Category Archives: progressive christianity

Come and Meet Me in the Middle of the Air



Somebody (everybody!) needs to remember that we share a national identity  that is only possible when we are willing and able to have difficult conversations. We have become ‘the other’ because we are a different color, gender, national origin, ability, age, or political identity. The problem is that the idea of our democracy only works when we are able to reasonably disagree with one another.
Those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition have the sound advice of the prophet Isaiah (1:17-18):

learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

18 Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

“Come now, let us argue it out” or as translated elsewhere, “Come, let us reason together”.  The problem for  us as a nation and society (or one of many) is that we don’t seem to share the values upon which we were founded. Those values have always been our pride and our curse.  There is a gospel song that invites us to ‘meet in the middle of the air’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VGHfpvkI1c

From the beginning issues have been strongly argued from many sides. Big issues. Moral issues. Deeply personal issues. Issues that, even though we went to war with one another, the idea that we are one nation triumphed. We must  learn to “argue it out’  no matter how difficult the conversations are. Otherwise, political identity supersedes the ideas upon which we are built. Beware, it is happening right now. The era of Trump has obliterated national and cultural norms. (By which I mean things we have mutually accepted and agreed to without codification. For example, we would not call for our political opponents to be jailed.)

We must talk to one another. Unfortunately, it is the task left to the Left. Because talking to one another requires respect, curiosity, and the willingness to listen through another’s fear. We need to be patient and safe enough to the other person to hear their viewpoint. We need to stay calm. We need to do all this because WE recognize our connectedness even when the other side does not.

Let us have the difficult conversations without seeing ‘the other’ as enemy.
To save ourselves we must save us all.

Calling In A Paradigm Shift


I haven’t written since before Christmas what with preparing both our home and the church for the annual celebration. It was a good and full time tinged with the cyclical sadness of the anniversary of my mom’s death.
I preached Christmas and Epiphany services. Old stories. New words. And was struck again with how Christians (I can only speak to my tradition, though I believe it exists in every spiritual tradition) are charged with challenging the dominant social paradigm.
I am not interested in saving of my soul from a vengeful and angry God. I refuse to afraid of Godde. It goes against every light fiber of my being.
Nope. I am ready to call Christians to be Christians and stop being  moral puppets for right wing ideologues. Morality is not about ruling the minutia of the bedroom, the ‘place’ of women, or the arrogance of claiming that the wealthy are favored by Godde.

Here’s the new (for the last two thousand+ years) paradigm Christians are challenged to shift into:
– share so that there is enough for everyone: food, water, housing, healthcare
– act out of love, not warm-fuzzy feelings, but with the intent for the well-being of others
– claim the power to forgive so that you are freed from destructive impulses and a space is made for the possibility of peace.
– be a compassionate conduit of grace
– see the face of Godde in absolutely every creature you meet.
– work against oppression in all its forms
– don’t base your actions on results you can calculate but  trust the call to live in a different way
– don’t be afraid

To all you Christians and former Christians out there: it’s time to take back our faith. It has been coopted by the powerful and twisted in to shapes unrecognizable. Even as a pastor I am sometimes ashamed to say I am a Christian because of what it has (rightfully) come to mean to the majority of people. But now I want to invite all you closeted Christians, all you exes who have bitter bile in your throats, all you who have stretched beyond the confines of rigid morality, all you who have been oppressed and broken by the church to take back our faith and drink in the sweet nectar of grace.  It’s time to become the paradigm shift Christ calls us to by living it into existence. It’s time to do  the faithful work of changing the world.

 

The Radical Hope of Advent

Hope is a fierce thing
a tenacious longing
a crafting of reality

A bequest to people who
stand
and march
and fight
and sing lustily into the darkness,
for we are bearers of light.

We bear Godde’s promises
in our blood and cells
teeth and nails.

We bear that fearsome hope of a people
who have sacred promises
scorched into our souls.



 

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.