Category Archives: progressive christianity

Advent Revolution: Be Like Mary


Godde is shocking and if you aren’t shocked by  Godde then you haven’t been paying attention.
Since forever the clash of the religious has been between piety and justice. Righteousness and goodness.  Godde always strains towards the people we reject, devalue, or dehumanize. Or should I say ‘demonize’ ?  And then she goes and does something radical by inviting the people one least expects (or likes) to be Godde-with-us.
Like women. Like foreigners. Like children. Like the outsider and the oppressed.
Can you see Mary, mother of Godde-with-us, in the picture above? If not, then maybe you have been looking in the wrong places. Morality doesn’t lie in transcendence (the way Mary is usually depicted), it lies in the gritty choices of everyday life. Is what I’m doing benefitting only me or is it in service to the greater good? Do I choose to make money over clean water and air? Fair wages? Accessible healthcare? Does my vote reflect not only my interest but also those of  the  most vulnerable among us? Do I place more value in the humanity of a person than their adherence to my sexual, gender, or cultural norms?
These are the questions we need to be asking. These are the concerns to which Mary calls us to when she is overcome with thankfulness and sings an ancient song of liberation and freedom:
‘My soul magnifies our Godde,
47     and my spirit rejoices in Godde my Saviour,
48 for She has looked with favour on the lowliness of her servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is her name.
50 Her mercy is for those who hold her in awe
    from generation to generation.
51 She has shown strength with her arm;
    and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 She has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 and has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

This is what counts as shocking to those who believe that their religion saves them from eternal damnation or that the amount of money they have amassed shows that they are favored by Godde. Which, in a way, is seductive because it gives the impression that we are in control. If I remain a virgin till marriage, don’t come out, don’t transition, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t curse, don’t wear make-up… then I can control my fate. But piety never protects us. Instead, it  sets up the juicy conundrum that men can both objectify and abuse women with impunity. In the name of God.
 Godde calls us  to revolutionary actions not pious acts.  Mary is overcome by Godde and her response is to give voice to Godde’s call for liberation and freedom.
In these days when we look for Godde-with-us, check out the places you don’t usually look and the people with whom you don’t feel comfortable. Women who are pushy. Immigrants. #Me, too. #Black lives matter. They are doing the holy, revolutionary work of Godde.

 

Radically Unafraid: the call of Advent


An angel called Thelma, Jan L Richardson

The angel came to Mary and said what angels say: “Do not be afraid.”

Is it a command? A suggestion? An offer of comfort? All of the above?
All of the above, I think.
When we are too afraid to imagine not being afraid: it is a command.
When we aren’t sure if fear is a viable response: it is a suggestion that encourages other possibilities.
When we are too frozen by fear to move or act: it is a word of comfort that fear is not necessary.

Right now, We really need to hear what the angels have to say.
We need to not be afraid.
It is the radical call of the Holy to live differently.

Right now, I have a good and solid foundation of anger. It helps me not to be afraid. I am angry at the injustices that have multiplied and expanded under Trump. I am angry about the systemic depth of cultural sexism, racism, and homophobia.  I am angry that the ‘light (we) hold beside the golden door’ is dimmed.
But for all that anger, I am also afraid.
I am afraid that we may not be able to recover our democracy.
I’m afraid that people will be imprisoned, lynched, put to death.
I am afraid Donald Trump will start a nuclear war to deter the investigation into his treasonous administration.

We need this season of angels telling us not to be afraid. For one thing fear paralyzes. Like Mary, We need to be able to be a part of all of us who are trying to bring about extraordinary change. We need to not be afraid to travel to places we haven’t been and do things haven’t done with people we do not know while living under an oppressive regime.
We need to nurture justice, peace, and hope in our very beings and  birth the reality of those things into the world.
And we can only do it if we are foolishly unafraid.

Being unafraid. There’s the rub. It is not easy. It is clearly, only, and absolutely a choice. We must choose to NOT be afraid over and over again. Sometimes moment to moment.
Let this be our spiritual practice in this sacred season and beyond: to choose to be unafraid. 

When fear does not constrict us we are empowered to act. So choose power over fear. Love over fear. Justice over fear. Peace over fear. The world needs us to be not afraid.

 

Advent Call to Resistance

Comes now the time we wait in darkness and breathless anticipation for hope to be born. Hope against hope.

This is the darkest Advent season of my lifetime. We yearn for the words of Isaiah to come to pass:
The spirit of the Our Godde is upon me,
because Godde has anointed me;
and has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
 to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

The prophet’s words call for our compassion to deepen – especially those of us who have never been hungry, or frightened, or powerless, or foreigners. This year we hear them differently. Suddenly we face the reality of being on the down side of the widening schism between rich and poor. The middle class shrinks and we can no longer count on our water being clean, our air being breathable, our livelihood being enough to support us. Our children are vulnerable to sexual predators. Our black men, imprisoned and exploited in unconsionable numbers, need to be released.  Women and people of color, the poor, the LGBT+ community, and  immigrants  desperately need to hear good news for the oppressed as our rights are being marched back by jack-booted thugs.

The image of an anticipated babe in utero, of a fallow garden with seeds beneath the frozen earth,  conjure the thought that something powerful happens in the dark. Growth, possibility, time, and space to gestate miracles. This Advent demands of us that we birth Christ into the world so that when we claim that followers in the Way of Christ are, indeed, the body of Christ, then this dark season impels us to remember what that means and to grow our understanding.

         We are the ones who must risk feeling the Spirit of Godde upon us, calling us to do impossible things on behalf of all humanity.
          We are the ones who must bring good news to the oppressed, even those of us who are oppressed, by speaking against the power that suppresses and finding our power to act and speak as we are empowered to act as the Holy Spirit descends this Holy Season.
          We are the ones who must gather to ourselves those who mourn, whose families have been torn apart by a racist immigration policies, and Dreamer’s who are our children, being forced to leave the only homes they have ever known.
          We are the ones who must stand for those imprisoned and demand justice.
          We are the ones because we claim to be the Body of Christ,  the living aspect of the one who came to liberate, heal, and lift up the least of these.

This Advent, we retreat into the dark, not a darkness that blinds, not a darkness that constricts our souls, but into the rich dark that nurtures our spirits and grows our imaginations so that we might bring to life great hope and find our power to stand and speak and live the promises of Godde embodied in our world.

 

 

Ecstasy

Changing it up with poetry                                                         

                                                        Ecstasy

Part 1

 My first lessons were of joy –
soaring church music
voices blended
organs boasting and groaning
pianos splashing fountains of notes
onto my untutored ears.

And gladiolas
smelling of earth and sunshine,
rolled into wet newspapers
their green tang permeating the air
as we drove to church late Saturday afternoon.

And the sanctuary
empty and grand
echoed our footsteps and whispers
while light cascaded in dusty shafts
through stained glass
and statues in their niches
gazed benignly at my grandmother
as she placed the glads,
tall and vibrant
in crystal vases
upon the altar.

On Sunday
common flowers
transform into icons
burning with holy light.

My mother taught me about Jesus,
singing in her sweet, slightly off-key voice:
“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world,”

I joined in
sometimes imitating her soft tones,
sometimes bellowing the words
“Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight,’

The story told
the truth distilled
the gospel internalized,
love without boundaries
grabbed me up
and never let go.
“Jesus loves the little children of the world!”

And my heart broke open.
“Please, please, God,
let me be here when Jesus comes back!”

And I was filled with wanting
like waiting for Christmas morning to come
the anticipation lovely and powerful.
When Jesus came back there would be joy
like singing ‘alleluias’ real loud
like smelling fresh pine needles
or swinging so high your toes could touch a cloud.

And love as good
as snuggling on my mother’s lap
breathing in and out just the same.
As good as when my heart
hugs the hums of bumblebees.

Part 2

Now joy flings me
into the mystery
of my pulsing body and blood,
breath and bones.

“I..I know I’ve been changed!”
The throb of the song and
the thump of my heart
beat together.

“I..I know I’ve been changed!”
I stomp in time,
hands stinging
as they clap, clap, clap,
releasing the rhythm
into my bloodstream.
I cannot stop this clapping,
this stomping,
this singing.
at the top of my lungs,
air purged,
reaching some notes,
missing others
carried away in the chorus swelling around me.

“I..I know I’ve been changed!”
I sing louder,
full-throated
not caring if I am off-key,
sharp or flat.
Lost in the tumultuous sound
I rise,
my feet no longer hit the floor to stomp.
I am Buddhist priest
floating inches above the ground.
I am flying witch.
I am whirling dervish.

Flinging my hands in the air,
bright red from clapping,
they burn,
eased only by the wind I create.

“I..I know I’ve been changed!”
Caught in the music,
woven into the chords,
tossed to the rafters
notes thrumming
in my breath and heartbeat.

The ‘I’ of me
Becomes the ‘we’
of a hundred lifted voices.
The song urges us to completion.
I heave a breath
And bellow the next line.
And another.
And another.

“The angels in heaven done signed my name.”
Slowing
almost imperceptibly
And I sway back into my body
arms heavy
hands tingling
sweat dripping between my breasts
feet wanting
to keep moving, moving, moving.
I fight against what I know is the last refrain:
“The angels in heaven done signed my name.”

I lift my face
and exhale.

 

Holding Hope

I want to write about lovely things. I want to write about birdsong and dappled light and soft breezes. I want to write about dreaming large. About deep connections. About justice persisting and that ‘slow arc’ bending.

So I will.

The book of Revelation was written in a time the Christian community felt hopeless. The were rounded up, persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered. Not unlike many religious communities in history. The kin-dom, the shalom they believed Godde would bring about was crushed under the political heal of the empire. Communication between churches was suspect so leaders wrote and spoke in metaphors when referring to their current situation. They referenced dragons and bears and destruction. They sent present news in future tense.

For the past however long I have been writing about bears and dragons, destruction and fear with scattered glimpses of hope. Today I will take another cue from the writer of the Book of Revelation and fling a little hope. No matter how bad things are, we cannot give up hope or we will lose our souls.

The writer (supposedly John) offers this brilliant hope expressed as sacred literature anywhere:

The Book of Revelation 7: 14b-17                                                                                                                                                  “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of Godde,
and worship Godde day and night within the temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and Godde will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So today I write what I need: reason to hope or, at the very least, reason not to lose hope.

The dream humanity has for a world where there is no hunger or disease, a world of justice and compassion is not a vision we can abdicate. No matter how bad things are, we must not give up hope. It is imperative that we continue to believe in our ability to overcome, to co-create, to bring that vision into existence. Imagine what might replace that dream should we lose it.  Without a passion for justice and a vision for compassion,  without hope, our spirits will be crushed by despair.

So today and every day do the work of hope. Do one thing that could make a difference when added together with all the other one things folks are doing around the world. And listen to birds sing. Gaze at light streaming through tree branches. Dream big. Reach out to one another. Demand justice. Offer hope to the hopeless. Accept hope from the hopeful.

 

 

 

 

Struggle to Hope

How does one speak hope to a hopeless world? To a nation divided? To communities of strangers?

How do we speak hope to one another when our hearts are breaking? When the safety of the world is at stake? When the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are drawn with stark harshness?

How do we speak hope in our homes when families are ripped apart by dogma that neither gives life nor saves it? When parents and children are estranged and sisters and brothers renounce one another?

How do we speak hope when the way forward is through shadow lands, up steep inclines, and through inclement weather? When the road is covered by floodwaters? When parks are littered with monuments to hatred and the least among us is left to suffer?

How do we speak hope to a nation who is killing its own? Its own immigrants? Its own people of color? Its own queers?

Let us begin with remembering. Remembering who we are, who we strive to be, who we can imagine ourselves to be.

When I am asked how I can be a Christian in a world where the label means closed-hearted and closed-minded, I don’t deny the truth of what Christianity has become and how it has fallen far from it’s tree. Rather, I embrace the walk of Christ as a path to which I aspire and reach for what I can be.

As a nation, now is the time to embrace the tenets of our founding. Not that we have ever truly lived up to them, but that we embrace the challenge and the ideals of a nation built on the principles of justice, law, and constantly expanding rights.

Each week at communion we share the bread saying, “Remember who you are.” It is both our hope and our challenge.

Let us speak this hope to one another: Remember who we can be. Remember who we are to one another as a nation of immigrants and exiles. Remember the ideals that form us. Remember the hope and the challenge of striving to be a nation of justice and freedom.

 

 

Jesus Talks Seeds of Resistance

            You know those stories you’ve heard a thousand times? The ones you almost know by heart, that are so entrenched in your psyche you assume you know their meaning? The ones that are kind of boring you have heard them so often?

That’s what happened to me with this past Sunday’s lectionary gospel passage. Matthew relates Jesus telling several parables about what the kin-dom of heaven is like. At least that is what I thought it was about. Jesus says “The kin-dom of heaven is like… a mustard seed or yeast (in these stories).

So familiar. As a child my Mom gave me a necklace with a mustard seed enshrined in a clear bead. That seed represented the seed Jesus referred to but the actual seeds he was talking about were more like dust than the seed I wore around my throat.

I have heard it preached a hundred times that a mustard plant would grow almost to the size of a tree. We are all amazed at the girth of a plant that comes from the seed that tiny. Here is where many of us make the leap to thinking the kin-dom of heaven is like this huge bush. But that is not what Jesus says. He says it’s like dust.

The problem is we don’t trust the value of small things. We tend to think that what is valuable is what is bigger, better, more powerful. The truth of the matter is that the kin-dom is millions of small acts of love, comfort, compassion, and justice scattered into the world trusting that enough will fall on fertile soil.

In these murky days, where power and might, money and privilege are worshipped it is important to remind ourselves that our small acts of resistance matter. They are the seeds of connection. The seeds of healing. The substance of hope. The revolutionary seeds we plant to honor all that is sacred in one another.

So do not be discouraged. Scatter seeds of love for immigrants. Seeds of comfort for those facing the hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, and trans-phobia exposed and encouraged by this president. Seeds of compassion for those who have been seduced by fear that someday dialogue may be restored. And scatter seeds of justice, even if you have to fight like hell to plant them.

I Will Not Leave You Comfortless

I can imagine no pain greater than one’s child dying. It is out of the natural order of things. It is difficult enough to lose one’s parent’s but we know that death is the natural end to a long life. It isn’t the natural end to a young one.

I will not use names because I respect the family whose loss is so recent, so raw, so unexpected. But I will tell you about a young woman with a huge heart, kind and loving, who adored her fur-kids, and lived out loud. She loved her family and they adored her. Now you might not think that needs remarked upon, and it wouldn’t, except that she was a lesbian born and raised in the South.

Born and raised in the Baptist Church where her family still worships. Where the pastor refused to hold her memorial service.

Mister, you make me ashamed to be a Christian. Or more truthfully, you make me ashamed that you call yourself a Christian. Over the years I’ve been told I wasn’t really a Christian because: a. I am an activist. B. I’m a feminist. C. I am a lesbian. And D. my theology is heretical. My piety credentials don’t pass muster. And that’s alright by me. Lest we forget, Jesus’ piety credentials didn’t pass muster either. If yours do, then I want no part of what you call Christianity.

It breaks my imagination to conceive of a ‘pastor’ who would refuse comfort and grace to a grieving family. Show me where you can justify your actions by asking what Jesus would do. Or show me, even if you worship rules, how you can refuse to offer comfort. Is it because the skirts of your self-righteousness might touch the ground? Is it because rejecting a soul that has been in the care of your community from birth is what you think is the ‘faithful’ thing to do? Is it because you simply don’t want to challenge your own discomfort? The discomfort of others? Are you afraid that the offering plate might not be so full?  Whatever the reason, there is no justification for the ham-handed, soul-less way you treated a family, all of whom, living or dead, are children of God.

To my dear friend’s family: I hate that you had to deal with the grief of rejection in addition to the enormous grief of your loss. One of the sure times we rely on our faith community is at the death of a loved one. Please know that wherever you find comfort and love, acceptance and shared grief, God is with you. The community of Spirit may look unfamiliar but  whatever colors, beliefs, disbeliefs, genders, or sexualities, know  you encounter Jesus there. You were not left alone. Jesus sits with you, holds you, lends you comfort in every face that is turned toward you and not away, in everyone who shared in her life and shares in your sadness, in ever person who reaches out in small ways and large. God enfolds you with grace and care. And God embraces the one we have lost with a love we can hardly imagine.

                 John 14:18  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Meet Me in the Streets

Recently, my dear friend, Linda Bryant, posted a thoughtful blog ‘Meet Me In the Field’ https://charisgrandma.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/meet-me-in-the-field/

Take some time to read it. It is a challenge to those of us who live in a polarized society. It calls us to a kind of faithfulness, no matter our faith tradition, that requires compassion, authenticity, and the willingness to listen. What she has to say is important for us all to hear.

She posted it right before I posted my last blog, ‘Put on Your Big Girl Panties’. It seems like we are polar opposites in our calls to address the same problem.

While she encourages us to face our fears and withhold judgment I said things like:

“It’s time to change the conversation. We don’t need to be in dialogue with those who would destroy our values and vision of a nation whose arc is ‘bent toward justice’.

 It’s time to stop compromising about the lives and deaths of our fellow citizens.

It’s time to get up, gird up, and put on our big girl panties.

We cannot afford to wait and see how things ‘play out’.

We are the majority and we need to assert our power. Even if it is for the first time.

Vote now. Get involved now. Be the change now.

This is not the time to make nice. It’s time to make policy.”

Is there any way both of us could be right? Could both of us good people? Is only one of us faithful? My answers are yes, yes, and no. As feminists, both Linda and I believe there are many ‘right’ answers. Our perceptions are not so contrary to one another as they are coexistent. How can that be so?

I used to be afraid that I was not spiritual enough because of my loud, radical, and often coarsely worded calls to justice. I choose words for impact, to move people, and to challenge systems of evil. Those calls and words are important. They are part of the long-standing tradition of prophetic speaking. Prophetic calls to justice are often harsh, uncomfortable, and urgent. They are never a call to destroy ‘the other’.

Linda’s pastoral call to faithfulness is equally important. We need to be challenged to live faithfully in ways that stretch us. Facing our fears, the willingness to listen and be vulnerable, to love those difficult to love are the challenges of a deepening faith. However,  it should never compromise our call  to stand for justice.

Both perspectives are necessary. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it the ‘cost of discipleship’. Carter Heyward coined the phrase ‘justice-love’. The nature of faith is dynamic. The expression of faith kaleidoscopic. Our many ‘right’ ways move together to form a pattern of the whole. The call is to live our faith . The gifts of sharing the journey is that it deepens our relationship with the Sacred and challenges us to live authentically.

 

 

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.