Category Archives: progressive christianity

Comfort in Uncomfortable Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you awoke to a clench in your gut
a shiver in your chest
an ache in your heart
trust me, those feelings belong there.
Every day the assault on our ideals continues.
We question who we are
grieve who we have been
and anguish over
who we are becoming.

The day of Trump is upon us
because we, as a  people,
have been willfully ignorant
unconsciously arrogant
and unable to concede our complicity.
The consequences are upon us.

But let me speak tenderly to you this day:
This wilderness
this political wasteland
will come to an end.

We will not be purified
but we will be released
to try again
to begin again
to make the circuitous
ongoing
journey toward freedom.

Let today be the day of our dreaming
and let our dreams
be our guideposts
Make way for hope,
make way for justice
make way for Godde
to come again

 

 

Isaiah 40:1, 3-5
Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your Godde.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
 make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
 and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
 and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of Godde shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,

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.

 

Will You Do One Right Thing Each Day?


If you are overwhelmed by the events of the day
or the tweet of the hour
or the horror of the tragedies crossing your TV screen
or the past three years…

Do not let it freeze your heart into inaction
because when despair wins
humanity loses,
when despair wins
the people suffer
when despair wins
our beautiful, necessary voices
are silenced.

The Talmud teaches us :
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it” (PIvot).

Today and each day remember
that you are not alone
you are not required do it all.
that others are doing the work
in times and places you may not see.
Remember that every one right thing you do each day
joins with the one right thing that thousands
and hundreds of thousands are doing each day
to create a tsunami of change.

So what one right thing will you do?
Will you register voters?
work for a campaign?
write letters?
march in the streets?
Will you pray and will you give your prayers feet?

Will you do one right thing each day
so that together
we turn the ship of history
and point its bow
away
from the evil that threatens to consume us
and toward
the promise of justice?

Will you do one right thing each day
so that I do not feel alone
and your neighbor does not feel alone
and YOU do not feel alone
so that none of us feel powerless
and all of us can lean into the hope
we are growing together
for our shared future ?

Will you do one right thing each day?

 

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.

 

Thinking about Racism and Wild Goose

Let’s talk about racism.
We don’t have to be perfect.
But, friends, we must do better than this.

If a critique of Wild Goose is that not enough people of color are involved, then let’s talk about why. I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before, but it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating. Until we get it a whole lot better than we have.

First of all, kudos for the speakers and presenters of color who were invited and did come.
Thank you to Otis Moss,II, William Barber, Yvette Flunder, and others for bringing your voices and visions.

But that is not enough.

Here is the least of what needs to happen next:
50% of the planning committee needs to be people of color
50% of all presenters need to be people of color
Every panel on any topic needs to include people of color
50% of the conversations in the convo hall need to be moderated by people of color.
We need to ask people of color what they need.
There need to be safe spaces for people of color to gather without including white people.

As I reflect on my time at Wild Goose, where I was a co-creator, my intent is not to disparage  the event, but to continue the important conversation that needs to happen as Wild Goose moves forward. I believe that those involved with this festival are beginning to understand the importance of confronting racism in our nation, our culture, churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Moving forward, into the kin-dom that is here, now, within and between each of us means doing the difficult work of dismantling privilege.

As Trump launches his upcoming campaign fueled by racism run rampant, we cannot pat ourselves on the back for ‘making an effort’.  The stakes are too high and the cost too great.

One of the best things I heard at Wild Goose was a presenter telling us that we can’t claim innocence, as in  ‘I don’t do that’ or ‘my church is not like that’ to  give us a pass. Let us instead talk about the impact of racism on all of us. And those of us who are white and benefit by the unmerited color of our skin, need to realize the impact and privilege we benefit from to the horrible denigration of people of color. If white people cannot even acknowledge how we benefit from a racist  religious, social, and political culture and find it to be abhorrent, then we are lost.

If the people who come to Wild Goose with hearts and minds open cannot wrap their minds around the urgency of this matter,  who will? If we can’t dismantle racism in this community how will we do it in our broader world?   This is my clarion call.

 

 

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.

Broken Spirit Seeks Hope

Yesterday I was at a gathering of ‘good Christian folk’ who all seemed to have good intentions. They would say they were loving and faithful. They were the neighbors who live down the street with such different lives from mine, uncomplicated by any urgency for justice because they don’t live outside of its possibilities, and  are privileged in ways they can’t comprehend or acknowledge.  They were ‘nice’.  My friend reminds me that ‘nice’ comes from two Latin words, ‘ne scion’, meaning ‘to not know’.

But that wasn’t the point. Some would tell me I shouldn’t have been talking politics. Unfortunately, that thinking ends up perpetuating the myth that we can’t have the important conversations and that we can’t work through our disagreements.  We have fostered generations of folks who cannot or will not listen to one another. Even within their own families.

I broke that taboo yesterday and shared my fears about our current political situation. As a student of history I talked about the parallels between some of what we are seeing today and the advent of Nazi Germany.  The response was, and I quote, “All politicians do it, they are all alike.”

This is where my spirit is broken: she could not see any difference between the evil of children in cages, the rise of rampant racism, the control of women’s bodies and autonomy, violence against members of the LGBTQ community,  and common corruption. Has Trump and the Freedom Caucus (sic) so normalized abhorrent behavior that it is seen as acceptable political discourse? How can I not challenge the nice, Christian lady who is blind to her privilege?

I am sad and frightened and when I meet people who are nice and blind, I struggle. How can we move forward? Where is the hope? I cannot stay in this place, though it is important for us to live with the sadness or we deny and belittle the current reality. What we cannot do, what we must not do, is despair. Despair kills our ability to act and destroys our ability to hope.

We cannot live without hope. We can be broken, tired, grieving, perplexed, and overwhelmed, but our souls shrivel and die when there is no hope. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann once said, “Hope  is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion.”

To my fellow broken spirits: keep seeking hope. Refuse to accept the ‘reading of reality’ of the majority – even the ‘nice and blind’ majority. We must keep our eyes open to what is in front of us and name it for what it is. Yesterday I said out loud to the ‘nice’ lady that there is a difference between corruption and evil.

Seek hope not as a light and airy feeling, but as the quiver in your voice when naming and challenging evil. Hope is not polite. It is grieving, broken people refusing to accept that we cannot be better than this. So stand, or kneel beneath the weight of the evil perpetuated in our names, and refuse to be blinded by whatever privilege you carry. Keep your eyes open and do not normalize the current moment. That is the hope we must carry into the world.

 

 

 

Waiting for Godde

I’m no Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and would never pretend to be but I feel like I’m in the middle of his play only it’s happening in real life. I’m in that  in-between-place, having conversations of the meaning of our current reality and  waiting for Godde ,who never seems to show up.

When Trump was first elected the mantra was we mustn’t become inured to the absurdities and atrocities- of language, attitudes, and policies. We must not let it become the ‘new normal.’ Somewhere along the line I had to detach enough to keep my sanity and to keep from sinking into the depressive, palpable miasma of every day news. All this in spite of the fact that I am involved in activism from fighting voter suppression, working on the campaigns of good candidates, writing letters, making phone calls, marching… and struggling not to burn out from all those absolutely important activities.

But the train is bearing down and we are in a struggle for the track switch.    Whoever controls it will determine  the outcome that  will define for generations who were are now and the legacy we leave behind. Will we continue to do the flawed and messy work of expanding freedom and justice? Or will fear and ignorance transform us into yet another authoritarian travesty? Will we make room for our glorious bouquet of differences or will we become absurdly invested in a kind of sameness that destroys our humanity?

These are questions I ask myself every day. And sometimes I wonder, where is Godde in the midst of this?  I am not the first to ask nor will I be the last. In prayer and even when I cannot pray my answer comes. Godde shares our desire for justice, walks with us in our fears, and shares our grief and anger.

And I know this, too: I know that I and we are Godde embodied in the world.  My arms and hands and legs, your arms and hands and legs are Godde’s. A miracle isn’t going to drop out of the sky. I am the miracle. You are the miracle. We are the miracle. We will find a way to pull the switch that will change the tracks.
And even if we cannot throw the switch in time, hate and fear are never the final word. The Christian story tells it this way: death, itself, does not have the final word.
Love is the final word.

Waiting for Godde means waiting for myself and each other.
Waiting for Godde means showing up as the embodiment of Godde.
Waiting for Godde means acting  Love and justice.
Waiting for Godde means speaking truth to power.
Waiting for Godde  means living our truth without fear,  that Love is the first word and the last word.  

 

To My UMC Siblings: Follow Your Gift

Let me begin by saying I was once a United Methodist, baptized as a teenager into the communion. I left when the church didn’t reflect my commitment to and passion for civil rights and women’s rights and against the Viet Nam War. At 17 and today, the most urgent needs of humanity ground my understanding of a life in Christ.

At 25, as a lesbian, feminist, justice-seeker I experienced a call to ministry. The year was 1977. My book tells the story of how I figured out what that meant. Well, I still am, all these years later, nonetheless…  may I offer the insights of my journey?

I became a Presbyterian (now PCUSA) because their structure and theology, in theory, offered a way to challenge their then anti-gay stance. I learned a lot about what it means to challenge a church you love. Today, with love, offering comfort to your grief, and standing with you in your passion and anger, I want to offer whatever small wisdom I have garnered:

The most important thing you can do is honor one another by holding the tension that there is no ‘one right way’ to respond to the events of the General Conference.  Some will be called to stay. Some will be called to leave. Some will be kicked out. Some will leave their faith – and perhaps not just the UMC but the Christian faith. All these choices must be honored because each experience of faith in community is different, no matter how shared.

For some, what has happened reflects continued abuse and rejection. It is okay to leave.
For some, it is a family argument. It’s okay to stay.
For some it is a betrayal. It’s okay to question or even reject Christianity.
What matters is that you remain authentic to your journey.

Some of you have the gifts to stay and fight: the intellect, the history, the strength, the spiritual grounding, to take on an institution that summoned you to your spiritual journey. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

Some of you have the gifts to leave. The intellect, history, the strength, the spiritual grounding to strike off into uncharted territory. No telling where it might take you- to what denomination or if you will sail untethered. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

Some of you have the gifts to refuse to be abused or betrayed: the intellect, the history, the strength, the spiritual grounding to remove yourself from those things that have hurt and controlled you. While your experience is not necessarily a universal one,  many have been abused or betrayed by institutional Christian power structures. If this is your truth, speak it. You are not obligated to protect your abuser. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

As your journey through this time of anger and grief, please know that you are held in the prayers of many in your city and state and around the world. The answers you discover as you move through this painful time must be your answers. There are no wrong answers. Your history and your gifts must direct you. However you proceed, may you always be held gently in the heart of Godde.

 

Do You Love?

Today we celebrate love
and my first question is:
Who do you love?

Who do I love?
And before that question is the question:
What is love?

I’m going philosophical on you today.
These are meant to be big questions
not small ones.
These are questions
without firm answers
except maybe to star-struck lovers
and new mothers and fathers…

This week I am preaching  the Sermon on the Mount
not just the beatitudes
but three long chapters of teaching
that includes the challenge for
my interior life
to match my actions
to love those
who I might otherwise
hate
to risk a kind of living
that is as dangerous
as it is
difficult.

So today, I ask myself:
Who do I love?
And part of me answers:
no one.
And part of me answers:
everyone.

The whole of me answers:
my daughter, with all my heart
my family, to the best of my ability
my friends, who have refused to
abandon me.
But am I that small?

So I reach further back
and ask:
What is love?
Is it feeling?
An intention?
Or is it the will toward goodness
for every life?
Isn’t love the activity of justice?
The care of and for each life
no matter their doctrine,
skin color,
gender orientation
nationality?
Isn’t Divine love
what propels our planet
through the cosmos
and insists on recognition
in the most unseemly places?

This day of hearts and flowers
lovers and dreamers
is also a day that invites us
to think bigger
act larger
open wider
to the Love
that both drives  planets
and searches out our deepest
secret places
to insinuate itself
into our beings.

So if you are buying flowers for a loved one today
or strewing rose petals across the bed…
if your heart is racing as you hold the image
of your beloved in your imagination
let the feelings  grow
let them grow big enough
to hold the whole world
in it’s embrace.
So that what thrives
deep within you
grows the bigger question:
‘how will I love the world?’