Category Archives: Uncategorized

Absolutes Suck

Okay people, I’m about to go on a rant. As a feminist I would like to introduce you to the concept that two seemingly opposing ideas can both be true or right or correct.  Take a breath. I know it’s difficult to give into the idea that you are not absolutely right.

I want to add to that that one can be passionate about what they believe to be ‘right’ and still hold room for other views. For example: straws. I am part of the ‘let’s do away with them’ club. They multiply. They infest our landfills and more importantly, our oceans. They threaten  and kill wildlife. Straws are a bane to our society and we should make way for alternatives. So yay, Starbucks!!!

I refuse straws when eating out and if they bring me one already in my drink (because I didn’t anticipate it- learning curve!) I bring it home and cut it into small pieces. I have my own straw. It is a pyrex straw that I clean every day. It is one of the small acts I do to make a small difference, to begin the change. And though I no longer buy canned drinks with plastic rings, but when I did, I made sure to cut them up so they would not choke dolphins or constrain turtles.

Everyone should stop using straws! Now! the future of the earth depends on it!

… Well, except… there are people with disabilities who clearly NEED straws to survive. That is if we consider the ability to eat and drink survival. Which I do. So is there room in my passion and my ‘rightness’ for understanding that my ‘universal’ has exceptions? I really hope so. Because I have friends with disabilities for whom I would also make a stand for their continued ability to use straws.

Is this really so hard? Can two things that seem to be contraindicated both be true? If  you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question, you may need to look more closely at your belief system. My hunch is that if you don’t  it will tie you up into bitter knots.

And here’s my final shot at ‘absolutes’. They keep us from being reasonable, compassionate people. Whether we are talking about legal absolutes, moral absolutes, political absolutes, or theological absolutes.
What I get when I hear someone propounding an absolute is that I am in danger.

Being the First


Remember all those jokes that went around that began “This is what people think I do” followed by either glorified or belittling pictures – or both – and then the punch line, “this is what I really do”?  Well, that’s kind of what being ‘the first’ is like.

I was the first open lesbian student at Agnes Scott College in the late 70’s and the first open lesbian student at Columbia Theological Seminary in the early 80’s. A few people thought I was a warrior. Believe me, I wanted to be one. If I could have channeled Xena I would have been one happy woman. But I discovered not all warriors are Xena, some are just emboldened believers who are willing to make the grueling march through enemy territory. And the thing is, as a warrior, you really aren’t at your best when you are alone. It really does help to  have an army beside you. Being ‘the first’ is lonely.  But many saw me as a strong warrior like the woman pictured above.

Then there were the majority who saw me as a destructive force that threatened to shatter institutions and bring down civilization. I am glad to report I did neither of these things. Sometimes I wish I had, but I didn’t. I had no interest in destroying institutions only in changing them and challenging beliefs, privilege, and systems of power.  I did that every day, sometimes by my mere presence, but with nowhere near the force or power that some assumed I possessed. 

What I really did was show up every day and try to be my best, most authentic self.  I didn’t always succeed, but mostly. Being the first means you probably won’t get where you want to go. It means you are plowing the field for someone else to sow and harvest. It means clearing a way so that those who you follow will be able to push even farther into the uncharted territory. Being the first is lonely and sometimes forgotten work.

That doesn’t mean it is not important work. It has taken me decades to realize that being the first was enough for me and right for the time. It was a challenge I accepted and a grace I assumed. But really, being the first looks much more like this than what others imagined:

The really cool thing is that now I am telling the story of what it was like to be ‘the first’ from my perspective. My memoir, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, is coming out soon. Stay tuned.

Naming the Evil of Donald Trump

I saw Hamilton the other night (it was fabulous!- from the cast to the lighting, the music to the musicians- but I digress) and I remembered something it took me a long time to learn: our heroes have clay feet.
No one is perfect. Everyone I have ever looked up to has been flawed.
Yet somehow we demand perfection from our leaders, certainly those in politics or religion. A not-so-secret part of me  demanded it of myself as a pastor. But perfection is not possible, or even reasonable. Who we strive to be and who we are sometimes diverge. Sometimes by intent and sometimes, because we are just plain flawed.

Until now  we have held our politicians (and religious leaders) to unreasonable standards. I am not saying this to give people a pass but to suggest that there is a difference between making mistakes (we all do) or having blind spots (also true of us all) but to say the hope is that we are able to learn from our mistakes and acknowledge it when our blind spots are revealed.

The term “feet of clay” is understood to mean a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person. We are disappointed when someone we admire falls off the proverbial pedestal, when a flaw or weakness is revealed. Like when we grow up and find out  that the founding brothers of our nation were less than perfect. That’s one thing. It is different from downright evil.

Donald Trump does not have clay feet. Clay feet assumes a weakness or flaw in an otherwise decent human being. Say the word with me: EVIL. I will not prance around the word. We cannot excuse behavior that demeans any human being. We know racism is evil. Sexism is evil. Heterosexism is evil. Ableism is evil. ‘Other-ism” is evil. And Donald Trump perpetrates evil everyday with the people he appoints to oversee the very institutions created to protect us, with the lies he tells about himself and others, with the decisions he makes about world politics, and with the words of hate and dismissal spewing from his anal mouth.

Donald Trump is evil. I wish he had clay feet. I wish he had a conscience so that he could have clay feet. But there is no indication that it is even a possibility. Donald Trump is evil with power. And if ever there was a time we needed to recognize the truth about this man, it is now.

Evil is being normalized and the more we accept or allow his actions to continue the more complicit we become. Now is the time to call our clay-footed leaders, our representatives in government, in the churches and synagogues and mosques, in our neighborhoods to remove the scales from their eyes and see the urgency of the tasks before us.

Even if you have been called evil by the un-saintly religious, even if the use of the word troubles you because of how it has been appropriated by right-wing fundamentalists, even if you haven’t considered the concept of evil to be relevant  in the 21st century, say it: Donald Trump is Evil.  If we don’t say it. If we  continue to normalize his words and actions, evil will take stronger and stronger footholds in our institutions and our population.

I don’t  know how to end this. I don’t know where to go with this. I only know that this is an urgent time and we are a vulnerable people. I believe we must begin with speaking the word. With acknowledging what is going on for what it is. For the past two years we have repeatedly said to one another, “We cannot normalize his words or actions.” That is true. But now is the time to name them. It will give us a clarity of focus. Say it:EVIL


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Passover Heresy

To some:
It is a heresy to celebrate a religious holiday on a day other than the prescribed date.
It is a heresy to place an orange in the middle of a seder plate.
It is a heresy to adopt a tradition outside one’s own.

To me, it is only ‘heresy’ when my tradition (Christianity) appropriates the meal to give it ‘Christian’ meaning. The story is universal. It is the story of the Jews. It is the story of humanity. The question for me is, “where do our stories intersect?”.

My answer this year is this:
they intersect in the places we are oppressed
they intersect in the places we oppress others
they intersect when we examine the journey of the faithfulness/faithlessness
they intersect when the story we recall resonates in our hearts and minds

With great thanksgiving for the Jewish tradition of the Passover seder,
we celebrate the meal each year
and we remember
and we learn
and we internalize
and we encourage
and we mourn
and we celebrate
and we learn to hope again

We challenge authority and the misuse of power. We encourage one another to resist. We remember to trust that Godde’s vision for humanity as one of freedom.

And we learn with our bodies. We take it in.
the flatness
the bitterness
the heaviness
the sweetness of safety at the expense of slavery
the price of freedom
the joy of shared stories
and the celebration of hope.

This is our gracious heresy: that our stories are shared and that they call us again and again to remember who we are  to one another and to Godde.

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.

 

Update: Clarification and Rant

DAMN. DAMN. DAMN.

After a vigorous conversation someone I respect,  I now realize that terms I used in my last blog may have been less than clear. So let me start with what I meant by the use of the word ‘conservative’. To do that I must also talk about what I do NOT mean by the term.

I am of an age where conservatism is not equated with White Fundamentalist Christian Triumphalism. So when I ues the word conservative I am referring to another breed. One I still disagree with vehemently but one that is based on political and economic theories (however misguided to my mind) rather than religious and racial “truths”.  I am not talking about the gullible, the fearful, the intractable, the ignorant, or the white supremacists who people much of the conservative landscape nurtured at the teats of Gingrich, the Tea Party, and Trump .

I want to respect conservatives. I do respect conservatives. I want to discuss ideas with them but have no desire to engage politically with those whose minds are locked in a steel tumbler that circles endlessly with no entrance or exit.

I DO believe what I said in my last blog:
We need to be political athletes that can compete with one another, respect each       other’s strengths, and identify each other’s weaknesses. In the end we are both necessary to play the vigorous  game of democracy.

To have those conversations requires critical thinking skills, an acknowledgment of facts, and an agenda free of religious doctrine. Please note I said ‘doctrine’ and not ‘influence’. Because some of our best impulses come from core ideals present in all religions: love, peace, and justice. To have these conversations means that  we begin with the shared  values upon which this nation was founded and the direction toward growth to which our principles point. That slow arc toward justice means that racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and all the exclusionary phobias must be acknowledged and then addressed based on our shared political principles, not personal religious ones.

White Fundamentalist Triumphalist Christianity is not the final word on the definition of conservatism. It is a small subset of conservatism that ,instead,  is the opening word on fascism. It is anti-democracy and anti-republic. It is exclusionary, built on the myth superiority, and wrapped in a cloak fear.  Those are the folks we must fight tooth and nail, put our lives on the lines to overcome, and resist with all our beings.

I am NOT saying “LET’S MAKE NICE”. I am trying to say, “Let’s remember who we are, folks, and do what we can to make it work. Our differences do not make us enemies. Our enemies are abundant enough. And they are in the White House, the Senate, Congress, and even the Supreme Court.

Still A Heretic, Hopefully Gracious

          In an unabashed plug, my memoir,  A Gracious Heresy: the queer calling of an unlikely prophet, will be published soon.  I am at the stage of seeking permissions for works I quote in the text and that is where my story begins.
I asked a poet for permission to use his two line poem which sums up the unexpected confrontations, joy, and challenges that Godde sets before me. It took me a while to track him down because I didn’t know the context in which the poem was published. I did what all good researchers do: I googled him. I discovered he taught at a Catholic university somewhere in West Virginia so I called him and asked for permission directly, assuming he would tell me what publisher to contact.
We had a lovely conversation in which I told him I had written a spiritual memoir and was hoping to use his poem. He said he could give permission and was glad to do it. We talked further and he asked if he could read my manuscript. I was delighted and agreed to send it as an attachment. Here is what followed (redacted to protect the guilty):

Dear XXXXX,

Thank you so much for giving me permission to use your poem, XXXX, in my memoir. I have attached a copy and hope you find it worthwhile.
Warmly,
Connie

Before too long I received this reply:

Connie,
Although I certainly wish you every success, I think we might have a problem here.  The University I teach at is (like me) orthodox Catholic.
You seem like a good person, and so I feel kind of bad to ask you, but could you use a quote from someone else?
We all have to try and be faithful to the Jesus we know.
I’ll pray for you and you pray for me!
Again, I wish you the best.
In Jesus and Mary,
XXXX

Dear XXXX,
          Of course, I am deeply disappointed. I suppose I could have avoided your conflict by not sharing my manuscript but I choose not to prevaricate or mislead about my life and faith. Rejection in the name of doctrine is not a new experience for me though I did not expect it here. I will not use your work since you have withdrawn your permission.
Your poem, XXXXspeaks deeply to my absolute joy in God. Perhaps because of this, I am surprised you do not see the Spirit in the eggplant that is me. Be assured, I am not a good person but I am a child of God and a follower in the Way of Christ.

         Without rancor I concur: I pray for you, you pray for me… we are all a part of God’s body.
In Christ’s love,
Connie

To which he responded:
Thank you, Connie, although I wouldn’t say that I don’t see the Spirit that is in you.  We all need mercy; we all struggle.
(I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were doing better than I am.)
And thanks, too, for the prayers!

 I only regret that I didn’t expect this. There is no question that this person is warm in spirit and seeking to be faithful.  What is clearer than ever is that I have absolutely no struggle with who I am, only with systems of oppression, especially those in the name of Godde. In the relative scheme of things this is not a big deal but it is an important reminder of the reason I need to tell my story.

I Recommend

I confess that I am an eager student of history and political science.
I like informed, scholarly works and  personal narratives of historic moments.
Given all those caveats, here are some books I heartily recommend.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton is an honest assessment of the 2016 election told from the perspective of candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. It is bruising and truthful. As a woman close to her age, who shares  many of her experiences – as a mother and a woman-as well as the historical context of the women’s movement, I encourage anyone who wants to dive deep into the election to read this book. She has been savaged by the press both during the election and about the book. If you choose to read for yourself the story of one woman at the cusp of history, do yourself a favor and read What Happened.   https://www.amazon.com/What-Happened-Hillary-Rodham-Clinton-ebook/dp/B01MYE7QP0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1517241096&sr=1-1&keywords=what+happened+hillary+clinton

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trumpedited by Brandy Lee M.D, M.Div. is a collection of essays by 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessing Donald Trump’s mental status. These are all well respected scientists and educators who feel compelled by their moral and civic ‘duty to warn’. While academically solid, the essays are extremely readable and give much needed insight for those of us observing the erratic behavior of the President. https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Case-Donald-Trump-Psychiatrists-ebook/dp/B07262SJDC

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff is an peek inside the current workings of the White House. It’s stuff we knew, or at least suspected, and stuff we were afraid of and found is true. Wolff’s reputation has been muddied by those who claim he lacks journalistic integrity (e.g. reporting ‘off the record’) but he has answered those claims by stating clearly he was not there as a journalist. Perhaps a minor detail but one that speaks to the integrity of his work. Reading it is like watching a train wreck that you can’t look away from. You will see in riveting detail the narcissism and sociopathy examined in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, (see above).  Put this one on your list. https://www.amazon.com/Fire-Fury-Inside-Trump-White/dp/B077G9ZMTC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517241175&sr=1-1-spons&keywords=fire+and+fury+inside+the+trump+white+house

Dark Money: the hidden history of the billionaires behind the radical right, by Jane Mayer. If you care at all about the future of American democracy then read this book. Ms. Mayer has done extensive research about a systemic plan by a group of billionaires to fundamentally alter our political system. I might sound like Henny Penny scurrying around shouting “the sky is falling!” but I am not. I am not a conspiracy theorist nor do I ignore well-researched facts. The read is a little depressing but very well written and researched. Add it to your list. https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Money-History-Billionaires-Radical/dp/B01A7BVFZK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517241222&sr=1-1&keywords=dark+money

How Democracies Die, by Daniel Zipblatt and Steven Levitsky. This book is written by two scholars (Harvard professors) who study the life and death of democracies throughout the world from the 1930’s forward. It looks at the demise of democratic governments that is not through revolution but  through insidious changes that accrue over time. They also offer solutions. The authors provide a sober look at where democracy in the U.S. stands today, underscore important ‘norms’ that are not codified and how far we have left them behind, and propose solutions to the current state of our democracy.   https://www.amazon.com/How-Democracies-Die/dp/B078KPCRJZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517241265&sr=1-1-spons&keywords=how+democracies+die

The links above are to amazon, but please  support  your local feminist bookstore! They can be all ordered through Charis Books and More       http://www.charisbooksandmore.com

They are all worth the read. Or the listen. I recommend.

The Power of Women Unleashed

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Something powerful is happening.
Pundits talk about it, observing from a distance.
Talking heads dismiss it, claiming it will go the way of Occupy.

But they are missing something important. They are missing the convergence of awareness. The Women’s March, #metoo, #timesup…women are woke. And they are woke across class and racial lines, sexuality and gender lines, and making inroads into all the lines that  historically divide us.
They miss the point.
The point of #metoo is that almost every woman (and among my many acquaintances the number stands at 100%) have been sexually harassed, assaulted, abused, or raped.
That should take your breath away.
These same women have systematically made less money for doing the same jobs as men. Or have been passed over for deserved promotions. Hence, #timesup.

With the past election we got woke to the systemic hatred of women. Okay, people still find it difficult to say that women are hated but look at the treatment of Hillary Clinton by men in the media. Even progressive men. Look at the explicit sexism of the Bernie Bros (and we’re supposed to be on the same side). Look at Chris Matthews. Look at her treatment by Trump. For many of us, it confirms our own experiences. For many it is a getting woke moment. For some, it is still difficult to acknowledge a symptom one has studiously ignored.

We are erasing the imaginary lines between us. Not ignoring our differences, but recognizing how keeping us separate has kept us down. We refuse to acquiesce to the way it’s always been. We are held up by the women who have gone before us from Eve to Ester, Mary to Prisca, Sojourner Truth to Margaret Sanger, Shirley Chisholm to Gloria Steinem. Young women and old women, girls, maidens, matrons, and crones are stepping up and speaking out.

Yes we have growing pains and we don’t need to be perfect, but we must be authentic. What is important is that we refuse to  be numbed to the evils of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and ableism. We must stay woke to our interconnectedness.  It is time to  unleash our power and VOTE, and RUN for office, and REPRESENT.

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.