Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Heavy Burden, Rudolf Koppitz, 1930

In the Gnostic gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."  For the last twenty years or so, I have been journeying through a theological unraveling.  It began with a need for the divine feminine, as I let go of ordained ministry and embraced the calling of motherhood. 

Not having a congregation to read for, I read where my longing led:  Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd; Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong (and many of his other books); Evolutionary Faith: Rediscovering God in Our Great Story by Diarmuid O'Murchu; Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler; If Grace is True by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland; The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal; It's Really All About God by Samir Selmanovic; With or Without God by Gretta Vosper; other authors such as Anne Lamott, Marcus Borg, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Diana Butler Bass. I read a few of Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God books. I read poetry by Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry.  I read an introductory text about process theology and found websites such as Process and Faith.

I call this journey a theological unraveling because when you start asking questions, it leads to other questions; like tugging on a thread and when you keep pulling, it can unravel what looked like a cohesive fabric.  Sue Monk Kidd, in the book above, wrote, "The truth will indeed set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live."  The unsettling thing about this process is that if I keep tugging, I might end up with a pile of thread; no more blanket to cover me but then also maybe less of a veil covering the truth, what I know to be true, at least for now.

The scary thing about this process is, can I still be in community with my church, with you, New Ark UCC?  For the past few years I've been dancing on a tightrope, honoring where I have perceived you to be (a congregation all over the map, grounded in God known through Jesus and in other ways) and yet trying to be my authentic self without coming right out and saying who I am, my identity as a spiritual being.  Because like any person in any kind of closet, I am afraid I will not be accepted by the community that helped me realize, loved me into my identity.

Within the past year or so I have come to the awareness that I am a Christian Atheist Humanist:  Christian, in that Jesus is my guru, my teacher, who provokes me, challenges me, disturbs me, who loves the world better than me;  Atheist, in that I believe that the notion of God is part of our evolutionary development, that a belief in God helped us to evolve to where we are now but if we remain in our beliefin an agency, a will separate from our ownwe will not find our own agency, our own ability to solve our problems, and we will continue our deadly competition for truth.  I am content to leave our origin and what lies beyond this existence a mystery; Humanist, in that where I need help in my faith is my faith in humanity.  In the 12 step tradition, the second step states, "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."  If someone cannot connect with a Higher Power in a traditional sense, they are encouraged to think of the group as their Higher Power, that the group possesses wisdom and knowledge that they do not.  

I have found my Higher Power and it is you.  Everyone.  It is the world.  It is everything about this existence.  Everyone, everything has dignity and worth.  Everyone, everything contains a lesson or a blessing, sometimes both.  Everything contains a choice:  how will I respond, who will I be, what will I create or diminish or destroy?  I too possess the power to be a lesson or a blessing or both, which is an awesome, humbling responsibility.  

So when you hear me say "God", this is what I mean.  When I pray, I open myself to the wisdom of this existence, the mystery in which we all live and move and have our being.  When I pray, I take myself less seriously and everything else more seriously.  When I pray, I acknowledge my ignorance and my need for help beyond my abilities.  When I pray, I trust that life will unfold as it will and that I will have the love and the courage to meet it.

I'll be writing more about where this identity came from, how it evolved, the impact it has had on me, and where I see it leading me.  I'll also write about Church, the future, where I see it all heading.  For now, though, it's sunny, 59 degrees; time for me to go for a hike.

(By the way, I have been dealing with a sore throat off and on since I left for India.  It subsided after the last post but then returned, a painful lump in my throat.  I've shed a few tears writing this and now the lump is gone.  I no longer have to swallow the truth about myself.  Thanks for reading.)

Freedom by Zenos Frudakis, Philadelphia

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sabbatical reading

If you're curious about what I'm reading or if you'd like to read along with me, here's what I've brought with me:

Paul Tillich has been a favorite of mine since a college professor loaned me his copy of The Eternal Now.

These two are for my personal devotions.

^Favorite quote so far: "There has never been a significant shift in the church's structure that wasn't accompanied by or inspired by a theological change." (Regarding his title, I would say "how WE are imagining a deeper Christianity".)

Are you beginning to see a pattern?

And...I just found this new comedy on TBS:

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sabbatical, week 7 - part 2

(Yesterday was sunny and beautiful, so I went into town, had lunch at Pisa Lisa, and saw a movie.  Today it is snowing, with 10-18 inches expected.  Much better day for writing.)

For someone white and privileged, India is like traveling to another planet.  For starters, it's 10.5 hours ahead of the east coast of the U.S.  Ten and a half, like Platform 9 3/4.  On the roads with more than one lane, the lines between lanes are suggestive rather than prescriptive.  Drivers keep their options open at all times, including squeezing between two other vehicles with a couple of polite beeps of the horn.  Along with trucks and autos, the road is shared with motorcycles, bikes, 3-wheeled, 2 cylinder tuk tuks, carts pulled by work animals, and pedestrians as young as 6.  Three centuries (19th, 2oth and 21st) of technology and culture exist simultaneously.  Monkeys, dogs, and cows wander freely.  Bricks are still fired in tall chimneys.  And yet children who don't speak much English know what a selfie is.  Discarded plastic is everywhere.  As is poverty.

I asked one of our contacts in India about the seeming fearlessness of drivers and that 6 year old girl we saw crossing the street.  He said, we trust that other drivers are not out to get us.  Also, we trust in God, that God is in control.  And so I trusted our Uber drivers, and Herjinder and Ravindra, drivers for our contacts, Sunil and Rohit.  I am so thankful for these friends of my friend, Charanjeet, who made sure David and I were cared for while we were in India.

That barking cough turned into a fever and chest congestion.  By the time we got to Amritsar by train, both of my ears were blocked and becoming painful.  Before we left Delhi, I contacted Sunil and asked if I could see a doctor, even that day when we arrived in Amritsar.  And sure enough, Sunil and Charanjeet conspired and found an ENT in Amritsar that I could see that evening.  When David tried to pay for the doctor visit and the medication he prescribed, Sunil shook his head 'no' and I wept tears of thanks because I knew my brother Charanjeet was taking the caring, upper hand.  When I saw the following prayer posted in the waiting room, I knew I would be well-cared for:

"It is indeed a tragedy of circumstances, my Lord, that my livelihood involves meeting people with unbearable pain.

"But also it is my good fortune that you have given me this excellent opportunity to mitigate their suffering and thus atone for whatever selfish interest I might have.

"You have cast upon my shoulders this great responsibility and have also given me dexterity to do it.

"Please grant me the strengths, my God, to enable me to fulfill this task in all earnestness.

"And yet, all the while, let me have unwavering faith in you, and let me not ever forget that ultimately it is you who are the real great healer and the fountainhead of well-being, and that I am merely a medium through which your benevolence flows.

"My Lord, bestow upon my patient thy healing touch."

Even though I had this infection, I still managed to do everything I wanted to do.  Ravindra drove us the three hours from Delhi to Agra so we could visit the Taj Mahal.  We visited with the bishop of the Methodist Church in India, Bishop Subodh Mondal, because my Aunt Colleen was the secretary to the bishop when she first came to India as Methodist missionary in 1949.  She also worked at a children's home in Delhi; the bishop gave us a tour of a children's home located in the same compound as the school and the bishop's house.  As part of our visit to Amritsar, we took a day trip to Batala where my aunt taught at a Methodist girls' school.  We also visited a Punjabi tourist attraction called Sadda Pind and watched the ceremony of lowering the flags at the Wagah border with Pakistan.  

And we honored our friendship with Charanjeet by visiting the holiest site of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple or the gurdwara known as Harmandir Sahib.  Located on the grounds of the gurdwara is the largest community kitchen in the world, serving up to 100,000 people a day.  But as our Sikh guide instructed us, this is done not as a service to the community but as service to humanity.  Everyone sits on the floor, everyone equal.  Anyone can have a free hot meal.  Anyone can volunteer to help chop onions and garlic, wash dishes, cool the hot naan as it comes out of the oven.  Some homeless folks live near the kitchen.  No one judges them.  They are fed and accepted.  People come to drink and to immerse themselves in the nectar, the water that surrounds the temple.  Before we entered the grounds we washed both our feet and hands and walked barefoot throughout.  We stood in a crowded line for more than an hour to enter one of four doors, the four directions, in that everyone is welcome and again, everyone is equal.  There is one God, known in many ways.

I find it interesting that many eastern religions, like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, have more room for the rest of us than Christianity as practiced by some in the U.S. and throughout history. Ironically, if every adherent to every religion followed its peaceful, compassionate center, the world would be healed.  Even though organized religion of one sort or another has been in existence for about 4,000 years, humanity still has not evolved beyond hate, fear, greed, aggression, violence, and the need to compete.  

And I see it in myself.  I call it "we want to keep what we have".  The phrase "love your neighbor as yourself" is popular now, but we cannot, will not trust that our neighbor will care for us the way we would care for them.  We disdain those with their hands out for money or food and yet we didn't get where we are without help of some kind.  Socialism and communism have a bad reputation in some corners and yet "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need."  (Acts 2: 44-45)  

It's an interesting coincidence that in some Western countries where religious adherence is on the wane, socialism, that is, society organized around the care of one another, flourishes.  Here in the United States we say with pride that we live in a free society: free to do with our property as we wish, to choose, and yet more often than not, we choose for ourselves and for those who look, act, speak, think, believe like us.  We want to keep what we have.

As seen on Twitter:

Church isn't the building or the people who worship there or who claim a relationship with it, not anymore.  Church, as I think Jesus would've done it, is everywhere, anywhere there is unconditional love, radical forgiveness, restorative justice, fearless compassion, and privilege is spent generously for the liberation of others.  At least Church is those who work toward these things.  And yet the word Church is too limited.  If we are going to expand beyond the concept of Church (ekklesia - "called out"), expand our ability to give and serve beyond our own security, we need to expand our language.

Thoughts, dear readers?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sabbatical, week 7

Weeks 3, 4, and 5:  getting ready to go to India and traveling.

We got vaccinations for Hepatitis A and typhoid and prescriptions for anti-malaria medication.  David also got a prescription for Z-Pak, azithromycin, just in case, which came in handy later.  I got my phone unlocked so I could buy a SIM card in India and have phone service there.  I added contacts in India to my list so we could make arrangements for rides--friends of a friend, who also came in more than handy later.  I packed too many clothes but then we were going to be in winter in Munich for a few days and then variable weather in India, anywhere from 35 to 50, 60 degrees F, and I had so many hot flashes I'm glad I brought it all.

I was nervous about flying so far, first to Germany, then to Delhi.  Both flights were uneventful, except I hardly slept.  We landed in Germany on January 18, Friday morning, and we found our way to a train ticket machine, bought 2 to Neufahrn bei Freising, a small town where we had reserved an Airbnb, a comfortable finished basement apartment in our host's home.  So glad we stayed in this quiet little town instead of Munich, which we easily reached with the train.  There was a small outdoor ice rink where kids took skating lessons, played hockey, and adults played a kind of shuffleboard game and hung out by high-top tables and heaters and drank beer in the evening, plus small shops and a variety of restaurants.

Saturday morning I woke up with a barking cough but otherwise felt a little tired but okay.  We took the train into Munich to meet my friend, Heike, whom I hadn't seen since I graduated from seminary in 1991.  She had been an au pair for a family who attended the same church as I did and who happened to live on the same street as my parents.  The summer before I started seminary, Heike and I met in the church choir, good-naturedly ribbed each other back and forth, and became friends.  We went out together a few times that summer: the beach, Boston, stuff like that.  I started seminary and she returned to Germany, so we wrote letters to each other (ah the days before the internet and email!).  I still have them, tied together with a ribbon in a box somewhere.

I went to visit her my first year during Easter break and then again before graduation for a 10 day visit.  We kept in touch after that, mostly birthdays and Christmas, and eventually lost touch.  David and I wanted to spend a few days somewhere on the way to India, and David had never been to Europe.  So I used the last email address I had for Heike (I still had the same one for 18 years) and it was like no time had passed between us.  She said she was now living in Stuttgart, so either Frankfurt or Munich would be good places to meet up.  She was also dog-sitting and brought Eddie, a cute little pup, with her.

We met at the train station and spent the day just walking around Munich.  We had lunch together, went in search of chocolate, tried to stay in the warm sunlight, and just talked and talked, reminiscing and catching up.  Even though it was a cold Saturday in Munich, there were tons of people walking, shopping, sightseeing, etc.  And of course at noon we stood in the crowd at the Marienplatz and listened to the infamous glockenspiel and watched as the various life-size figures moved through their stories, the jousting knights and the coopers' dance.

We parted ways at the train station mid-afternoon, as Heike had a two-hour car drive back to Stuttgart.  We had thought we might spend the weekend together but our Airbnb didn't allow pets and I didn't know Heike would be dog-sitting when we came to visit.  I'm just thankful we were able to see each other and spend the day, even though it had been so many years since the last time.

I'm not very good about keeping in touch with friends who live at a distance.  If you're one of them and you're reading this, I am deeply sorry.  I've allowed social media to do the work for me.  I confess I'm better at in-person, local friendships.  It's the conversation, the back-and-forth, the eye-to-eye, face-to-face, the laughter, sometimes tears, the wrestling with what's real, the listening, the no-words-for-it, the companionship on the journey.  And sometimes I'm crappy at that too.  

One of my character flaws is self-absorption.  And it happens most when I am tired, when I'm peopled-out, as we say in our family.  And lately, especially since a certain person was elected president, I've been tired all the time, it seems.  Today I was standing outside where I'm staying in Sedona, leaning against the back of my car, looking at Cathedral Rock and the snow clouds coming and the light changing, and I just started crying.  That's been happening every now and then on this sabbatical.  I realized even a few months before this time off began that there are times I feel like weeping over any number of things that continue to happen--mass shootings, immigrant children locked up in tent camps, people saying racist, inhuman comments to complete strangers who never did anything to them, people I love and people other folks love dying, name your own source of grief here--and I just don't take the time to cry, to grieve the last two years.  Because it feels overwhelming.  Because I don't feel like I have time to cry.  There's so much hurt that needs healing.  There's so much injustice that needs light on it.  And there's so much good to not miss out on.

And yet I know, I know as a caregiver, that taking time to grieve is essential, non-negotiable, something you can't put off until tomorrow.  It's also something that's not done perfectly, that it often comes and goes, when we least expect it, and it doesn't serve to try and control it.  I think too that's why it's become so difficult to forgive, because there is so much pain and so much to grieve, that forgiveness is long down on the list of spiritual work.  

I went outside again a few minutes ago to see the setting sun on those big red rocks.  It's almost like I can feel those rocks on my shoulders, telling me that they weigh more, are much older than anything I carry and maybe, just maybe, it would be better if I just set everything down for a while.

Goodnight, friends.  Tomorrow, India.