Category Archives: spiritual practice

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.

 

Camping as Spiritual Practice

I camped with my daughter and twenty of her friends this weekend.
It rained.
A lot.
It was wet.
It was cold.
It was glorious.

It was a smorgasbord of Holy Senses.
Stars crisp in the night air.
Clouds fanning like bird plumes.
Some trees bare, reaching heavenward,
some quietly disrobing, leaves spattering colors on the forest floor .
And the quiet of rain splashing on tent top
or the rough and tumble of an engorged stream.
The scent of coffee wafting from a camp stove,
Chicken soup simmering in an iron pot,
Blending with the stench of wet dog.
Warm smiles curled on cold lips
Frosty bottoms perched on wet logs
Godde shared our laughter as we laughed at ourselves.

It was wet.
It was cold.
It was glorious.
It was my prayer of thanksgiving

And I would do it again
in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

What Time Is It?

     I haven’t posted in over three weeks and as I sit here before a blank page I keep cycling through outrage at the President’s continuing message of hate, hope in my sisters and brothers who RESIST every day in many ways, grief over what is happening in our nation as our light dims, and fear that we will not be able to turn back the tide of evil.

Then there are my duties as pastor, family member, writer, and therapist. Life hasn’t stopped. No matter how horrific Trump’s behavior I still need to earn a living, clean house, cook meals, pastor my flock, respond to the needs of the vulnerable in my community, listen deeply to the journey of my clients, and write.

Now you might think I haven’t been writing but the truth is, I finished the manuscript that was seven years in the making.(!) I am told it is normal for a first book to simmer that long. My story has found its final shape and I even like it. Now I am free to begin my next project.

Most of us live busy and fractured lives but that is not the full picture. Just being alive means at any given moment we may be dealing with loss, stress, joy, love, times of celebration, times to make love, and times of grief.

Many of us in the resistance are on care overload. We feel and are deeply responsible for our macro as well as micro existence. For the world, the nation, our families and friends, and ourselves.

We cannot, MUST NOT stop caring. To do so endangers real people, real values, real events, real history. Nor can we ignore the needs of those in our immediate purview. What good is it to work for a better world if we neglect those closest to us?

So this is not an either/or reflection. Nor is it a both/and one. Rather I am reminded of the deep wisdom of being in the moment. Maybe this should be our spiritual challenge: to recognize the moment we are in and the needs of that moment.

The writer of Ecclesiastes said it best:

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

May we be blessed in our discernment, our work, and our passion for there is much to be done. We must find our way one day, one moment, one act at a time.

Today I leave you with a question only you can answer for yourself: what time is it?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Wisdom: Day Two

Some of you may have noticed a lag between this and my last Wisdom blog (Day One 5/22/17). I’ve had a lot to say  about  our recent elections and their fallout . We are at political DefCon Alpha. Current events get in the way of more general thoughts about life.  As a student of history, a world traveler, a user of the Oxford comma, and a person of faith I  have a whole lot to say about our Orwellian present.

    But today let’s veer off the political track for a moment and let me tell you about a practice I am new at and love: laughing at myself.

One of my character flaws is that I take myself seriously. Those who love me say  I take myself too seriously. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I do. Okay,  lots of times. That being said, when I laugh at myself something happens. My perspective shifts and I experience a sharp drop of stress. It’s a two for one special:  freedom from self-judgment and openness to self-acceptance.

So the entirety of my wisdom for today is this: learn to laugh at yourself – your foibles, your missteps, your idiocy – and don’t wait until you are my age to do it. Life will be so much easier to navigate.

Wisdom: Day One

I told you that one day I would reflect on the wisdom I may have acquired in my sixty-five years. Today is as good as any. Not because I sat down in front of my laptop feeling greatly wise or tremendously enlightened but because I sat down in from of my laptop today and felt just plain old.

Here’s the thing: I have learned a lot, Mostly I learned that there is a lot I do not know. I wake up every day wondering what I will learn. Partly because learning of all kinds, including emotional and spiritual learning, is an ongoing quest. I am a naturally curious person.  I want to know. And I love the mystery of existence. As it is reported that Michelangelo said when he neared death, “I am still learning.”

I know that I will never know it all. I won’t know it all theologically, scientifically, psychologically, spiritually or any other way. I may never even know the best recipe for a homemade strawberry cake. It never keeps me from looking but it does caution me against landing.

So the first and perhaps best bit of aged wisdom I can share is: don’t ever think you know it all. Some of you might laugh because I do know a lot of stuff and am willing to share the information whether it is about cooking, car maintenance, sheet rocking, children’s literature, gardening, decorating, history… the list goes on. In my defense I would argue that I share information not knowledge or wisdom. And in my continuing defense I admit I am wrong if my information I have is disproved.

Wisdom, on the other hand and in my experience, cannot be shared. It is discovered through the triumphs and tribulations and even the monotony of daily life. Information and good intentions don’t insulate us from tragedy or success, failure or fulfillment. We find meaning and wisdom by living our lives. The more full out you live the more opportunity to increase in wisdom.

I, myself, get wiser when I make mistakes. That’s the kind of learner I am. I may push back, kicking and screaming, but eventually, in making sense of my mistakes, I learn. Maybe you will become wise in other ways. But if you are like me then here is some information I can pass along: try not to hate yourself when you screw up. It’s your best shot at getting wise.

More later…