Category Archives: progressive christianity

The Mystery of Hope

Words can make things that are truly unknowable seem like concrete certainties. Words get in our way of experience when we feel a need to compress and distort our experience to fit  into some preconceived, doctrinal box.

But what if we took away the words or the definitions? What if we spoke to one another about experience? Is our need for absolute certainty so great that we are willing to quash the uncertain truth that resides in us and replace it with doctrine?

We talk about resurrection as if it is something that happened once and will happen again instead of something that is always happening. We talk about it in future terms rather than very present reality. We talk about it as if it definable and measurable and dependent on our actions.

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich calls herself a ‘hardcore atheist’ but she also talks about a mystical experience she had as a teenager when she:                                                                     “saw the world—the mountains, the sky, the low scattered  buildings— suddenly flame into life.” There was no fire, but she saw “blazing everywhere.” She describes it as “a furious encounter with a living   substance that was coming through all things at once, too vast and violent   to hold on to, too heart-breakingly beautiful to let go of.”

She goes on to say she felt both shattered and completed. I love that. She describes my deepest experiences of Godde when I feel shattered and all that implies: frightened, unmoored, outside my ego as well as grounded, connected, and full.

That is how I experience resurrection. It is not a lack of certainty but a fullness of experience. I no longer have a deep need to explain or define resurrection. I only want to stand before the Mystery that gives hope and speaks the final word of love. I want to enter the Mystery that both shatters and completes me.  Join me there. We need the experience of resurrection for the facing of these times.


The Power of our Stories

Yesterday we said these words in our Seder meal:  “Laughter and tears life and death, good and evil – these are bound  irrevocably together. We bless them together for we know that with without death we would not fully value life. Without tears we would not fully value laughter. As we learn to maximize the good and valuable, let us  remember the evil we would reject, lest it creep, unrecognized, back into our presence.”

Has Pharaoh crept back into power? In our day ‘pharaohs’ are the ones who live in luxury while families struggle to make ends meet. ‘Pharaohs’ are those who get tax cuts while the most vulnerable lose benefits like meals-on-wheels, childcare assistance, reproductive healthcare, social security, and disability benefits. ‘Pharaohs’ are the ones who wrangle power from the people and centralize it among friends and family.

Today I wonder how we can celebrate the journey to freedom when Pharaoh skulks around every corner working hard to corrode our freedoms. Pharaoh lives in the White House, in the Senate and House. Pharaoh now resides on the Supreme Court.

So how do we become free? We remember our history and tell those stores along with new stories as we begin again our journey to freedom. For those of us in the United States our stories are of our constitution and bill of rights, and stories of our march toward the liberation of all: the abolition movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the movement for LGBTQ rights, for immigrant rights. These are the stories we need to remember

How do we become free? We wake up for the hundredth morning and grope for words to describe what is wrong. We engage in small heroic acts of disobedience until our disparate voices come together into the cry of the people. We continue to move forward even though the way looks impossible and pharaoh nips at our heels.

We open our doors and make ourselves see the crimes of rape, violence, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and the dehumanization of those called ‘other’ who are really our sisters and brothers and friends. And we care enough to act.

We have begun. We are marching and speaking and writing and calling and voting. We are wading into a sea and we are in it up to our necks. But our stories give up hope and tell us we will make a way through to the other side. So let’s keep telling our stories and singing our stories as we travel on the road to liberation. Let the children of today represented by the Children’s Choir of Boston sing a story for us and inspire us not to let anyone turn us ’round on this journey.

 

 

 

Am I Spiritual Enough?

This week I had the honor of having my blog  shared in an online group of fellow women clergy. I was excited until I reread what I had posted. Argh! Another political post where I talked about our nation’s need to repeat the part of our history that expresses the ideals upon which we are founded. It wasn’t bad. But was it spiritual? Did I share anything worthy of my clergy-sisters’ time and attention?

I wrestled with this a while. Some of my concerns were clearly ego. My online connection with other clergywomen is vitally important to me. What would they think? Even more important, am I spiritual enough for my cohorts in ministry?

I wondered if I am spiritual enough for myself. Here is what I rediscovered:

– spirituality has a million expressions

– whether I mention Godde or not, Godde is my ground of being (thanks, Tillich) When I act consciously I reflect my understanding of and relationship with the Divine.

– if I am not fighting injustice, concerned about ‘the least of these’ then I am not expressing my understanding, relationship, and experience of Godde.

– I would not be so passionately engaged in current politics if I didn’t name the evils of oppression, racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, ageism, and the rape of the earth and sea and sky.

Because I am a Christian I will continue to speak and act out against the policies and actions of the current administration. I may not name Godde or Christ in each post, but I have reminded myself that I am following in a Way of peace and justice for humankind.

So I may not mention Godde. I may not thump on a Bible, defend a theological precept or church doctrine (actually I don’t do those things, anyway) but I will continue to live in such a way works for a world in which the hungry are fed, the homeless housed, the naked clothed, the oppressed set free, the prisoner liberated, and the earth protected.

It is good to trust that my clergy sisters know this. I am grateful my post was shared and I am even more grateful for the opportunity  to remind myself that I am spiritual enough.

“Are You Ready? Come Go With Me”

women's march

Today we pack our belongings – enough to last for three days. Not so much meager as essential. Take only what you need. Underwear, shirts, a pair of jeans, portable phone charger, black sharpie, metro pass, ID, gas money.

In the morning we load up the car. We will wipe the sleep from our eyes and suck down coffee as we face early traffic. It will be a long drive. And we will laugh and sing, pray and cry. Mostly we will feel both our connections and our shared fears.

I am not afraid of dying so much. And perhaps I am being over-dramatic but a friend called this morning and asked if I were sure I wanted to go. There could be violence, he warned. And this, too, is new for a seasoned marcher like me. This march may be more like Montgomery and Selma than the peaceful marches  for women’s rights, against the war, for civil rights, for gay rights that I have been a part of… this might be different.

I am not so much afraid of dying but it doesn’t mean I do not want to live. The Way in which I follow, the one whose life is my roadmap lets me know there are things worse than dying. Not standing for the disenfranchised, whether or not I am one of that number,  is worse than keeping ‘safe’. And what is ‘keeping safe’ any way if I abandon my core principles.

My dad was a soldier. He put his life on the line many days for many years. He, too, taught me that it is important to live in service to something greater than yourself. And he taught me that being brave and being afraid are intricately entwined. He even went so far as to tell me that if I wasn’t afraid then I would not proceed with caution and that was just plain stupid.

No matter the outcome of this  testament to the values we hold sacred, the standing together matters. I will stand with you, my friends, and I will stand for you.

There is a song from my younger days that the Staple Singers sang. It keeps running through my head and it is important for our time as well. I’ve posted the lyrics here. It is my invitation to the nation: come go with me. Go to Washington. Go to your local march. We cannot wait to stand and be counted.

If you’re ready come go with me

No hatred

Will be tolerated

Peace love all between the races

Love is the only transportation

To where there’s communications

If you’re ready come go with me

The boat is after

The ever here to there

No wars will ever be declared

No economical exploitation

No political domination

Take your evil

Come go with me

Genocide

Get ready

Troublemaker

You better get ready now

Liars

I’m waiting on ya

 

 

 

Songwriters

BANKS, HOMER / HAMPTON, CARL MITCHELL / JACKSON, RAYMOND E.

 

 

 

Can Gratitude Be Taught?

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Can gratitude be taught?  As my beloved mentor, Ben Kline would have replied, “Well, yes and no.”

When I was small I learned the ‘magic words’: please, thank you and you’re welcome. ‘Please’ when I wanted something, ‘thank you’ when I was given something, and ‘you’re welcome’ when I was thanked by another. The ‘thank you’ I learned to say was polite but it was also the first seed of expressed gratitude sown in my psyche.

While I didn’t always experience gratitude I was taught the practice of gratitude.  I learned to accept the value of a gift freely given. There were times when I had physical responses to gifts: a warmth, a fullness, a knowing that this was enough. A peace, even. Through the lenses of my experience, I have come to recognize gratitude as a spiritual event.

Today, I practice gratitude even when I don’t ‘feel’ it. I say grace at every meal. Sometimes I take a moment to center and open to the gift. Sometimes I pray by rote. The practice keeps me open to the possibility of the experience. And the experience reorients me to God, to the world, and to myself.

Can gratitude be taught? Well,  yes, we can teach the practice of gratitude and no, we cannot teach the experience of gratitude. But in teaching the practice we lay the groundwork for the experience.

Those Damn Angels

fear-no-dan-skognes-insurance-finance-investments-motivation-blogger-speaker-entrepreneurThe electoral college voted on December 20th and something in me died.

Okay, maybe not died, but broke, shifted, was mangled.

Donald Trump will be our next president.

Some part of me, some subconscious part, some kid part believed we were better than that and clung to unreasonable hope. I really didn’t think I was hopeful. I really thought I accepted the outcome of the election. I really had not.

And I spiraled into grief and hopelessness and fear…

What is going to happen now? We will have a president with YUGE ethical challenges, hair trigger reactions to perceived slights, surrounded by right wing extremists, with a vision of our nation that is antithetical to everything I know and believe.

What are we going to do? How are we going to face the threat to this nation and to our own humanity? I am frightened. Very frightened.

And it came to pass that the days went by and the time came to read the Christmas story. And the angels appeared and said, “Fear not.” “Don’t be Afraid”. In the midst of poverty and oppression, when a people could imagine no way out, these freaking angels said, “Don’t be afraid”.

Screw that.

Here’s the thing. They were right. They are right. Whenever someone reminds or encourages to ‘not be afraid’ take it in. Listen. Breathe into it. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to be afraid of. There are. Many, many things. But we must take the challenge to heart.

Because fear paralyzes. Fear defeats us before our enemies fire a shot across the bow.

So, Fear Not. Use the scrambled energy within to stand and speak and work and move. There is more that needs to be challenged, checked, defeated, engaged than ever in our lifetime. We cannot let fear defeat us before the fight is even begun.

 

We Need A Little Christmas…


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Not here we said.

Never here.

But it is here

and it is now.

Wealth so repulsive, unethical, self-serving

Built on the backs of the hungry, the hurting, the oppressed,

the left out and left behind.

Power so arrogant as to despise kindness and human dignity.

 

We need a little Christmas right this very minute

We need a vision of the beauty in creation

the ethic of vulnerability

the power of love.

We need a story that emerges in the midst of

an oppressive state

corrupt power

religious factions.

We need a story of perseverance

Right over might

Love over hate

Goodness over evil

Truth over lies.

 

America is built on ideas that are important to hold on to and that many have forgotten. We are built on ideas that require a strong commitment to diversity, to a free press and undiluted truth. Assumed in our constitution, in all our founding documents is the idea that we will remain in dialogue. That respect for one another grounds us in a way of being. That relationship is necessary and disagreement is always in context of relationship. The concept of the ‘loyal opposition’ assumes we all seek the greater good for the nation.

We have lost that relationship. Lost it because, in no small part, the right is now so radicalized (see: Tea Party, white supremacists) that finding ‘a third way’ is no longer the goal. All or nothing is the goal. It has rent us in two.

So when I, as a pastor, say ‘we need a little Christmas’ I mean we need to remember the source of our faith journey. It begins in poverty, it values the outsider (moral, cultural, racial, etc) and it overcomes oppression, hate, and fear with love. Our story invites us to a kind of love that infuses a deep sense of self worth, the courage to resist, and the willingness to sacrifice.

Now the rubber meets the road. We must  live into ideas greater than ourselves and our own self-interest. For my fellow Christians, this season I urge us to embrace our story of hope, power, and promise. And let us honor faith traditions other than our own who journey beside us as they uniquely express the love of God.

The story of this nation isn’t over.

The story of the incarnation isn’t over.

It is just beginning.

Our hope is being born in the muck,

in the stench of poverty

in the belly of the oppressive beast.

We must allow hope to be born in us

with power and  passion

for the facing of this hour.

We’re All in This Together

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There is one thing we can’t afford to do. We cannot afford to say there is only one right way to respond to growing hatred and fear in our nation. If we do we will lose the gifts, the energy, the voices of many of our allies.

              We are an aggregate of women, men, non-binary folk, African-American, white, Mexican, Middle Eastern, straight, LGBTQ, young and old, with differing abilities. And if you don’t feel included in the list above, my apologies – because you belong on that list and we are in this together with you, too.

We have a lot to learn about one another. About races other than our own, other faiths than our own – or people who are outside any religious tradition –genders other than our own, sexual identities other than our own, experiences other than our own… you get my drift. All of us are valuable and have something important to contribute.

It may small daily acts, it might be phone calls, it might be marching in the streets, it might be attending anti-racism workshops, it might be offering a safe space for others to speak or grieve, it might be standing up for others even when you, yourself are terrified. It might be becoming politically educated and politically involved. It might even be wearing a safety pin to let people know you are a safe person and that you will stand with them.

We need to empower one another to speak with the voices we have, however disparate. We may need to educate others who stand with us now who not have been visible before.

Are micro-aggressions real?  Absolutely.

Does misogyny need to be recognized and addressed cross-culturally?  Without a doubt.

Is now the time to confront our own internalized homophobia? Of course.

Do we need to recognize and allow ourselves to be challenged by our different beliefs, cultures, and experiences?  For sure.

But if we forget that what binds us is a passion for justice and freedom, if we don’t affirm the humanity of each one, if we refuse one another’s gifts, then we are not nourishing a sustained commitment to one another for this fight.

So here’s my point: we are all in this together. Let us make room. Let us encourage one another to stand and to work in the ways we are able. Let us honor the different abilities we have to do different kinds of work. We have  to listen through the things that that trigger us and engage where necessary but we cannot let our differences stop us.

What we share is a commitment. If they fracture us, then they win.

The Ravages of Fear

alt-right-protestersThis morning I asked my friend, Erin why some people have a problem with political correctness. She told me, “They live in a different world than you and I do.” As we unpacked her statement over coffee and muffins, she talked about the fears people live with. Fear of losing their job. Fear of crime. Fear of things they don’t understand. Fear of change. Fear of the other.

If that is true, and I believe it is, then I understand the ravages of fear. Fear seems to give permission to behave badly. To lash out. To take a protective stance that may put others at risk.

Fear is the enemy within. It dehumanizes us to live in fear. It sucks out our compassion and generosity. We react from the reptilian part of our brain that either runs and hides or lashes out as we respond to perceived threats. And when we are afraid almost everything  feels like a threat.

My spiritual tradition, Christianity, invites me to a unique response to fear: love. I admit it is the struggle of a lifetime. It is counter-intuitive. It is also empowering. To love in the face of fear taps into a power so much greater than myself. When I live in love even the fear of death is trumped.  As my sacred text says: “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.”   1 John 4:18

The right plays on peoples’ fears and diminishes us a nation and belittles the concept of political correctness  even though ‘political correctness’ is just a term for kindness and respect for those who are different. I can’t be kind if I live in fear. That sends me down another rabbit hole: Fundamentalism plays on people’s fear of hell  doubles down with anti-political correctness. The thinking seems to be that  if I am kind and respectful to those who are different from me in their beliefs or understanding of the world, I am putting my immortal soul at risk.

One the other hand, the left seems to fear truth-telling. I began to hear the term ‘alt-right’ to refer to white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other extremists, during this election cycle. I cannot help but wonder why we are using ‘soft’ terms to refer to provocateurs and proponents of violence and hatred. We need to name ultra right extremists for what they are. Not out of fear. Not out of some sense of vengeance or retaliation, but because hatred needs to be rooted out of our culture and identity. Hatred, like fear, is an aspiration of the far right that we need to take seriously and oppose vehemently.

If fear is the opposite of love and hatred is the opposite of compassion then let us choose not to hate and choose not to fear. Let us be the radical left that names and stands against that which threatens life and liberty and risks kindness and compassion to those who are different from us- by nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability,  or race.

 

 

Faith and Forgiveness

ForgivenessThe truth is it is easy not to forgive. When I don’t forgive it feels like I have a protective layer against further emotional aggression. When I don’t forgive my anger feels righteous (whether it is or not). When I don’t forgive there is no way to siphon off my anger.

When I forgive someone who has hurt me deeply I kind of resent it. Perhaps that is not forgiveness. I would rather say it is not completed forgiveness. It has taken me a while to understand forgiveness as solely my internal process. Let me break that down:

Solely, mine alone, without any action or reaction on the part of another, mine to wrestle with, mine to resolve, mine to engage without expectation of changed relationship with anyone other than myself.

Internal, the change that forgiveness makes is in me. In me. In me. Forgiving changes my physiology. It changes how I view the world. It reorients me to something greater than myself, a way that my faith calls me to move in the world.

Process, I have come to understand that forgiveness for any unjust or emotionally harmful event is not a one-time thing. Sometimes I have to forgive a person who betrayed or hurt me several times a day. Each time I do, I move toward wholeness. Process is choosing over and over again to be the person my faith calls me to be. Sometimes I resent that I am choosing to forgive, but I choose it anyway. The process requires time and emotional energy to continue to make the choice  until it becomes my default response to painful memories, lost dreams, and dashed hopes.

I know I only do this because of my faith. It is easy to hold anger because the anger seduces me into believing I am protecting myself. It is my faith that instructs me to be vulnerable, to change the world by first changing myself. It is my faith that gives me the strength to continue the process of forgiveness because I don’t always gravitate toward forgiveness.