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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Talk to Trump Supporters

Impossible task?
Unwanted engagement?
Scary threat?
Lost cause?
All of the above?

Another question we need to ask “is how do we survive if we don’t learn how to talk to one another?”.  Have we become so deeply divided we can’t even acknowledge one another’s humanity?”  Hatred must be resisted:
the hatred of women
of queers
of people of color
of immigrants
of change.
And we must resist our own hatred of those who wish for our demise.

Let’s start with recognizing that hatred is a ‘leading’ emotion of a much more vulnerable emotion of fear that is more difficult to tolerate. The question then becomes not ‘how do we challenge/fight their (and our own) hatred? but ‘how do we speak to their fears?’.

To answer this question means that we must, as Michelle reminded us, go high. We have have to be the better person in the conversation. We need to challenge and live with our own fears and find some small, even minuscule, ground on which to stand that opens us to compassion for the other.

I hear you screaming. We, too, are afraid. We, too, are angry about the disintegration of our national moral fiber, broken ideals, and trashed social advances. Why do we fricking have to be the better person? The answer is simple: because we can. And if we can, then it is our task and our call, to move our conversations about justice and change forward. We do this because we’re the ones for whom it matters. And hating the haters won’t get us there.

What gets us there is mending the fabric of society. Are you afraid you’ll lose your job? So are we. Are you afraid for your safety? So are we. To make it through, we must make it through together. So let’s not talk about programs, let’s talk about a human response to our shared concerns. Use our words to connect rather than disconnect.

The other night I heard a really good talk by Drew Westen, a preeminent doctor of psychology at Emory who wrote the book, The Political Brain.
https://www.amazon.com/Political-Brain-Emotion-Deciding-Nation/dp/1586485733

And while I won’t quote him here, his works speaks profoundly to the issue before us. So read it, please. But at least learn how to speak to another’s fear. If people are, indeed, wired differently- and early evidence points that way- then we must speak their language. Republicans have intently worked on messaging in a way that plays to fear in how they label and refer to different policies and people. It’s time for us to find words that reach across that created divide. 

For example, if the term ‘Obamacare’ is used to play to people’s racism and fears of government intrusion then let’s not use it. Or ACA or anything that doesn’t lend itself to emotional responses. The suggestion Westen used was to say instead, ‘A family doctor for every family’.

It is time to think about how we can talk with our fellow citizens rather than participating in the divide that might surely destroy us. Go high. Even when it’s the hardest thing you have ever had to do.

 

Why I Wrote the Book (and a sneak peek)

People often ask me why I wanted to write a book – that was during the years I put my head down and trashed a thousand drafts. I always said it was because I had a story to tell. Now that my book (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet) is published I need to think about the answer to that question in different ways.

It’s still true that I  wanted to write a book because I have stories to tell.
But there are lots of reasons.
I wrote a book because my life is unusual – or as some have said, ‘interesting’.
I wrote a book because I love words and language.
I wrote a book – and will probably  write more – because the creative process gives me juice.
I wrote this book because it is insight into a small part of the history of change in the church and the nation.
I wrote this book because I wanted to confront myself and share the humanity of struggle.
I  also wrote this book because I have a big ole’ creative gene begging for expression.

Here is a preview, a snippet, a snapshot from the book. It is from the time my mom and I visited Dachau when I was ten:

“I leaned into my mother’s warmth, hungry for the security she offered as I took in the pain and horror. Questions I would struggle with the rest of my life were forged in those moments. Forever, my questions about the Sacred and the human, history and theology, politics and prayer seek answers in those grim, gray rooms filled with the remains of the innocent and the stench of intolerance.
That day I left the camp in the safety of my mother’s embrace. It did not occur to me that she was like other mothers and that there were things from which she could not protect me. We passed through the gates of the camp returning to a world filled with magic and color and sunlight. I did not know then but Dachau will be a part of me until the day I die.
We returned home and over the next weeks and months, my fear and outrage receded to tolerable levels. Back in school, I turned to my studies and friendships.

As a woman and a lesbian I wear the first hand scars of the injury done to my soul by sexism, heterosexism, and the not so subtle message that I am “less than.” I also carry within me secondary scars of evil. As a white person, I the carry the secondary scars of racism, as a non-Jew, the secondary scars of Nazism. As a citizen, the secondary scars of violence. As a human being, the secondary scars of intolerance.
I guess I made that up, secondary scars, or maybe I heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons not only the consequences of evil that has been done to us but also the evil that is done to others. We are not separate from that which is perpetrated on others. We are injured either by our complicity or our compassion, whether conscious or not. It is those scars that make it impossible for me to remain silent.”

A final plug: it can be ordered from Amazon or directly from the publisher: https://wipfandstock.com/a-gracious-heresy.html

 

Silenced by a Lie

I heard yesterday that I am “just an angry lesbian.”
It takes only one phrase,
uttered by those in charge of writing history,
to erase the reality of those not in power.

This is not a new thought.
Oppressed people
know who writes history
and it is not them.
It had never been so personal before.

If I were writing my history
this is the story I would tell:
Godde called me to ministry.
I had to figure out what it meant.
I went to seminary with the intention of being
authentic
open
vulnerable
and willing to engage in difficult, often hurtful conversations.
I made that choice
It came with a great price.
I got to experience personal rejection
even hate
and ignorance in the name of God
that daily crushed my spirit.

And yet I believed
I had the strength to engage
To stay.
To listen.
To retain my integrity.
So I did.
And I thank Godde for sustaining me in that time.

I didn’t realize that
years later
my witness would be silenced
by a lie.

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.