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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


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):


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.

Before too long I received this reply:

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,

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,

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The links above are to amazon, but please  support  your local feminist bookstore! They can be all ordered through Charis Books and More

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

The Power of Women Unleashed


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
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 Call to Resistance

Comes now the time we wait in darkness and breathless anticipation for hope to be born. Hope against hope.

This is the darkest Advent season of my lifetime. We yearn for the words of Isaiah to come to pass:
The spirit of the Our Godde is upon me,
because Godde has anointed me;
and has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
 to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

The prophet’s words call for our compassion to deepen – especially those of us who have never been hungry, or frightened, or powerless, or foreigners. This year we hear them differently. Suddenly we face the reality of being on the down side of the widening schism between rich and poor. The middle class shrinks and we can no longer count on our water being clean, our air being breathable, our livelihood being enough to support us. Our children are vulnerable to sexual predators. Our black men, imprisoned and exploited in unconsionable numbers, need to be released.  Women and people of color, the poor, the LGBT+ community, and  immigrants  desperately need to hear good news for the oppressed as our rights are being marched back by jack-booted thugs.

The image of an anticipated babe in utero, of a fallow garden with seeds beneath the frozen earth,  conjure the thought that something powerful happens in the dark. Growth, possibility, time, and space to gestate miracles. This Advent demands of us that we birth Christ into the world so that when we claim that followers in the Way of Christ are, indeed, the body of Christ, then this dark season impels us to remember what that means and to grow our understanding.

         We are the ones who must risk feeling the Spirit of Godde upon us, calling us to do impossible things on behalf of all humanity.
          We are the ones who must bring good news to the oppressed, even those of us who are oppressed, by speaking against the power that suppresses and finding our power to act and speak as we are empowered to act as the Holy Spirit descends this Holy Season.
          We are the ones who must gather to ourselves those who mourn, whose families have been torn apart by a racist immigration policies, and Dreamer’s who are our children, being forced to leave the only homes they have ever known.
          We are the ones who must stand for those imprisoned and demand justice.
          We are the ones because we claim to be the Body of Christ,  the living aspect of the one who came to liberate, heal, and lift up the least of these.

This Advent, we retreat into the dark, not a darkness that blinds, not a darkness that constricts our souls, but into the rich dark that nurtures our spirits and grows our imaginations so that we might bring to life great hope and find our power to stand and speak and live the promises of Godde embodied in our world.



Whose Rights?

                    Some days I’m not sure how much more sorrow we can navigate as a nation. After the brutal terrorist attack in Las Vegas, after Sandy Hook, after Pulse, after daily multiple murders that have become seemingly routine, have we been dulled to our outrage?

           And then there is the knee-jerk response from the right and the NRA: now is not the time to debate gun laws. Well if not now, when? When we have time compartmentalize our anger and grief? When we can make the people whose lives were taken and the ones who suffered loss unimportant? During election years when the NRA can buy the votes it needs? When?

What’s wrong with now?

If I hear one more 2nd amendment advocate tout that ‘this is the cost of freedom’ I believe I will hurl. We need to amend or void the second amendment. Amend it to include the six words when serving in the militia. Read Justice John Paul Steven’s well reasoned 2014 argument here:

My question today is: whose rights?

Rights enshrined in the very body of the Constitution are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The 2nd Amendment, as currently interpreted, infringes on those rights. The lack of sane gun control costs thousands of people their lives each year. Not only in mass shootings but in domestic violence incidents, and because of negligence that gives access to weapons by toddlers and adolescents.

NOW we need to focus on our citizens’ right to life. Maybe even come to understand that the ‘right to life’ includes enough to eat, a place to live, and healthcare. And the right to liberty. Because people are afraid to go to concerts, shopping malls, and sporting events. Women are afraid of their partners. And those fears imprison us. Finally, though happiness may be difficult to qualify, it has been snatched from thousands of our citizens by gun violence.

Why are some rights privileged over others? Why does your right to own a weapon trump my right to live? Our priorities are skewed, friends, in so many ways. But let’s begin here. Let’s begin by advocating for our right to stay alive.

Let’s give new and urgent meaning to the phrase ‘right to life’.

Holding Hope

I want to write about lovely things. I want to write about birdsong and dappled light and soft breezes. I want to write about dreaming large. About deep connections. About justice persisting and that ‘slow arc’ bending.

So I will.

The book of Revelation was written in a time the Christian community felt hopeless. The were rounded up, persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered. Not unlike many religious communities in history. The kin-dom, the shalom they believed Godde would bring about was crushed under the political heal of the empire. Communication between churches was suspect so leaders wrote and spoke in metaphors when referring to their current situation. They referenced dragons and bears and destruction. They sent present news in future tense.

For the past however long I have been writing about bears and dragons, destruction and fear with scattered glimpses of hope. Today I will take another cue from the writer of the Book of Revelation and fling a little hope. No matter how bad things are, we cannot give up hope or we will lose our souls.

The writer (supposedly John) offers this brilliant hope expressed as sacred literature anywhere:

The Book of Revelation 7: 14b-17                                                                                                                                                  “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of Godde,
and worship Godde day and night within the temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and Godde will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So today I write what I need: reason to hope or, at the very least, reason not to lose hope.

The dream humanity has for a world where there is no hunger or disease, a world of justice and compassion is not a vision we can abdicate. No matter how bad things are, we must not give up hope. It is imperative that we continue to believe in our ability to overcome, to co-create, to bring that vision into existence. Imagine what might replace that dream should we lose it.  Without a passion for justice and a vision for compassion,  without hope, our spirits will be crushed by despair.

So today and every day do the work of hope. Do one thing that could make a difference when added together with all the other one things folks are doing around the world. And listen to birds sing. Gaze at light streaming through tree branches. Dream big. Reach out to one another. Demand justice. Offer hope to the hopeless. Accept hope from the hopeful.





Jesus Talks Seeds of Resistance

            You know those stories you’ve heard a thousand times? The ones you almost know by heart, that are so entrenched in your psyche you assume you know their meaning? The ones that are kind of boring you have heard them so often?

That’s what happened to me with this past Sunday’s lectionary gospel passage. Matthew relates Jesus telling several parables about what the kin-dom of heaven is like. At least that is what I thought it was about. Jesus says “The kin-dom of heaven is like… a mustard seed or yeast (in these stories).

So familiar. As a child my Mom gave me a necklace with a mustard seed enshrined in a clear bead. That seed represented the seed Jesus referred to but the actual seeds he was talking about were more like dust than the seed I wore around my throat.

I have heard it preached a hundred times that a mustard plant would grow almost to the size of a tree. We are all amazed at the girth of a plant that comes from the seed that tiny. Here is where many of us make the leap to thinking the kin-dom of heaven is like this huge bush. But that is not what Jesus says. He says it’s like dust.

The problem is we don’t trust the value of small things. We tend to think that what is valuable is what is bigger, better, more powerful. The truth of the matter is that the kin-dom is millions of small acts of love, comfort, compassion, and justice scattered into the world trusting that enough will fall on fertile soil.

In these murky days, where power and might, money and privilege are worshipped it is important to remind ourselves that our small acts of resistance matter. They are the seeds of connection. The seeds of healing. The substance of hope. The revolutionary seeds we plant to honor all that is sacred in one another.

So do not be discouraged. Scatter seeds of love for immigrants. Seeds of comfort for those facing the hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, and trans-phobia exposed and encouraged by this president. Seeds of compassion for those who have been seduced by fear that someday dialogue may be restored. And scatter seeds of justice, even if you have to fight like hell to plant them.