions about their values. That process could open them to accept parts of themselves they have felt the need to reject. Cis men have been confined and injured by the patriarchy, too. The perks of it are seductive, but the price is disabling.
                                   So what is the point of all this? It’s the patriarchy, stupid.

I am a feminist, a Christian, a lesbian, a minister, and a mother. I have worked construction, waited tables, and served a congregation. I do not let the patriarchy define any of those things about me.
When I talk to my sister about religion and politics she often refers to ‘the church’ in disparaging terms. I get it. My daily traffic with people hurt by the institutional church is endless. It is important to me to claim my path as Christian. Which is very different from the institutionalized patriarchy of the Church. Politically, I am a Democrat. But I disavow the systemic patriarchy of the way the party works as an institution.

Here’s the invitation in two parts. First, become and stay aware of the patriarchal system and how it affects you as you live in the world. Then listen to how others are affected by it. You will begin to see it everywhere. And you should, because that’s where it is. And when you see it, don’t be afraid to name it. We need to stop assuming it is some cosmic or human norm.

Second, resist. The politics of resistance is not complete unless we are working to undermine a system that diminishes and elevates people without regard to what makes us truly human.

Every act of resistance begins from here. Put a sign up on your wall or over your desk, a post-it note on the dashboard of your car, scratch it out on the cover of your notebook, prop it up over your TV:
It’s the patriarchy, stupid!

 

 

 

I Will Not Be Your Enemy

We can choose not to be enemies.
We share history that is the source for all our struggles, self-definitions, failures and successes. For minorities and women much of that history is bad, even despicable. We have been oppressed, terrorized, marginalized, and repressed. But we have also built communities, resisted the dominant paradigm, and survived unimaginable violence to our bodies and psyches.

So how can we choose to not be enemies? Perhaps more importantly, why should we make that choice?

Women have the front seat on how for us to critique finding common ground with those who would oppress us. I hate the patriarchy and its systemic power to dehumanize one group of people and elevate another. I hate it for the same reasons I hate racism. And ableism. And heterosexism. I hate them all for the the boundaries of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that   form a temple of fear.

Women love men: we love husbands or fathers or sons or friends or all of the above. We do it while existing in systemic patriarchy that devalues our existence and codifies laws about our bodies. Here’s an example: I love my dad. He supported my every dream and did not reject me in the face of questionable choices. He is the first feminist man I can remember – though he would have cringed to be called that. Loving him did not eliminate the ways I was sexualized by a man as a child, groped as an employee, or give me the right to be in charge of my own reproductive health. My dad was my ally even while he benefited from being a man in ways I can’t even imagine.

I don’t want to make the mistake of dehumanizing and demonizing ‘the other’ any more than I want to be demonized myself.  Where will that get us? How will we make meaningful change if we repeat the same patterns?  The real ‘demons’ are systems that oppress.

What if, instead, we worked to find value in our differences rather than fear them? What if to give to one didn’t mean to take from another? What if we embraced the idea and the fact that we are all in this together? That to survive we must reach across the divide? If we are to survive as a nation we must find our way back to one another. We will always have things to disagree about so let’s treat this like a momentous disaster and rally around so that all survive.

Our goal can’t be that we are lock-stepped in agreement about our beliefs. Instead, let’s find ways to see the humanity in one another, to listen to the concerns we have, and to work together for solutions to this nation’s problems that require compromise not only by the oppressed.  Believe it or not, we used to do something like it. The opposing party was referred to as ‘the loyal opposition’. The idea was (and is) to take the best of both sides and find a solution of compromise that meets the needs of both. More compromise may be required by those who have traditionally held power but we can do this if we find our will.

The depth of our polarization deafens us to one another’s needs and will defeat us if we are not careful. For me, it starts here.
I will not be your enemy.

Come and Meet Me in the Middle of the Air



Somebody (everybody!) needs to remember that we share a national identity  that is only possible when we are willing and able to have difficult conversations. We have become ‘the other’ because we are a different color, gender, national origin, ability, age, or political identity. The problem is that the idea of our democracy only works when we are able to reasonably disagree with one another.
Those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition have the sound advice of the prophet Isaiah (1:17-18):

learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

18 Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

“Come now, let us argue it out” or as translated elsewhere, “Come, let us reason together”.  The problem for  us as a nation and society (or one of many) is that we don’t seem to share the values upon which we were founded. Those values have always been our pride and our curse.  There is a gospel song that invites us to ‘meet in the middle of the air’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VGHfpvkI1c

From the beginning issues have been strongly argued from many sides. Big issues. Moral issues. Deeply personal issues. Issues that, even though we went to war with one another, the idea that we are one nation triumphed. We must  learn to “argue it out’  no matter how difficult the conversations are. Otherwise, political identity supersedes the ideas upon which we are built. Beware, it is happening right now. The era of Trump has obliterated national and cultural norms. (By which I mean things we have mutually accepted and agreed to without codification. For example, we would not call for our political opponents to be jailed.)

We must talk to one another. Unfortunately, it is the task left to the Left. Because talking to one another requires respect, curiosity, and the willingness to listen through another’s fear. We need to be patient and safe enough to the other person to hear their viewpoint. We need to stay calm. We need to do all this because WE recognize our connectedness even when the other side does not.

Let us have the difficult conversations without seeing ‘the other’ as enemy.
To save ourselves we must save us all.

The Power of Women Unleashed

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Something powerful is happening.
Pundits talk about it, observing from a distance.
Talking heads dismiss it, claiming it will go the way of Occupy.

But they are missing something important. They are missing the convergence of awareness. The Women’s March, #metoo, #timesup…women are woke. And they are woke across class and racial lines, sexuality and gender lines, and making inroads into all the lines that  historically divide us.
They miss the point.
The point of #metoo is that almost every woman (and among my many acquaintances the number stands at 100%) have been sexually harassed, assaulted, abused, or raped.
That should take your breath away.
These same women have systematically made less money for doing the same jobs as men. Or have been passed over for deserved promotions. Hence, #timesup.

With the past election we got woke to the systemic hatred of women. Okay, people still find it difficult to say that women are hated but look at the treatment of Hillary Clinton by men in the media. Even progressive men. Look at the explicit sexism of the Bernie Bros (and we’re supposed to be on the same side). Look at Chris Matthews. Look at her treatment by Trump. For many of us, it confirms our own experiences. For many it is a getting woke moment. For some, it is still difficult to acknowledge a symptom one has studiously ignored.

We are erasing the imaginary lines between us. Not ignoring our differences, but recognizing how keeping us separate has kept us down. We refuse to acquiesce to the way it’s always been. We are held up by the women who have gone before us from Eve to Ester, Mary to Prisca, Sojourner Truth to Margaret Sanger, Shirley Chisholm to Gloria Steinem. Young women and old women, girls, maidens, matrons, and crones are stepping up and speaking out.

Yes we have growing pains and we don’t need to be perfect, but we must be authentic. What is important is that we refuse to  be numbed to the evils of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and ableism. We must stay woke to our interconnectedness.  It is time to  unleash our power and VOTE, and RUN for office, and REPRESENT.

Bernie and the Women’s March Conference

Progressives and people of conscience need to be a united front against the insanity that took over the White House in 2016 and has been pervasive in the Republican Party since the advent of Gingrich.

That being said… we all know that is not how progressives/liberals work. We have to engage in endless arguments about the minutia of policy. Which makes our policies better. We don’t work in sound bites or tweets. It takes more than 140 characters just to name an issue much less define it. We have “marshals” at every turn reminding us who is included and who needs to be included. Hundreds of voices from thousands of experiences of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, ability, age… all seek and demand input. I’m proud of that. I am proud that is who we are and how we work. It is also the reason we are vulnerable to simplistic ideas expressed in short phrases. That, and the fact that the Right uses our diversity to divide us. Hell, we do that all by ourselves.

Which is why I hesitate to say anything at all about my argument with Bernie and the Women’s March. We desperately need to be a united front against the travesty of the Trump regime. We desperately need to unite to vote Tea Party Republicans out of office (the no compromise party that puts its extremist values above the well-being of the nation). We desperately need to humanize political discourse.

With apologies to those whom this does not apply, I find Bernie followers to be the worst. I don’t disagree with or deplore their ideas but I know in a democracy ideas are compromised both as part of our tradition of governing and of our legislative process. We cannot afford to mirror the Republican Party in some inauthentic search for purity. None of us is so elevated that we do not need to listen to one another.

Bernie supporters were hacked and played by Russia and many still believe the lies  circulated about Hillary. During the election, many of his supporters behaved like (and were) privileged, cis-gendered, white men. They demanded immediate change, not understanding that change is an ongoing process filtering through laws, family life, work relationships, religious life, community, and political life. Those without privilege could have informed the conversation were not that so many Bernie supporters absolutists. He dismissed women’s issues (e.g. Planned Parenthood) as unimportant and failed to understand the centrality of our issues to his economic and social agendas.

Right now I am angry because Bernie is the opening speaker at the Women’s Conference in Detroit. I’m sorry if you don’t understand. As a feminist of 40+ years I have seen this before. It is not about inclusiveness, it is about privilege. Invite all the men you want, I would welcome them, but let them come to  listen. Imagine a white person being the opening speaker at a Black Lives Matter conference. Could she or he speak as well to the issues as a person of color who has lived them? The choice is tone deaf. I will leave it there.

So now what? I don’t know the answer but let’s start the conversation. It is one thing to disagree, even vehemently, and quite another to dismiss and demean one another. We are ALL needed to turn this horror around. If you are angry that I am speaking my truth, be angrier still at those who are subverting democracy. If you are angry that I don’t trust Bernie, show me that you are trustworthy and don’t dismiss me because you don’t think my ideals are pure enough. If you get that women’s issues are human issues and that no political theory is valid without a substantial critique of issues that effect women then I will work with you. If you begin to listen to those of us outside your wheelhouse, I will work with you. Me and my feminist hoards will work with you.

 

Whose Rights?

                    Some days I’m not sure how much more sorrow we can navigate as a nation. After the brutal terrorist attack in Las Vegas, after Sandy Hook, after Pulse, after daily multiple murders that have become seemingly routine, have we been dulled to our outrage?

           And then there is the knee-jerk response from the right and the NRA: now is not the time to debate gun laws. Well if not now, when? When we have time compartmentalize our anger and grief? When we can make the people whose lives were taken and the ones who suffered loss unimportant? During election years when the NRA can buy the votes it needs? When?

What’s wrong with now?

If I hear one more 2nd amendment advocate tout that ‘this is the cost of freedom’ I believe I will hurl. We need to amend or void the second amendment. Amend it to include the six words when serving in the militia. Read Justice John Paul Steven’s well reasoned 2014 argument here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-five-extra-words-that-can-fix-the-second-amendment/2014/04/11/f8a19578-b8fa-11e3-96ae-f2c36d2b1245_story.html?utm_term=.aabb5e76d28d

My question today is: whose rights?

Rights enshrined in the very body of the Constitution are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The 2nd Amendment, as currently interpreted, infringes on those rights. The lack of sane gun control costs thousands of people their lives each year. Not only in mass shootings but in domestic violence incidents, and because of negligence that gives access to weapons by toddlers and adolescents.

NOW we need to focus on our citizens’ right to life. Maybe even come to understand that the ‘right to life’ includes enough to eat, a place to live, and healthcare. And the right to liberty. Because people are afraid to go to concerts, shopping malls, and sporting events. Women are afraid of their partners. And those fears imprison us. Finally, though happiness may be difficult to qualify, it has been snatched from thousands of our citizens by gun violence.

Why are some rights privileged over others? Why does your right to own a weapon trump my right to live? Our priorities are skewed, friends, in so many ways. But let’s begin here. Let’s begin by advocating for our right to stay alive.

Let’s give new and urgent meaning to the phrase ‘right to life’.