Category Archives: spiritual practice

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.



 

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.