Category Archives: spiritual practice

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Must Pay the Rent…

When I was a young mother – twenty-four and my daughter six – I worked construction.
I got her ready for school in the mornings and hopped a ride on my boss’s truck to our work site for the day. Often it was to rehab public housing near the federal penitentiary here in Atlanta.

I came home exhausted in the evenings and made sure she got her bath, supervised homework, cooked supper, and ,once a week, prepared the evening meal for 60 children and adults in our church’s mentorship program.  Sometimes when you are busy surviving you forget you are afraid.

Our rented duplex was cold in the winter, heated only by gas space heaters that I hesitated to keep on while we slept. We bundled together in my bed, piling all of our blankets on top of one another until the mattress on the floor grew to resemble a multi-colored mountain.

One evening our landlord dropped by to pick up the rent. It was fairly early but we were already snuggled down under the pile of blankets, keeping warm while I read and she wrote poetry on 3X5 cards.  Her first effort went like this:

My dog has fleas (fleas, fleas, fleas, fleas)
All over her knees (knees, knees, knees, knees)

which we sang to the tune of The Blue Danube Waltz.

When the doorbell rang I forced myself up, padded to the door, and invited him in while I wrote the check that would wipe out my bank balance. Drafts of icy wind accompanied his arrival and departure ridding us of the last gasp of heat we had hoped would last for a little while longer.
I shivered back under the covers when my daughter informed me she had written another poem. “Great,” I chattered, trying to recapture some semblance of warmth to my hands and feet, “read it to me.” She took a breath and recited:

The night is long and wind blows cold
And I and my mother pay rent.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so I just hugged her tight.  Mother’s Day, I remembered this story and how there is, somehow, always enough. Always enough warmth.  Always enough joy to create and to sing. And most of all,  always enough  love to cast out fear.


 

Every ‘ism’ We Resist is Hostage to the Hatred of Women

Because we love so many men, respect so many men, work with so many men, know so many men,  it’s hard to imagine or believe there is a systemic hatred of women in our culture. Unfortunately, it is not only men. Sometimes women, themselves, buy into the devaluation of women.

I am not covering any new territory here, just reminding us of the basics. Women are taught to believe themselves to be ‘less than’ rather than different. Weak rather than possessing strength that manifests in ways different from men. So much so that men displaying what are thought to be ‘female’ characteristics are also despised.

My good friend, Erin, a transgender woman, recently posited that real change will come the  more broadly gender fluidity becomes the norm. Absolutely. Yes. But every time I step outside my milieu (whether physically or when reading the newspaper or watching television) I recognize that my reality isn’t completely in sync with the larger society. In other words, gender fluidity is likely the key to transformative change in how we value all gendered people but we can’t wait for the organic evolution before we act.

Our culture suffers from gynophobia: the fear, hatred, and distrust of that which is intrinsically female. Case in point: Hillary Clinton. I am still hurt and disappointed that a newsperson I respect, Chris Matthews, spoke so disparagingly about her. That and angry. He disrespected her in a way he would never have spoken about a man. The sustained Republican onslaught on her character from the moment she emerged in national politics is unlike that we  have seen for ANY male candidate ever.

An old but still relevant fact: women make less than men for doing the same job.
One in four women is raped or sexually abused. I don’t have any facts on this, but I have yet to meet a woman who has not been subjected to unwanted verbal or sexual advances. I don’t know any woman who has not at some/many times had their opinions overlooked, devalued, or co-opted.

And if we thought it was bad before now we have the so-called ‘incels’. Involuntary celebates. The incel movement is growing. It is filled with angry men who bitterly hate women and believe they are entitled to women’s bodies and lives. Women are being murdered. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen about them and it is definitely worth a readhttps://www.villainesse.com/no-filter/i-spent-evening-incel-forum-what-i-learnt

What will it take for the rest of the country to realize that sexism begets racism, religious rigidity, and homophobia? We must convince our culture that the hatred of women is real  and address the systemic evil of misogyny,  personally and culturally. Until women’s issues are seen as important and women are not seen as disposable, change will be incomplete. Every ‘ism’ we resist is hostage to the hatred of women.

It matters that we confront sexism not only for women, though it would be enough if it were. It matters because the hatred of women is a root cause of oppression. It matters that we challenge misogyny internally, socially,  and politically.  Every time someone devalues or dismisses women, jokes about rape, or treats women as disposable, we need to speak up. Each one of us male, female, or gender-fluid, must respond to systemic expressions of sexism in our personal and political lives. Not as an afterthought but with forethought.  We have to speak up even when it is difficult, even when we are uneasy with the idea of speaking up. Because we who believe in the freedom must speak out to make elemental change at an elemental level.

The Consequences of Being Present: a Lenten Practice


          At Circle of Grace we are exploring the spiritual practice of ‘being present’ during Lent, especially in worship. Since we are a small community it is easy for all of us to participate.

We began the season with a discussion of our own mortality and how Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are made of dust and to dust we shall return. So if the beginning of Lent invites us to ponder our own deaths, how do we respond? Sometimes experiencing the death of a loved one makes one pensive. We think about the meaning of life and become self-reflective. Another response is to become intensely aware of being alive. Colors become more profound, sounds sharper, taste richer, flesh more sensitive. We become more fully present in our bodies, our lives, and our world. We find that we need to be honest.

How to incorporate that awareness and the desire to be present with Godde?  How could I structure (loosely) worship to reflect this practice? So far, these are the things we find helpful:

-Laying down our burdens. At the beginning of the service we go around the circle and speak the burden we need to lay down to be more fully present. Most often it is a worry or anxiety we carry. No comments, no fixes, only the attempt to release the busy-ness that keeps us from being in the moment. It is a conscious struggle, sometimes not attained but, at least, attempted. We then begin worship with words we have repeated since our inception: “Step aside from the busy-ness of the day. Let us open to the touch, the breath, the power of the Spirit. Let us draw a circle around ourselves in this place and step onto holy ground.”

-celebrating the physicality of the Eucharist. We pass the bread before it is broken so that each one might feel the roughness or smoothness of its texture and smell the scent of yeast and salt and flour. We listen to the sound it makes when it is torn in two and watch crumbs fall to the patent below. We pass the cup to look at the depth of color and take a moment to savor the aroma of its sweetness. And as we serve one another we savor the sharing and the tasting, present with each other and with the feast that invites us into life.

I have found that being present is not only a physical and spiritual activity, it is a political one. When we experience ourselves and one another as part of an intrinsic whole our world view can no longer take the shape of ‘us and them’. Christ’s call to love justice passionately moves us from awareness to action.

I have found that being present isn’t the end game. For me, it is a practice that brings me more fully into the struggle for peace and justice in the wider world. It makes me more honest in speaking out and less afraid of the consequences of living with integrity.

 

I Will Not Be Your Enemy

We can choose not to be enemies.
We share history that is the source for all our struggles, self-definitions, failures and successes. For minorities and women much of that history is bad, even despicable. We have been oppressed, terrorized, marginalized, and repressed. But we have also built communities, resisted the dominant paradigm, and survived unimaginable violence to our bodies and psyches.

So how can we choose to not be enemies? Perhaps more importantly, why should we make that choice?

Women have the front seat on how for us to critique finding common ground with those who would oppress us. I hate the patriarchy and its systemic power to dehumanize one group of people and elevate another. I hate it for the same reasons I hate racism. And ableism. And heterosexism. I hate them all for the the boundaries of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that   form a temple of fear.

Women love men: we love husbands or fathers or sons or friends or all of the above. We do it while existing in systemic patriarchy that devalues our existence and codifies laws about our bodies. Here’s an example: I love my dad. He supported my every dream and did not reject me in the face of questionable choices. He is the first feminist man I can remember – though he would have cringed to be called that. Loving him did not eliminate the ways I was sexualized by a man as a child, groped as an employee, or give me the right to be in charge of my own reproductive health. My dad was my ally even while he benefited from being a man in ways I can’t even imagine.

I don’t want to make the mistake of dehumanizing and demonizing ‘the other’ any more than I want to be demonized myself.  Where will that get us? How will we make meaningful change if we repeat the same patterns?  The real ‘demons’ are systems that oppress.

What if, instead, we worked to find value in our differences rather than fear them? What if to give to one didn’t mean to take from another? What if we embraced the idea and the fact that we are all in this together? That to survive we must reach across the divide? If we are to survive as a nation we must find our way back to one another. We will always have things to disagree about so let’s treat this like a momentous disaster and rally around so that all survive.

Our goal can’t be that we are lock-stepped in agreement about our beliefs. Instead, let’s find ways to see the humanity in one another, to listen to the concerns we have, and to work together for solutions to this nation’s problems that require compromise not only by the oppressed.  Believe it or not, we used to do something like it. The opposing party was referred to as ‘the loyal opposition’. The idea was (and is) to take the best of both sides and find a solution of compromise that meets the needs of both. More compromise may be required by those who have traditionally held power but we can do this if we find our will.

The depth of our polarization deafens us to one another’s needs and will defeat us if we are not careful. For me, it starts here.
I will not be your enemy.

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.