Category Archives: progressive christianity

Loping Toward Advent

 

As we lope toward Advent the days get shorter and nights are longer. Cold seeps in under doors and around windows. We begin to hunker down and turn inward. The gift of the dark is gestation. We turn toward the work of the soul. We wait for a new thing. We wait for light to return. This is what we do each year as we linger in creative hope during  in the Advent season.

These past two years I’ve needed Advent more than ever before. I’ve needed to know that it is okay to sit in the dark. It is important to hope against hope. It is necessary to to do the gestational work that will bring about the birth of change.

This year it would be easy to drown in hopelessness as I see the president’s disregard for the lives of many who sacrificed on behalf of my country. Or to see how he shows no compassion for fellow citizens killed in raging fires in a state that ‘voted against him’. It would be easy to become inured to his hate speech in the name of the United States…

But then the unexpected happened. The creative work of coalition building, of connecting neighbor to neighbor,  of incubating strategies, of growing a movement, birthed in the fullness of its time. And we changed the face of our nation. Women, people of color, people of differing sexualities and faiths, Native Americans and immigrants were lifted up by people in every state.

Our representative body is beginning to look a little more representative: 

We are still living in dark times. There is still work to do. But the light will come again when we do the creative, difficult, exciting, hopeful work of the dark.
But the light is coming, friends. The light is coming.

Worship at the Ballot Box

When I was younger  I heard, as most of us have, that “money is the root of all evil”.  Later, my mom clarified it for me that it was the love of money that was the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) So I set out to not care about money. To be honest, it has led to some problems for me as I enter my theoretical retirement years but the idea stayed with me.
Greed is bad. Loving money looks like this: your time is spent getting money, hoarding money, and protecting your right to both get it  and keep it (by almost any means necessary).

To be perfectly clear, I am referring to Trump, the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVoss, and other self-made oligarchs in the United States but I’m really talking about something bigger than that. I’m talking about the love of money being at the root of many of our current laws and social programs. The White House, Senate,  House, and  Supreme Court have made both policy and law based on how best to accumulate and keep wealth. If those decisions aren’t based in the ethos of the love of money I can’t begin to imagine what would be.
Corporate capitalism has many flaws and when we allow those flaws to go unregulated evil flourishes. The rampant greed on Wall Street and in the boardrooms of major companies is the worship of evil. There, I said it. We are in a world of trouble when our concerns are more for protecting the wealthy than for the welfare of the general population. It trickles down: we don’t fund infrastructure because unless it aids in the trade of goods and services, we don’t fund healthcare because the wealthy will always be able to afford good healthcare, we don’t worry about climate change because the wealthy believe they will have the means and technology to live with its effects.

There is some irony that the 9-11 attack on this nation was on the World Trade Center. The heart of the current values of our nation were metaphorically as well as physically attached. It was a horrific event and a tragic loss of life. It was also a condemnation of what our enemies rightly believe we hold dear.
Sadly, even the poorest among us worship wealth with as much vigor as the richest. Perhaps in the belief that if they worship well enough, right enough, enthusiastically enough,  the God of Greed will reward them. Greed has become so much a state religion that those among us who do not share the belief that money is God are considered heretical. We are hated and feared with all the passion that a fundamentalist of any religion feels for those who do not share their world view.

What we forget, what I was reminded of after Trump’s election, at a worship service at Ebenezer Baptist, is that there are more of us than there are of them. There are more of us for whom issues of money and greed are nuanced. More of us than there are of them who worship at the temple of justice. More of us than there are of them who care for the least of these, who are the least of these, who care for the stranger, the immigrant, the ‘other’.

Right now we need to worship in one voice -Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, Pagans and Spiritual but Not Religious – at the ballot box this coming election.

 

“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

A Sermon for World Communion Sunday

Why is this meal different from every other meal? Some of you might recognize this question from the time you when you celebrated a Passover Seder. The entire Seder is an answer to that question and all the questions that arise from that question.So today, I pose this question: why is this meal different from every other meal?

From the very beginning of the church, the formation of Christian community, communion has been a central part of our worship. Over the past 2000+ years, as the church has grown and morphed and split into denominations, our understanding of the meaning of communion has changed and morphed, expanded and contracted, been used to include or exclude, but always it has been a central and sacred rite.

Good theology is important, because bad theology distorts our understanding of God. We are not saved by good theology nor are we condemned by bad theology. Christianity has never been theologically or doctrinally perfect. We hear preachers urging people to “get back to the faith once delivered.” By this, they mean the early apostolic church – and they assume those churches had a complete and uncorrupted understanding of the faith. The truth is those apostolic churches were not perfect, either. The whole of the New Testament is the story of the struggles of this new, extremely diverse, connectional community to make sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They often got it wrong. So let’s not worry, as we think about the meaning and doctrine of Communion (otherwise known as the Eucharist).

When I was young I was mortified by the idea of being a cannibal. I didn’t want to eat Jesus and I sure didn’t want to drink his blood. But I did want to be a part of what seemed to be holy and mystical. I wanted to be a part of whatever it was that brought us to our knees, part of whatever it was that felt like Godde was touching us. Could I do that without eating flesh and drinking blood?  Could I find a way to understand and experience communion without being a spiritual cannibal?  Here’s the thing: there is not, nor has there ever been ‘one right way’ to understand or experience communion.

All Christians don’t experience communion or interpret communion in the same ways. Some actually believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Some believe that the Spirit of Christ is present in the elements and that when we eat and drink this meal we experience a spiritual union with Christ.
Some follow Scottish reformation leader, John Knox’s understanding that we should only celebration Communion quarterly so as to give proper time for reflection and inward consideration of one’s own state and sin. So on this Sunday, I want to ask all my quarterly communicants  if they have spent the last three months properly reflecting on your state of sin? Most of us, not so much.

The Presbyterian Church and other reformed churches have been considering whether to restore more frequent communion, including weekly communion. Turning away from the idea that communion is basically a memorial service at which we remember Jesus’ life and death  and toward the understanding that communion is a sacrament of grace.

But back to the question:  why is this meal different from every other meal? This meal is different from every other meal because it’s a meal shared by the communion of saints. When we eat this meal we sit at table with all who have gone before us and all who will come after us. This meal takes place outside as well as inside of time. I eat this meal with my mom and dad, with my grandmother, with Peter and Paul and Mary Magdala and Prisca – and with Jesus. It also means we are sharing a meal with those who might hate or despise us (or that I hate or despise) for political reasons or humanitarian reasons or just because. We share this meal with people we think are our enemies including Mexicans and Muslims. We share this meal with people we genuinely dislike. Gathering at this table means we have to lay down our weapons to pick up the bread and the cup. It means we have to acknowledge that we are all children of Godde.

Why is this meal different from every other meal? This meal is different from every other meal because it calls us more deeply into communion with Godde. Eating is sensual, it is wordless, it is experiential. We can eat without words, without understanding, without explanations. It calls us to use all of our senses: we hear the tearing of the bread, the wine poured from pitcher into cup, we smell the rich yeast and the sweet tang, we feel the texture of the bread and the smoothness of the cup. And we taste and see how good Godde is. We take Godde into our bodies. That can mean many things. One way I have expressed communion is that as the bread is shared I say to each one, “Eat and remember who you are.” Which is the short way of saying : when you experience yourself as created, alive, embodied you are called to remember that you are a child of Godde. And when I offer the cup I say, ‘Drink in the promises of Godde’. I say that because the cup is the sign of the covenant and the covenant is basically the promises of Godde. So then I say: as you take Godde’s promises into your body may you become those promises embodied in our world. Godde is in us and we are in Godde.

Why is his meal is different from every other meal? This meal is different from every other meal because it is a sacrament of grace. Years ago, when the Presbyterian church was considering whether the table should be open to people who had not been confirmed (meaning that they had an intellectual understanding of the ritual) my friend, the Reverend Erin Swenson, stood and spoke of her experience as a chaplain at the Georgia Retardation Center, an institution in Atlanta that cared for severely and profoundly disabled children and adults. There was a lot of argument about maintaining the integrity of the communion table and that those who came should understand it’s importance. She rose and spoke feelingly about her congregation, whose mouths watered at the sight of the bread and the cup. Some could not see. Some could not hear. Some could not swallow. But she took the bread to each one in the over 60 wheelchairs who gathered for worship and everyone could touch and smell the bread. Everyone met with Godde that day and no one was turned away.

Why is this meal is different from every other meal? Because at this meal we become a living communion. The church is called to be the body of Christ in the world and this meal reminds us what that means. Sometimes it means sacrifice. Sometimes it means remembering for ourselves and reminding others that we are children of Godde. Sometimes it means that we make space for peace between us in a world where it seems there is not peace.

This meal is different from every other meal because however it is that you come to the table, however your heart yearns toward Godde, however you hunger for this feeding, however you fear it, however ambivalent you are, we say to one another:

The gifts of Godde for the people of Godde.
Thanks be to Godde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Returning to the Scene

Who woulda’ thunk it? Thirty-two years after after I graduated from Columbia I have been invited back to read from my memoir and talk about my experiences there.

I have mixed feelings about it. The strongest feeling I have is gratitude. Never would I have thought this day would arrive. What a graceful moment to come full circle and return to a campus where once I was a stranger in a strange land, an unwelcome alien, and a proverbial thorn in the side of this august institution. I am grateful not only to be welcomed and given a voice but I am also grateful (and astounded!) to see the course  ‘Ministry With LGBTQIA Youth’ offered.

But to be completely honest, the other thing I am feeling is anger. Now we all know that anger is often a ‘leading emotion’ that conceals or protects us from the underlying and original emotion. So if I follow that thread I must confess that my anger is trying to  protect me from hurt. So there you have it. The hurt is old. It is the hurt of being silenced and demeaned. It is the hurt of being dismissed. Hated. Feared. It is the hurt of being wide open and vulnerable to Godde and having those in power abusing that vulnerability.

I met a few weeks ago with a wonderful woman from Columbia who invited me to be a part of this event. She is ordained. And a lesbian. And open. All in the Presbyterian Church (USA). After a long, truthful, and profoundly intimate conversation she asked me what I would like from Columbia. It surprised me when I teared up and said  “I just want someone to say ‘I’m sorry’. ” Funny that.

This Wednesday I am invited to be a part of worship and to share my story. To talk about my journey at the institution I both love and hate. I have come to believe that giving me a voice may be the most profound apology I could be offered.

 

The Book, the Party, the People

It was a wonderful night!
Thank you to all who came out to celebrate with me!
Thank you to all who were there in spirit!

After eight (count ’em) years of working on my memoir it is time to celebrate!
So bring on the music – O Happy Day, Sing Lo-Sing O Sophia, and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round, sung and led by three talented singers and a phenomenal pianist.  We celebrated diversity and connectivity.  Being interviewed by Imam Trina Jackson was enlightening and fun. (I love her so much!)
Celebrating at my alma mater, Agnes Scott, brought special joy, as did working with Tina Pippin (Religious Studies) and Kate Colussey-Estes (chaplain of the college). The college has come so far since I was there with their now profound commitment to diversity and inclusion!

And then there were all the friends who provided the ‘pot luck’ reception of extremely excellent food- both savory and sweet. And those who stayed to party.

After two weeks of wrestling a severe case of the flu topped by bronchitis I was able to step out and share stories of blessing and struggle. What was profound was the gathering of people who care, the sharing of food and life, and the hope for the future as people continue to stand against all that dehumanizes in the name of Godde.

Being the First


Remember all those jokes that went around that began “This is what people think I do” followed by either glorified or belittling pictures – or both – and then the punch line, “this is what I really do”?  Well, that’s kind of what being ‘the first’ is like.

I was the first open lesbian student at Agnes Scott College in the late 70’s and the first open lesbian student at Columbia Theological Seminary in the early 80’s. A few people thought I was a warrior. Believe me, I wanted to be one. If I could have channeled Xena I would have been one happy woman. But I discovered not all warriors are Xena, some are just emboldened believers who are willing to make the grueling march through enemy territory. And the thing is, as a warrior, you really aren’t at your best when you are alone. It really does help to  have an army beside you. Being ‘the first’ is lonely.  But many saw me as a strong warrior like the woman pictured above.

Then there were the majority who saw me as a destructive force that threatened to shatter institutions and bring down civilization. I am glad to report I did neither of these things. Sometimes I wish I had, but I didn’t. I had no interest in destroying institutions only in changing them and challenging beliefs, privilege, and systems of power.  I did that every day, sometimes by my mere presence, but with nowhere near the force or power that some assumed I possessed. 

What I really did was show up every day and try to be my best, most authentic self.  I didn’t always succeed, but mostly. Being the first means you probably won’t get where you want to go. It means you are plowing the field for someone else to sow and harvest. It means clearing a way so that those who you follow will be able to push even farther into the uncharted territory. Being the first is lonely and sometimes forgotten work.

That doesn’t mean it is not important work. It has taken me decades to realize that being the first was enough for me and right for the time. It was a challenge I accepted and a grace I assumed. But really, being the first looks much more like this than what others imagined:

The really cool thing is that now I am telling the story of what it was like to be ‘the first’ from my perspective. My memoir, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, is coming out soon. Stay tuned.

What Fresh Hell

I

What fresh hell is this that we have entered into as a nation? No one can be neutral now. No wait and see. No thinking that we are insulated from the atrocities our government is committing.

Is this the legacy we want to leave the world? No longer a ‘shining city on a hill’ we have become our worst nightmare. Do not be lulled into complacency. Only pray that there remains some chance that we will be able to retrieve what we have lost.

Add my name to the thousands and millions who believed we, as a nation, were immune to  authoritarianism and fascism or that our institutions could be infected and destroyed from within. We are not immune. And we have entered a fresh hell like none we have encountered before. I am reminded of this famous statement:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”   

                              -the Rev. Marin Niemöller, referring to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

These children, mothers, families detained  by ICE are our Socialists. Our queers. Our trade unionists, our Jews.  If we were to rewrite this for our time it would begin: First they came for the immigrants…
But please, please, do not let what follows be “but I didn’t not speak out because I am not an immigrant”.

Stand now.
Speak now.
Write now.
Call now.
VOTE NOW.
Add your voice to the thousands who speak for these children and their parents. Who speak for people of color throughout this nation. Who speak up and out for women. Who demand that our rule of law remain in tack. Who refuse to bend to the dissolution of all we hold dear.
It is as bad as we think it is and most likely, even worse than we can imagine.

 

 

 

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.