Category Archives: progressive christianity

Dear Friends… It’s the end of the world as we know it

Dear Friends,
As a pastor I know that  one of the most important aspects of ministry is to offer hope. I must confess that sometimes when I wake in the morning, see the light of dawn breaking through my window, hear the first birds greeting the sun, feel cold water slushing  my face as I complete my ablutions, run downstairs to take the dog out, and wait for the aroma of coffee brewing that I forget to hope. You’d think with all those sensory blessings hope would come naturally and eagerly, but it doesn’t.

I blog each week with an offering of hope that sometimes I have to dive deep to find. Because here’s the truth: it’s the end of the world as we know it. As I wrote that last sentence I realized that  this is the hope I can offer. It is terrifying and promising. We stand on a precipice: we will either descend into a scruffy form of nazism in which the state will institutionalize the elimination of marginalized people or we will harness our power to make change.

From now until the election I will write to you each week. Letters of encouragement. Letters filled with rage. Letters offering hope. But be sure of this, this election is the most important election of our lives. White people once saw racism ‘through a glass darkly’. Men once saw sexism, heterosexuals saw homosexism, citizens saw immigrants – all through a glass darkly. If our eyes are not opened now. If we cannot see the dehumanization of others. If we close our eyes to the violence perpetrated on black bodies through out our history. If we allow ourselves to be blind to those truths, then we will not be a part of bringing about necessary, long-overdue change. Even worse, we will be allowing evil to persist.

What hope can I offer you today? If we dare to open our eyes and open our hearts, then we have the hope of a new dawn, a new reality that we must do everything in our power to usher in. The hope of hearing the other, even if the reality they speak is different from our own. The hope when we offer our hearts and our bodies to that cry for justice that is truly sacred. The hope the comes when we both trust and live into knowing that love is greater than hate.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. Thanks be to Godde.
Connie

Liberated by History

I have been taught history (a subject I love) in a myriad of ways. Fortunately, not as a series of dates to be memorized but as political movements and change influenced by  disease, technological, medical advances, religion, nationalism, power, and personality.

In seminary I had the great good fortune of reading Justo Gonzalez’ two volume history of the Christian Church. Imagine telling the story of the early Christian church through the challenges that ignited differing theologies and their struggle for primacy and the intersection of politics and nation building with growth of Christianity. HIs history telling is a well researched and clear-eyed exploration of how the political and theological world as we know it came into being.

I wish we taught history this way so that people could see the development and  movement of ideas. Could engage with ideas about how we are connected and  how today is built on what has gone before.I wish we were able to accept historical figures as bound by their time and examine how they were a part of moving us and our ideals, understandings, and values into our present.

As a working theologian, I am always aware that I am in dialogue with ideas that have come before and that my new perspective can offer correction or challenge. But the Ideas of those who lived and struggled before us are important because they open the dialogue.  Liberation, Black, Womanist, Feminist, Process,  or any other theology does not exist in a vacuum. We are all a part of global, historical conversations about faith and our understanding of the universe.  We are informed by science, history, and the constant influx of new information, new generations and populations. For me, Christianity is not about what people believed or how they lived over two thousand years ago. It is about what remains relevant at its core. How the truths of the faith engage with present reality.

Is it not important to know that the world view of first century Christians was very different from our world view today? How can it not be. The same with our politics. It is important to ask the questions of the framers of the Constitution. How were they bound by history and culture? How did they contribute to the conversation that has moved us into where we are today in the struggle for freedom? Do we need to reject what we now see as absolutely unacceptable? of course. But I truly believe we must also see ourselves in a historical relationship that, by its very nature, encourages the tough conversations we are having as a nation today around race, gender, personhood, and human rights.

As a nation, our history is built on what is often called ‘the Great Experiment.’  Rather than reject what and who have come before us, let us do what all experimenters do: build on what works and reject that which does not. This nation is built on glorious ideas tried for the first time in thousands of years (if you think of Athens as a democracy, and then it makes my point that American democracy took much of what worked in Athenian democracy, discarded the rest, and built on it for the then modern age.) We must move forward informed by new voices, differing experiences, new ways of perceiving both the mistakes and the triumphs of our historical past.

May our new understandings of history liberate us to the work of making real the promises of our shared dream.

 

Messy Spirituality

Loving Godde is messy.
I often find that people tend to think that being ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ means being at peace, centered, above hardships when they occur, and being without internal conflicts. My experience is very, very different. I invite you to join me in exploring a kind of relationship with Godde that is large enough to hold your grief, your despair, your doubts, your anger, you hatred, and every feeling that places you off the chart of what is considered spiritual.

Last week I wrote about my hate. Well, that’s certainly not seen as spiritual. But hate is also a spiritual event. How it moves me and focuses me makes it a spiritual event. It places me squarely in the middle of a personal struggle that I want to work out with Godde.
My experience is that being authentic is more important than being what is expected.  If I want a vibrant, engaged relationship with Godde I start where I am. Struggle where I am. Tell the truth to myself and to Godde. Then I’m being spiritual.

I am not being spiritual when I say what people think I should say or believe what people think I should believe. I am not being spiritual when I put a bandaid over a gaping hole in my soul. I am being spiritual when I lay myself down before Godde with all of who I am and with the arrogance of one who knows herself to be well-loved.

I am willing to say things that make people uncomfortable because I am only  ‘spiritual’ when I am my most authentic self.  I am a cussing, passionate, tender, justice-seeker engaged with Godde’s world. Godde meets me there. It’s where we hammer things out. It’s where I am challenged and transformed – even when I dig in my heels and raise my fist. Godde is never absent. When I am as authentic as I can be, when I am present with myself, I am present with Godde.
Join me here. Step off the high dive of your fears. The water is fine. For my Christian friends I would add, splash around in the grace of your baptism. Those waters are a buoy, not an undertow.

Here’s my altar call:
When Godde says ‘do not be afraid’, believe it.
Don’t be afraid to let your spiritual life be rough and tumble at times.
Quiet and centered at times. But mostly and always, authentic.

If you believe that you are a beloved child of Godde,  act like it.

Hope is Not Pretty

Hope is not pretty.
It is not the shine on patent leather shoes
or the flowers on Easter bonnets.
It is not an airy sense of pleasure
in your chest that says
everything will be okay.

Hope is the guttural cry of a people
struggling to rise from despair.
It is the fierce refusal to accept
hatred as the grounding of life.
It is looking into the eyes of  that hatred
with the grace of transparency.
It is the deep, deep longing
to bring about justice.
It  is trembling with fear and
not giving into terror.

Hope makes beautiful
our broken and ugly places,
confers power
challenges despair.
So let us hope
Let us hope passionately.
Let us speak and act
and stand and march
and live into the hope
that calls us to create a just future
out of the rubble of despair.

Invitation to Easter of the Un-believer

My friend, Maggie, could put a dead stick in the ground and it would grow.

Her husband, Ernie, worked on the line at the local GM plant and Maggie made their home. Their son was born with cerebral palsy. Maggie and Ernie left the church the day women from the congregation visited after Butch’s birth and ask why God was punishing them and what was their sin. Maggie was having none of that. She channeled her energy into helping start the CP Center here in Atlanta where she volunteered with the children every day. Then  Butch died of pneumonia when he was 16.

Their world got smaller and revolved around their older child, a sassy, smart, independent daughter named Ginny. As their long-time next door neighbor, I became a part of their family.  Ginny died from breast cancer in her early 50’s. When Ginny died, I was fresh from seminary and had the difficult privilege of walking with  them through her illness and death. We met to talk about her funeral and  they decided  on  a brief service at the cemetery. Maggie wanted the 23rd Psalm read, other than that she wanted little mention of God. It would already be tense because I (a woman!) was leading the service and their gathered family (absent during Ginny’s illness and otherwise) were pretty rigid fundamentalists. Indeed, they managed to find inappropriate ways and times to comment on how wrong it was that I was presiding at the service. Would that they had kept their thoughts to themselves and comforted  Maggie  and Ernie in their gaping grief.

It was during that time that I got a lot of clarity about Easter. It has nothing to do with what you believe about the resurrection of the body, nothing to do with what you believe about anything. It is the powerful experience beyond words: that death is not final, that justice is not finished, and that love responds to  our struggles with hope beyond our wildest imagination.

Maggie taught me not to demean Easter with doctrine.

Today, I invite you to Easter beyond belief.
Easter is the uneasy time when our hearts are broken open and we stand in the naked beauty of unknowing, bathed in a grace that neither requires answers nor rejects our questions.

Today I invite you to the Easter of the Un-believer.

A Lenten Invitation

Dear Friends,
Okay, it’s after Ash Wednesday when these plans should have been made.
But it’s not too late to add a practice and it’s never too late to begin.
Many of us who give something up for Lent don’t experience spiritual grounding
or awakening
or inspiration.
I, myself, have given myself a congratulatory pat on the back for giving up coffee or caffeine or dessert… and even back in the day, cigarettes.
I once belonged to a community that fasted ‘religiously’ during Lent and had a blow-out party on Easter whose excesses had me questioning the practice, if not my sanity.

In the interim I’ve learned that my Lenten journey is best practiced as an act of mindfulness. This is an invitation to a certain kind of mindfulness.
Please join me in giving up plastic for Lent. At least as much. as you can as often as you can.
–  keep your grocery bags in the. care
– buy produce without putting it in a plastic bag
– refrain from drinking from plastic bottles: try reusable containers or cans
– most of all don’t forget to recycle what plastic (and cans) you are unable to refrain from using.

Let every act, even those that feel like deprivation, be an occasion for  mindfulness of how we are all walking together on this planet. How will you embody Sacred  will in this time? What is it worth to you to lose convenience and gain connection?

This is my invitation to you. May we all be blessed by our choices this Holy Season,

Connie

 

 

Hope Creeps In

When I was a child
hope exploded each Christmas
like a  natal star,
twinkled in the colored lights,
enchanted in carols of joy
Expected
Anticipated
Delivered each Christmas morning
without exception.

But now I am a woman
and have put away childish things.
Now I search for hope
through a glass darkly
and hope sidles into
my faithless heart
refusing to be denied.

I have put away my love of tinsel
of sweets
and excess
and in the darkness of this hour
hope creeps under my door
and offers itself
to my fear
my grief
and my  disillusionment
with the unexpected power
of love.

People who live
in the darkness of our times
can see a great light.
A promise
A new way of being
a challenge to our despair
that evil cannot overcome.

May we accept
Godde’s invitation to hope
in this holy season.
though we only see
its dim reflection
in our busy celebrations.
Hope is seeking us
in the  dark corners
of our deepest need.
.

 

 

*a reflection on Christmas and 1 Cor. 13:11-13 and Isaiah 9:2

 

 

Where is Christmas?

My halls are not decked.
No tree.
No wreath.
A few colorful cookies baked.
Their scent long dispersed.

My heart is heavy with grief
over children in cages.
the destruction of democracy
the rise of white nationalism
knowing that we are not reaching toward
points of connection
but nurturing
chasms of departure.

Families flounder
beneath the burden of gifts
and Amazon sells sneakers
to the haunting tune of Ave Maria.
And I am lost.

But maybe in the asking is the answer.
I will find Christ in a cage
on the streets
in the one who despises
my race or gender
or age or sexuality.
And if I am very fortunate
or very faithful
or both
I will find Christ in those I despise
because this year I cannot find Christmas
in the shops
or the sweets
or the carols
or a rosy faced baby.

So please, Godde, let me find Christ
somewhere with in me
Let me find Christ
somewhere in every person I encounter.
Let me look for Christ in unexpected places
even in my unadorned home
and in the dark corners of my hopelessness
and in the promise I cannot grasp.

Let me find Christ
so that I might rest a moment from my despair
and live into the hope
I am so desperately seeking.

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.