Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I'm Grateful for this Thanksgiving--2010

The way the sun comes over the mountain outside my bedroom window on sunny mornings

Clean bed sheets

Reunions with old friends

The calm that follows the storm

Those who stand up and speak out for justice

A perfectly ripe strawberry

The waiter at the Thai restaurant in Berkeley who always remembers my favorite dish, even though I only go there about once every two months


The smell of jasmine flowers



Feet that can take me wherever I want to go

Public libraries


My family's ability to laugh at themselves, and each other


Seeing people make room for other people

"It Gets Better"

A warm shower on a cold morning

A hike in the mountains

Sharing a meal with loved ones

Singing in a choir

Monday, November 15, 2010

So You Want to Go to Seminary?

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when watching this video...there are parts of it that ring so true it hurts. Yet, it is also good to laugh at the truths found here.

While I didn't learn how to ice fish in my first appointment after seminary, I did learn how to hay and the reason why one really does "make hay while the sun shines."  I, along with all the women in my ordination class, served in churches on the periphery of our annual conference. We prepared for ministry in places like Berkeley and New York City, but we were appointed to the outlying, rural communities of our otherwise urban conference.

So much of what we learned in seminary was light years away from what the folks in the pew knew (or wanted to know). Looking back at my early years of ministry, I realize that seminary needed to do a better job of teaching us to be translators--it was difficult to take what we learned in seminary (feminist/liberation/queer/post-colonial theology) and utilize it in an effective way in the parish.

I loved what I learned in seminary, I really did. The worlds and words that seminary introduced me to remain central in my theology and sustain me spiritually to this day.  But there is a curious disconnect between seminary education and ministry.  I will never forget being invited to lecture to a seminary class about parish ministry and having the professor interrupt me and tell the class, "I could never be a parish minister. I really don't care what color the drapes are in the church."

What a curious vocation we are called to! I don't care what color the drapes are either, but I do care about how God's people talk to each other about what color the drapes are.  I care about the ways children can discover they are precious in God's sight. I care about how social systems too often crush the spirit of God's people. I care about how worship can help us see the reflection of God within us more clearly or can distort it and make us even doubt it. 

Seminary set me off on a vocational course I couldn't even imagine. Many still scratch their heads and wonder what in God's name we (especially we women) do there. For me and for many, seminary was the first step of a great adventure in loving God and caring for God's people that I wouldn't trade for the world.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Clean, Safe, and Reliable"

My ministry at Glide entails a lot of travel beyond the Bay Area. While my favorite airline is United, I have recently grown a little nervous about the airline.  It is not because the airline has merged with Continental but because of the messaging from the CEO of the now merged companies, Jeff Smisek. Mr. Smisek has tried to reassure costumers that the quality of air travel will remain the same during the transition, stating that the company will continue to provide "clean, safe, and reliable air transportation."

Maybe it's just me, but when I hear "clean, safe, and reliable" I hear a hierarchy of values, #1 being "clean", #2 being "safe", and #3 being "reliable". This makes me nervous as I listen to Mr. Smisek's pre-take off message on the plane.  As the plane is taking off, in mid-air, and landing, I confess that the cleanliness of the plane is not foremost on my mind. Safety?  Oh yes!!!! Reliable? It really helps when making connections! But clean? While I like a plane that is free of debris as much as anyone, an empty peanuts bag in the chair pocket isn't going to make or break my decision to fly United ever again.

But a less than safe flight? Well, that's another story.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dear Diary...

Uncle Howie asked me to help him look for Christmas gifts for my sisters’ daughters, both ‘tweens. He thought that the perfect gift for them would be diaries. Not a journal, not a writing pad, but an old fashioned, lock-with-a-key-so-no-one-else-can-read-it diary. Surely, this would not be too hard to find?

I went to a department store and searched through the stationary department. Sure enough, there were spiral bound notebooks with blank pages and leather bound journals, but no lock-with-a-key diary. I asked one of the employees if they carried diaries. “Oh no,” she said, “Not for a long time. These days, all the kids use Facebook.”

Why does this concern me?
Diaries were an avenue to express one’s deepest thoughts and longings, as well as to record the most mundane events of the day (I remember that in my 7th grade diary I faithfully recorded—well, when I was disciplined enough to write—what the weather was like as I waited for the school bus). One could be uncensored as one articulated, with all the angst of adolescence, the changes one was experiencing as one began to carve out one’s unique place in the world. It was a place to safely test out one’s reality (and fantasy!).

Facebook, while it does provide “privacy settings”, isn’t quite the same thing as a locked diary. One rage-filled status update, one wondering note, and one’s innermost thoughts can go viral in the internet. What happens to one’s inner life when there is no safe place for expression? How can one express one’s thoughts and experiences that are meant for no one’s eyes but one’s own? Do we stunt the ability to be self-reflective if we bypass a quiet private place to think aloud and instead directly post our musings on the web?
Even as I write this, I question if that is exactly what I am doing with a blog. However, my hope is that I have had many years and opportunities to develop the skills of self-reflection and self-censorship so that what appears here is not emoted reflexively but after spending time musing. Even once it is posted, I hope that what is generated isn’t the fodder of gossip, but rather a healthy give and take of ideas and opinions.
So I am going to keep looking for those lock-with-a-key diaries for my nieces. The confidante of a private diary could be just the right thing as they are growing up in the digital age.

If you happen to know where I can buy one of those diaries, be sure to let me know!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We Must Remember

In July, my vacation took me to the alps of Austria.  One day, I travelled to the town of Ebensee to visit a former concentration camp. It was difficult to find: my map was not verydetailed, and there was no sign at the train station.  I knew that it was in a mountain near the town, so with compass and map in hand, I headed off in the general direction.

After a couple of miles, I began to hone in on its whereabouts. Small, brown signs began to appear, pointing the way to go. However, they were few and far between, so sometimes I was left wondering if I was still on the right path. My trek led to a housing development. The main street into the development was clearly the entrance gate to the former camp!

As I walked through the neighborhood, I saw beautiful homes and heard a loud party in progress.  On one corner, was a children's playground. Right next to it, a cemetery, the final resting place of thousands of named and unnamed prisoners held at Ebensee.

I followed more signposts through the neighborhood, and then took a small path into the woods. This path led to a gaping hole in the mountain, the entrance to the miles of tunnels the prisoners were forced to create. It was here that Hitler planned to research air weaponry and to store armaments.  Prisoners were forced to rise at 4:30 am and walk up the mountain to dig out the tunnels, working past 6pm.

From my perch at the side of the mountain, I looked out over the town of Ebensee, as well as the housing development over the former prisoner barracks.  I couldn't believe that this piece of history could simply be bulldozed over and life could go on. Now, in the place where once there was so much misery and inhumanity, there were parties and celebrations.  How did these present-day inhabitants--who had to drive through the former concentration camp gate each day--live with the past's horrors upon which their homes were built?  How could they live there?  Did they remember?

I was greatly troubled by what seemed to be an erasing of history, a willingness to forget, on the part of the Ebensee community.  But then I had to think of my own neighborhood. I soon realized that forgetting is not just as Austrian trait, but a universal one.

Close to my home is the Tanforan Mall. The land on which the mall resides has had quite a history. It was a racetrack (where the famous Seabiscuit once was stabled), an airfield (where the first plane to land and take off on a boat finished its historic flight), and a military training area. However, like Ebensee, it, too, holds a past that we in America would like to forget.

"On May 1, 1942, Tanforan became an Assembly Center for people of Japanese ancestry who were interned under federal order. Around 8,000 people stayed at Tanforan on the way to Relocation Camps. These families were housed in the horse stalls of the stables."  A result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, these camps were set up because of the mistrust of the Japanses who were now considered a threat to US security. However, racism also contributed to the establishment of the camps.

Ultimately, 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent were relocated.  They lost their homes, their business, and their possessions.  They were sent to camps that had no plumbing and many were unprepared for the harsh winters they would experience.  Some were killed by sentries.  When they were finally released from the camps, they were given a train ticket and $25.  Many experienced psychological trauma because of the internment.

While I could not understand how the residents of Ebensee could build a layer of normalcy on top of the former concentration camp, I realized that I have done the same thing.  On the grounds of a former internment camp, I buy shoes and laundry detergent and go to the movies.  I don't think twice about the people who were forced to leave their homes and sleep in a horse stall where I now park my car.

It is too easy for us to cover up the great wrongs we as a people have inflicted on a whole group of people.  But when we forget, we fail to learn the lessons from the past and can wind up renewing a cycle of inhumanity.  We grow into our best selves--as individuals and as a society--when we remember.  

Whether Ebensee or Tanforan, or all those other past and present places of injustice and horror, we must remember.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Barbie, Doll

She sat on the city sidewalk in her own urine.  I wanted to turn away but there was something about her that made me keep looking at her. Did I know her?

In one hand, there was a Barbie doll. Barbie's blonde hair and elegant dress was in stark contrast to the woman's greasy hair, torn clothes, and dirty hands which held the doll. I had to wonder: did her mother give her a Barbie when she was younger? She was someone's daughter.  She may have siblings. Perhaps even children of her own.

What pushed her to the streets? Did anyone miss her? She was someone's daughter, after all. Was there someone out there, wondering what happened to her, looking for her, searching for her?

Was there someone who cared about her, wanting to hold her as tightly as she clung to Barbie?

She was someone's daughter.

She was someone's daughter.

Then I realized: she and nameless, countless others will take their places on our city sidewalks as long as we think they are of someone else's family. Until we see those on the streets as our kin, people we miss, trhose we've been searching for, loved ones we long to hold and care for, our streets will remain the address of the forgotten and overlooked.

The woman who held the Barbie doll, tenderly, tightly in her hand? Now I recognize her: my daughter, my sister, my mother.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Be Counted!

Now is the time for the voiceless to have a voice, the overlooked to be seen, the underrepresented to have representation, the nameless to be named. It is time for every one of us to be counted in the US Census.
The Census, which occurs every ten years, has far reaching effects in our communities. Census numbers redefine the boundaries of legislative districts, which impacts our political voice, as well as the distribution of $400 billion in federal funds a year ($4 trillion a decade!), which support essential services and impact the quality of life of us all.

This is why we at Glide celebrate the efforts of census workers to count everyone, especially low-income and homeless persons through this service based enumeration operation which will occur at Glide and across San Francisco over the next three days.

Too many in the Glide family know intimately the impact of not being seen or heard. Because of race, because of economic status, because of disabilities, because of the lack of permanent housing, their lives and needs are often forgotten. That is why we encourage everyone in our community to be counted! This is a time of empowerment! This is the chance to be seen and heard! This is a chance to take a place at the table called America!

We need every man, woman, and child to be included in this census. The well-being of us all depends on each one of us taking the time to participate. The family portrait of America is incomplete unless we all are in it. Be seen, be heard, be counted!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ReThink WHAT??!!

I was making my way to Glide one morning, and when I stopped off BART at the Powell Street station, I looked around and saw that the station had been plastered with "RETHINK" ads.  I was excited to see this that The United Methodist "Rethink Church" campaign had invested to much in marketing in San Francisco.  Rethink Church is a four-year marketing strategy "to invite the church and those unchurched who seek spiritual fulfillment, to become more outwardly focused and engaged in the world." 

Well, imagine my surprise when I saw that these RETHINK ads had nothing to do with the church. They were for Bare Escentuals, a make-up company! 

I began to think about these two RETHINK campaigns.  The church is experiencing an aging membership, empty pews, and the inability to sustain mission and ministry due to decreased donations. 

I believe that the church possesses a life-giving message of transformation and liberation, so needed in our day and age! But too many of our churches have become museums and historical relics of a by-gone era.  Instead of looking unflinchingly at the world and seeing where faithful witness is needed, the church has turned inward.  Instead of engaging as bold disciples and offering the world ministries of compassion and justice, the church has too often turned its back on the cries of God's children.

I am glad The United Methodist Church is calling us to RETHINK the only hope is that it is not a slick make-over job or a glossy cover-up.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Musing While Meandering

The other day I took a walk on a bike path near my home. Looking over at a building, I noted that someone had scrawled a message on it:

The irony of seeing this Marxist slogan ("From each according to his ability; to each according to his need") during a time of bitter debate over health care in America made me chuckle.  Conservatives have been utilizing scare tactics (death panels and increased costs) and screaming about the evils of socialism.  I trust that those conservatives who are standing against health care reform are not basing it on their religious conviction. As one astute blog writer asked: "I can't think of one religious reason against health care reform--can you?"  The writer reminded us that religious traditions all hold a basic concern with the well-being of persons.  Affordable, accessible health care is a pretty basic requirement in order to provide a foundation for well-being.

When I read scripture, I see that care for the poor and most vulnerable among us is a sacred duty.  In fact, those of us with wealth have much to answer for.  Jesus rebukes the rich young ruler who wanted to follow him. Jesus tells him all he has to do is "Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor." (Luke 18:22). 

The early church took this to heart. In the book of Acts, we are told that "the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." (Acts 4:32-35).

The rich sold their possessions and gave it for the common good??? Not a needy person among them??? One has to wonder if Marx had read Acts...and if conservatives simply skipped over that part of the Bible.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who is Really Ruining Marriage and Destroying the Family?

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has, in response to marriage equality in DC, chosen to drop spousal health care benefits for its employees. Additionally, they have dropped their foster/adoption program.  The reason is that the Catholic Church does not recognize same-gender-loving couples and is unwilling to extend health care to the spouses of their gay and lesbian employees. Additionally, they are not willing to place children in houses of married gay or lesbian couples.

I find this so troubling. Jesus helps us redefine family, extending our notion of who is and who is not family far beyond our comfort zone.  Jesus embraced the outcast, the unlovely and unlovable, extending love and a healing touch even to the untouchables.  Here, Jesus points, are my sisters and brothers...all who do the will of God.

The Catholic Church has now chosen to pull the plug on the well-being of the families of its employees. Additionally, it is turning its back the cries of children who long for permanent, forever families. 

While conservative pundits warn that marriage equality will spell the ruin of marriage and destroy the family, it seems like the ones who are doing that are conservatives themselves!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feeling Nostalgic for a Snow Day

Hearing about the snowmagedon experienced by my friends on the East Coast, and seeing their Facebook updates of snow days made me nostalgic. Growing up on Long Island, I remember listening intensely to the radio in the early morning when it was snowing, praying that my school would be announced during the list of school closures, providing us with a Snow Day.

Snow Days were unlike any other day off. It was a gift of unexpected time and an experience of grace. Upon learning that we were having a Snow Day, we would pull out a jigsaw puzzle and start cooking a pot of soup on the stove. The day was spent alternating between sledding and snowball fights (as a child), cross-country skiing and snowball fights (as an adult) and warming up with hot chocolate while tackling the jigsaw puzzle. In and out of the house we would dash all day, returning to the house when we were too cold and too wet and heading outside once our snow clothes had sufficiently dried (having a definite crusty feel to them after a while!).

But the best thing about Snow Days was that everything that was planned that day was gone—erased. The Snow Day suspended time. You didn’t work twice as hard once the Snow Day was over. You just picked up where you left off. That is what made a Snow Day so grace-filled.

I have spent the last 20 years in San Francisco, where our seasons are marked by fog or no fog. I suspect (and my East Coast friends could probably confirm) that Snow Days are not what they used to be. Technology and the internet now allow us to work from any where, at any time. A Snow Day no longer gifts us with an uncluttered day (except for that jigsaw puzzle begging for completion on the card table) but simply allows us to work in our flannel pajamas.

Oh, to experience a Snow Day of days gone by!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Hungry Heart

Last week I was invited to preach at Bethany United Methodist Church in Noe Valley, which I pastored for 12 years. By the time I left, one third of my life had been spent in that community. So last week was a wonderful reunion, we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years and we just had a great time telling stories about our time together.

I was reminded of one fall when a flustered parent handed me some items for a rummage sale. As the bag passed from her hand to mine, I saw signs of relief wash over her: "I am so glad to be rid of that Barney doll" she said, with a sigh.

I placed the bag in a closet near the office, and it wasn't very long after that I learned why the mother was at her wits end: every time a truck rumbled past the church, it would trigger a mechanism in the doll, and Barney would sing through the church: "I love you; you love me."

"I love love me." on and on the Barney doll would call out. I tried moving the doll further away from the office, but even muffled, I could still make out the song. People who would come to the office for pastoral care would role their eyes when the song rang out. One looked disgusted and said, "Barney, ugh."

What is it with all the bad blood around Barney? Why does a low-tech, purple-plush dinosaur stir such negative feelings? The message sounds pure enough: "I love you, you love me..." Yet, something about it makes most adults cringe and turn away. Could it be that Barney makes it sound too easy, this loving thing? \"I love you, you love me, we're a great big family, with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won't you say you love me too?"

What does Barney know about 3am feedings and nightmares? What does Barney know about the tension between wanting to provide for your children, but then working so much you barely have time for them? What does Barney know about life on the streets and being worried sick wondering if your son will come home alive, or if he will become one more addition to the prison pipeline? What does Barney know about infidelities and other betrayals?

I love you? You love me? Does Barney have any idea how hard this loving thing really is? Does he know about the frustrations, the despair, the longings that come with love. "I love you, you love me"...if it were only that simple.

And maybe I am projecting something here, but whenever I hear that grating, “I love you, you love me” line, it sounds to me like an obsessive, compulsive lover. I love you. You love me? I love you. You love me? You love me?

Maybe that’s it. The ears through which I hear Barney’s words are more than just a bit jaded by my own baggage that I have brought to love. Barney reminds me of my own hungry heart, one in which love was absent, which sent me bingeing on all sorts of activities and things that never helped fill the pangs of desire that were within me. Do you know something about that? Have you had a hungry heart, where the expectation for love was unfulfilled, or, once you got it, was unfulfilling?

And, in a mad, crazy attempt to fill the emptiness, you grabbed whatever came your way: a revolving door of lovers, overwork, drugs, alcohol, food, risky behaviors, relationships that only compounded the hunger. I think this hungry heart is a phenomenon many of us are acquainted with, and I am reminded of a song by the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who wrote a song about it:

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don't know where it's flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart

I met her in a Kingstown bar
We fell in love I knew it had to end
We took what we had and we ripped it apart
Now here I am down in Kingstown again


Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what nobody says
Ain't nobody like to be alone

(Copyright © Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP))

Everybody’s got a hungry heart. Perhaps Springsteen points to what is one of the biggest reasons why so many hearts are hungry: “Everybody needs a place to rest, everybody wants to have a home.” We are a people who have lost the ability to be at home.

I am not talking about the physical place of a home, which some of us are in need of. I am talking about something even more basic than that: being at home with ourselves. Being alone with ourselves drives us up the wall. If we can’t stand ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to?

Too many of us have run away from home, run away from ourselves. Because of the way some people treated us in our past, the messages they gave us, the way they used or abused us, the way they made us feel about ourselves, we have distanced ourselves from our Self, wearing a mask that has become a permanent part of our persona. When that happens, we have run away from home. As a result, we are not even at home in our own skin.

With no home of our own, is it no wonder why our hearts are so hungry, why, when we or others say the words “I love you” it comes out feeling a little like a disembodied echo, reverberating in the hollowness of our empty heart?

In Psalm 32 we are invited to rediscover a home in our heart. The psalmist cried: “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.” Signs of a hungry heart.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. We are invited to bring our whole self before God. We are reminded that “GOD holds nothing against you and you are to hold nothing back from God.” Give it all over to God, your pain, your shame, your wounds and scars, your secret fears, your anger, your brokenness. Give it over to the one who loves you with a love that will never let you go. With this assurance, drop the mask you have been wearing and find yourself coming home to your Self.

It is then that we will grow comfortable in our own skin, our own body, our own life. It is then that we will hear the divine voice say clearly: “I love you.” And our hearts will be hungry no more.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

To Embrace a Ministry of Vomit

It is always interesting to read the final papers of my students and see what the main "take-away" of the class was for them. For my Evangelism class, which concluded in January, the take-away was a brief comment I made on my "Ministry of Vomit" (or VM for short).

Being a pastor in San Francisco, I often find myself in settings with people who have left the confines of their hometowns for the openness and freedom of the City, where the impact of "The Summer of Love" is still felt.  These folks migrated West in hopes of leaving behind the restrictiveness of the past and the rejection they often experienced. Frequently, religion has been at the root of their discontent.

For these individuals, the prevailing religious expression of their hometown left them feeling battered and bruised, as they experienced judgment and condemnation. 

I was blessed to be raised up in a faith that kept reminding me that I was loved unconditionally by God.  This love was expressed vividly by the community.  This orientation shaped my life and my vocation and has sustained me through the ups and downs of life, the good and the bad decisions and choices I have made.  Always, this love drew me back onto a path of wholeness and hope.  It is at the core of my ministry today. More than anything else, I want people to experience this love and rest in its assurance.  For me, it is central to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Pastoring in SF requires me to create the space for people to express the wounds and pains they have experienced by religious communities. It necessitates being a witness as they explain the ways they were harmed by religious people. In order to offer people a radically new understanding and experience of Christian faith, I have to allow them to emotionally "vomit" on me, knowing that at that moment I am representating a faith tradition that has done them wrong.  It is only after they have been able to get out all that has been bad, then perhaps space can be created for them to experience some good.

So for this pastor in SF, doing evangelism means embracing a ministry of vomit!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

We All Could Use a Little Good News

I just finished teaching a week-long January term class on Evangelism at Pacific School of Religion. I love teaching this class and helping progressive Christian students, who can barely stammer out the "E" word, not only say "Evangelism" but embrace it as a fundamental emphasis of their future ministry.  It is exciting to see these students strip away assumptions and previous experiences of evangelism through a study of scripture and an articulation of a theology of evangelism which seeks to invite people to participate into the Good News of God's realm.

What is sobering for this instructor, however, is how many students see evangelism as primarily what we SAY versus what we DO.  Sadly, our words don't always mirror our actions.  How can our ministries of evangelism help people experience God's love?  How can this experiences instill in them a desire to know/experience more, and begin their journey as participants in the realm of God?  It's time we did less talking and more living out the Good News in our communities.

Perhaps the best evangelism lesson of all comes from St. Francis, who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Monday, January 18, 2010

It Matters to Us

One of the sacred texts that has shaped my life and ministry is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham Jail".  Writes King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Certainly recent events have revealed the truth of King's words:

The fact that our Haitian sisters and brothers are experiencing suffering beyond measure must matter to us.

That there are those in our nation who cannot afford health care must matter to us.

That some households are filled with violence and abuse must matter to us.

That some couples' relationships of love, mutuality and commitment are legally considered second class must matter to us.

That bombs continue to fall upon, maim and kill civilians must matter to us.

That in a world of plenty so many have so little must matter to us.

That people are held in suspicion even in their own neighborhoods because of the brown or black skin or accent or country of origin must matter to us.

If it does matter to us, we are propelled to do something about it, to relieve the suffering, to address the injustice, to commit to equality, to address the causes of violence, poverty, and oppression.  If we are truly connected to one another, we must put our love into action and help bring healing, hope, and wholeness to a world in need.

Thank you, Martin, for modelling to us how faithful living prompts us to love in ways that challenge structures, systems and institutions that crush the human spirit and deny dignity so that the beloved community may emerge.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sometimes I Wish My Eyes Hadn't Been Opened

When I was in seminary in the early 1980's, the women at the school would sing together:

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened
Sometimes I wish I could no longer see
All of the pain and the hurt and the longing of my
Sisters and me as we try to be free*

The words were a reflection of the experience we shared as women entering into a bastion of male experience: theological education.  While called into ministry and pursuing a Master of Divinity, many of us would be unable to be ordained because of our gender.  Still, God's call was too compelling to ignore.

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened,
Just for an hour, how sweet it would be
Not to be struggling, not to be striving,
But just sleep securely in our slavery.*

Being in seminary ripped open my life in ways I hadn't anticipated. I grew up in a church where I was nurtured and mentored into ministry. Even though I had heard my call to ministry long before I met my first clergywoman, I never thought that my gender would have an impact on the journey to ordination or my participation in the larger church.

Try as I might to ignore sexism and the power of patriarchy, it was too great to deny once studying in seminary.  As other women shared their experiences, as I read the work of women scholars, and as I studied history, the sacred canopy of my worldview was torn into shreds as I learned of the sin of sexism. 

But now that I’ve seen with my eyes, I can’t close them,
Because deep inside me somewhere I’d still know
The road that my sisters and I have to travel:
My heart would say, "Yes" and my feet would say "Go!"*

Mary Daly (October 16, 1928 – January 3, 2010) was one of the scholars whose work changed my life.  With linguistic creativity, Daly critiqued patriarchy and the Church.  She was a "Revolting Hag" who challenged us to see the damage patriarchy was doing not only to women but to the entire planet.  Reading Mary Daly cracked open my mind and made me consider what it meant to seek ordination in a patriarchal social institution.  Because of Mary Daly, I was able to embrace the word "feminist" and seek to live as a "Spin-ster" whose creative acts birthed gyn/ecological justice.

Mary Daly passed away on January 3, 2010 but she still reminds us that "Courage to be is the key to the revelatory power of the feminist revolution."  As I give thanks for her life, her words and witness, I am recommitting myself to the task of feminism and daring to live with courage so that those who will come after me will find a world unencumbered by oppression due to gender, race, class, or sexual orientation.

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened,
But now that they have, I’m determined to see:
That somehow my sisters and I will be one day
The free people we were created to be.*

*(Words and Music By Carol Etzler, 1974 published by Sisters Unlimited, RR 1 Box 1420, Bridgeport, VT 05734)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Heart to Heart

I was at the gym Saturday when something scrolled across the CNN channel that nearly caused me to fall off my eliptical machine: "Doctors find nothing wrong with Rush Limbaugh's heart." Huh?

Several days ago, Limbaugh was admitted to the hospital for chest pains. Conservative talk show host Limbaugh has lambasted liberals, reviled revolutionary thinkers, and verbally pummelled progressives by filling the airways with half truths and mistruths.  His brand of social commentary has brought new lows to civil discourse in the public square, demeaning his detractors through name-calling and smear tactics.

So it surprised me that the doctors found nothing wrong with Limbaugh's heart. Because it means that he has one.

While we all have our political/social/theological agendas, we must never further these agendas by demeaning or dehumanizing those who disagree with us. If we are to create healthy communities and cities, if we want a more just nation and a world filled with peace, we must do it by staying connected, even to those who disagree with us.

Libaugh's tirades (even if they are to generate ratings) have done nothing to help us collaborate across lines that divide us. Instead, he has deepened those divisions. 

Rush, if you're heart is okay, use it to mend the world's brokenness instead of adding to it.