To My UMC Siblings: Follow Your Gift

Let me begin by saying I was once a United Methodist, baptized as a teenager into the communion. I left when the church didn’t reflect my commitment to and passion for civil rights and women’s rights and against the Viet Nam War. At 17 and today, the most urgent needs of humanity ground my understanding of a life in Christ.

At 25, as a lesbian, feminist, justice-seeker I experienced a call to ministry. The year was 1977. My book tells the story of how I figured out what that meant. Well, I still am, all these years later, nonetheless…  may I offer the insights of my journey?

I became a Presbyterian (now PCUSA) because their structure and theology, in theory, offered a way to challenge their then anti-gay stance. I learned a lot about what it means to challenge a church you love. Today, with love, offering comfort to your grief, and standing with you in your passion and anger, I want to offer whatever small wisdom I have garnered:

The most important thing you can do is honor one another by holding the tension that there is no ‘one right way’ to respond to the events of the General Conference.  Some will be called to stay. Some will be called to leave. Some will be kicked out. Some will leave their faith – and perhaps not just the UMC but the Christian faith. All these choices must be honored because each experience of faith in community is different, no matter how shared.

For some, what has happened reflects continued abuse and rejection. It is okay to leave.
For some, it is a family argument. It’s okay to stay.
For some it is a betrayal. It’s okay to question or even reject Christianity.
What matters is that you remain authentic to your journey.

Some of you have the gifts to stay and fight: the intellect, the history, the strength, the spiritual grounding, to take on an institution that summoned you to your spiritual journey. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

Some of you have the gifts to leave. The intellect, history, the strength, the spiritual grounding to strike off into uncharted territory. No telling where it might take you- to what denomination or if you will sail untethered. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

Some of you have the gifts to refuse to be abused or betrayed: the intellect, the history, the strength, the spiritual grounding to remove yourself from those things that have hurt and controlled you. While your experience is not necessarily a universal one,  many have been abused or betrayed by institutional Christian power structures. If this is your truth, speak it. You are not obligated to protect your abuser. It will require your deepest, most Christ-like self.

As your journey through this time of anger and grief, please know that you are held in the prayers of many in your city and state and around the world. The answers you discover as you move through this painful time must be your answers. There are no wrong answers. Your history and your gifts must direct you. However you proceed, may you always be held gently in the heart of Godde.

 

A Memoirist’s Confession

It’s true. It takes a certain amount of ego to put one’s life on paper, to peddle it to publishers, and to ask people to read your story. The other true thing is that once all that is done it’s left to the author to live with insecurity and self-doubt.
It could have been done better, written better, crafted better.

The editor in me asks: what was left out that should be in? what is in that should be out?
The philosopher in me asks: what is true?
The theologist in me asks: where is Godde?
The woman in me asks: having spoken your truth, can you still love yourself?

I have to believe every memoirists asks at least some of these questions. And perhaps it is not only the writer who must ask these questions. As you read the story of another’s life it’s an invitation to ask those questions of your own life.

How do you tell your story to yourself? How willing are you to be a truth-teller, even when your truth is messy or even downright ugly? Does it matter?

And then there’s the question I’ve danced around: if people know who I am will they still like me? It is a universal question that is also an invitation to an authentic life. For me, the answer is: not always, sometimes, and passionately. Speaking and living your truth can result in people not always liking you. Or liking you sometimes. Or disliking you passionately. Or liking you passionately. And sometimes, loving you warts and all.

The risk and joy of telling one’s story is that it sifts out chaff and reveals what you may have always known but were afraid to acknowledge.

I would love to hear, read, know your story. It is worth the risk of telling whatever the venue. Hearing your story will grow me into a deeper, more compassionate human being. I hope my story does the same.

So here is my story. There are some unresolved issues with the crafting of it that I only saw after its publication. There are truths that make me look quite weak at times and trite at others. There are passions revealed. And flaws. And even some places where I look quite exceptionally good.

My final confession as a memoirist is that I want  you to read my life. I want to share the connections of our human stories. And somewhere, deep down, I hope that telling my story makes a difference.

 

 

Do You Love?

Today we celebrate love
and my first question is:
Who do you love?

Who do I love?
And before that question is the question:
What is love?

I’m going philosophical on you today.
These are meant to be big questions
not small ones.
These are questions
without firm answers
except maybe to star-struck lovers
and new mothers and fathers…

This week I am preaching  the Sermon on the Mount
not just the beatitudes
but three long chapters of teaching
that includes the challenge for
my interior life
to match my actions
to love those
who I might otherwise
hate
to risk a kind of living
that is as dangerous
as it is
difficult.

So today, I ask myself:
Who do I love?
And part of me answers:
no one.
And part of me answers:
everyone.

The whole of me answers:
my daughter, with all my heart
my family, to the best of my ability
my friends, who have refused to
abandon me.
But am I that small?

So I reach further back
and ask:
What is love?
Is it feeling?
An intention?
Or is it the will toward goodness
for every life?
Isn’t love the activity of justice?
The care of and for each life
no matter their doctrine,
skin color,
gender orientation
nationality?
Isn’t Divine love
what propels our planet
through the cosmos
and insists on recognition
in the most unseemly places?

This day of hearts and flowers
lovers and dreamers
is also a day that invites us
to think bigger
act larger
open wider
to the Love
that both drives  planets
and searches out our deepest
secret places
to insinuate itself
into our beings.

So if you are buying flowers for a loved one today
or strewing rose petals across the bed…
if your heart is racing as you hold the image
of your beloved in your imagination
let the feelings  grow
let them grow big enough
to hold the whole world
in it’s embrace.
So that what thrives
deep within you
grows the bigger question:
‘how will I love the world?’

 

Grief and Faith

For all those who have grieving friends
For all who are grieving
For those whose pain seems unbearable
For those who are uncomfortable witnessing pain
For those whose loss shifts reality so deeply that you cannot stand…

It will be better. Your grief and pain does not mean you have no faith.
It does not mean Godde has abandoned you.
It does not mean there is no hope.

It means that something in your life matters that much.
That you loved that much
tried that much
cared that much
strove that much
that the loss means you must redefine your world, or your place in the world,
or the dimensions of your world.

And when you are not a container large enough to hold the pain and grief
look for the people who are not afraid to come to you
and to sit with you in your darkness.
Look for the people who know who you are
no matter how different you seem
in this time that seems to stretch without end.

And if you are a witness to a grief that unravels
or to a pain that shreds both heart and gut,
hold the light of the one who suffers
because the day will come
when they will need it
to find their way back to the land of the living.

Change and Healing


I actually prayed today before I began writing. Something like, “Is there a word for me to speak?” And then my mind took off on it’s own about how little difference it would make and the problems of our time are too large and it what I might have to say doesn’t matter anyway. You know. All that self doubt, self-negation, self-flagellation. The sin of women.

And then a whisper came. Not what you say, sweetie. Not how loud or large your words. It’s how you live.

So maybe that’s what I want to say. We make a difference by how we live our lives. We make systemic change when we engage with our whole selves – especially one-on-one. Change happens on the world stage when laws and policy are changed. Healing happens when we are changed by one another.

What heals us is contact, connection, shared experiences, and maybe most of all, listening to the voices of those whose life journeys are different from our own.
Holding the pain of others, imagining what they endured and still endure, is hard. And it can be even more difficult to feel powerless to make change.

Healing is mutually transformative work. It is important for us to be authentic as we engage with one another. A caveat here: often those who are traumatized by our system don’t necessarily feel safe enough to be authentic back. And it’s got to be okay. Until… there has been enough listening, enough ‘standing under with’, enough staying,  to earn mutual authenticity.

The real change I can make, that all of us can make is to do the work of healing relationships in community and to be connected in a disconnected world. We must take time to sit, to reach out, and to listen. To care when it is not easy. To act when we aren’t sure of what the right or best action is. To be willing to be confronted and even to be wrong sometimes.

How we live heals the world into making change.
Don’t stop marching, writing or voting – but don’t stop there.
Live ways that demand something of you.
Live in ways that call you to your best, highest, brightest being.
This is what heals us.
It’s not how large or loud your words are, sweetie, it’s how you live.
And I got that from a very good source.

 

Do What You Can

Today I will make a call.
I will call my senators and ask them to vote to open the government.
Today I will write an email.
I will email my senators and ask them to vote to open the government.
Today I will write a letter.
I will write to my senators and ask them to vote to open the government.

It is the very least I can do.
If I do not do at least this much
then I have not begun to do enough.

Danger lurks in our inaction
as much as it lurks
in the inaction
of our elected officials.

Today make a call.
Send an email.
Write a letter.
Begin here.
Do what you can.
Together, our seemingly insignificant drops
could become a wave.

Do Not Be Afraid: Are You F***ing Kidding Me

 

Someone once told me that the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” is in the Bible 365 times. Once for each day of the year, I guess.  I don’t know if the count is correct but it does seem to be a biblical theme of some importance.

In my life I’ve been afraid (and often overcome the fear) of:
dying
giving birth
coming out
sharks
mad cow disease
being in a wreck
having a terminal illness
losing someone I love
flying
failing
… the list goes on, but you get the gist.

These days I’m afraid in ways I’ve never been before. The constants in our lives are no longer certainties. Not longer can I assume that:
-our governing bodies ultimately put the nation over self-interest
-our president is not the pawn of a foreign and hostile nation
-our structure as a nation of laws will survive
-our people stand on common ground amidst disagreements
-our nation is bending the arc of history toward justice.

Those are things I believed, that grounded my way of being in the world. Yes, I know there was much evidence to the contrary, but my experience was that our deeper values of freedom and justice would prevail because I have seen and been a part of years of radical change – albeit slow – of civil rights for African-Americans, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights… We are not there yet but our trajectory was on course.

Now I am deathly afraid of this slow-motion dive. If our nation was a jumbo jet I feel like I’m watching it break apart in v-e-r-y slow motion while diving at the speed of sound. We see it. It’s happening. Solutions are sluggish when  we need immediate and desperate measures. Many of our leaders appear to be wearing blinders at best or are colluding with a hostile power at worst. It is not a paranoid statement when  I’m referring to Senators and Representatives who are funded by Russian money siphoned through the NRA.

So how the hell do we not be afraid? Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods or could it be inviting us into a way of living when fear overwhelms us?  Maybe it’s an invitation to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Do what, you might well ask.

So far this is what I can imagine doing  while terrified:
-fighting for the ideals on which this nation was founded
-speaking out, speaking up, making noise,
-living as if we will emerge from this horror.

When my daughter was in high school I took her to see Richard Harris in Camelot. The closing scene is of Arthur telling a young squire to remember what Camelot was: a place where majestic dreaming commenced. He sings this song in the midst of the smoky ruins of battle. Before the curtain dropped I began to cry. I cried all the way to the parking lot and sat in our car with my head pressed against the steering wheel until my wrenching sobs quieted. The loss of hope, of a time of justice, of seeking the good, was too much for me to bear. I’m feeling like that now but I and we cannot afford the luxury of letting our fears and grief overwhelm us.

I believe a pastor’s most important task is to see and offer hope. Here is what I can offer today:
– when others count on our fear to paralyze us, we discover our courage
-when the plane is plunging into destruction, we pull up
-when fear isolates us, we come together to make change

Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods when it repeatedly encourages us not to be afraid? I think not, though sometimes I feel like it is. ‘Don’t be afraid’ means to me that we live into our truths, that we don’t allow fear to control us. It means we can pull up. As afraid as I am, I have another vision of our crashing plane and it’s this:

We can make it through these times if we hang together.
Hold me up and I will hold you up.
I am less afraid when you are with me.

 

Healing the Divide

I’m not alone in thinking about the horrific divide in our nation. The chasm seems so great that we cannot imagine reaching across – or that if we try we would tumble into the abyss.

I have several thoughts I’d like to share that may be a way back to one another. Let’s start with the premise that we need one another. Stretch with me. Even if you have to say ‘I need the Trump supporter who manufactures washing machines’ or ‘I need the liberal who produces my favorite TV show.’ Let’s start here.

Now let’s take what we know from science: different people are wired differently. We can see that in things as simple as cilantro tasting like soap to some and like heavenly elixir to others. Science has also shown us that there are differing ways brains are wired and differing motivations. Conservatives tend to be motivated more by fear and liberals more by compassion. Here’s a great link to an NPR segment from Hidden Brain entitled Red Brain/Blue Brain:

https://www.npr.org/2018/10/03/654127241/nature-nurture-and-your-politics

Then I think about the great American historian, Joseph Ellis, who wrote the ground-breaking work, Founding Brothers. His research is stellar and his premise (and I’m boiling it down with impunity) is that the reason our political revolution was a success is  because, though the political arguments then were nearly identical to the political arguments today, it is the  relationships between our fore brothers  that made for a third way. They respected one another and though they disagreed profoundly were able to create a third way making use of the strengths of each.

As a liberal or progressive raised as a military brat I have a bird’s eye view to both sides. What I have discovered is that neither side is absolutely right nor is either side absolutely wrong. I was a pacifist at an early age. No war. No way. No how.
Then I was exposed to the Nazi history of the holocaust and to KKK lynchings in the South.
Like Bonhoeffer, my absolutes were challenged. Not by another absolute but by the idea that maybe absolutes are chilling and unwieldy in themselves.

So where does that leave us? I have lots of thoughts about this. First, we have to stop fear-mongering and call out those who do. Our president is the worst in this category. He whips conservative fears into a frenzy then offers solutions that cannot be met. Then we have to listen to the concerns born of fear and find reasonable ways of responding to real concerns. Next, let those of us motivated by compassion acknowledge that some fears are reasonable. Then let the same compassion work to find ways forward that are respectful of the fears: reasonable vetting, for one.

The elephant in the room that must be addressed is truth. Or more important: lying. We must accept factual information backed by science, research, observation, and data. Lying and the rise of ‘alternative facts’ is the slimy slope that both demeans and abuses our conservative neighbors. I’m not sure how to address this but I am sure I will write about it again. We must be able as a nation, a world, and family members to distinguish between fact and opinion.

Finally, and most important, we have to start seeing and treating one another as important team-mates. When we propose policies let us be informed by one another and stop seeking absolutes. The foundation of this nation is based on finding a third way. Period. So, my friends, this is an invitation to complex thinking, to nuanced thinking, and to the possibility that we are all wrong sometimes.

 

Begin Again

The new year invites us to start over.
Start to diet again.
Start to organize your papers, office, closet
… life
Start to exercise more
pray more
study more
meditate more…
It is the time of year that invites us
to do it different this time.
To be different
do better.

St. Benedict’s wisdom beckons through the ages,
reminding us that always we can begin again.

Remember that we can begin again
not only each year
but each day
each hour, if we need to…

May our guiding star,
be the one that hangs over a manger,
blazes into our imaginations
scorches our spirits
Let it be the one that turns us
again and again,
orienting us each time
toward  the Light
that is both map
and path.

 

Christmas is Not About Facts

Frankly, I don’t care if Jesus was born in April or December.
Whether it was a stable or guest room.
I don’t care if Mary was a virgin or not.
I don’t care whether Christians enfolded the celebration of winter solstice or any other spiritual celebration into the celebration of Christmas.

They all point to the same star, comet, or whatever.
They all point
to hope
to Godde’s intervention
to the lesson that
Godde is with us
and in us.

Our stories are stories
to mark time
to mark shifts in understanding
and new openness
to unimagined possibilites
and outrageous dreaming.

Our stories try to
wrap the gift of Love
in beautiful words
and extraordinary pictures
in characters that resonate
across time.

Is it true? I have been asked.
And I wonder what the questioner means
am I being asked,
are the facts of the matter true?
We will never know by scientific method
or any other method
so I must believe the ‘facts’ have no meaning.

What has meaning is
that we experience Godde-with-us
that we stand in awe of the vulnerability of the Sacred
that we bear the Light of hope
that we see visions of Godde’s dream for humanity
that we are utterly undone by the miracles
we experience every day:
birth
and life
and connection
and the Mystery
and Miracle
that moves among us
every time we see Godde
in unexpected places.
Every time Godde calls us
to bear witness to something
both wonderful
and beyond our ability to
comprehend.