Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2013.01.30 God Is Paradox

Karen Armstrong, noted scholar, former nun, and religious historian and theologian, once said in a talk, something like: “Where there is paradox, there is always God."  I thought that seemed true, because my experience is that when two things that don’t easily go together come together to awaken and surprise, it startles me alive. But I wondered why God couldn’t just be straightforward. 

I have found out, by hard experience and plain accident, that whenever I let go of trying to possess God, I find God. For example, I prayed frantically to be ordained, and that God would work on bishops. I was so importunate that I finally heard God say, in sweet exasperation, “Lyn, I don’t care if you’re ordained.” Set me right, and set me free.

Now I am praying with some importunity that I will finish and order my memoir, first, and then that it will get published. One blear day it occurred to my overly conscientious mind that this memoir might be simply another one in a long life-line of achievements I’ve amassed to feed my ambition and esteem.  The thought was so upsetting that I took it to prayer, worrying that I'd turned my spiritual journey, maybe God too, into a notch in my ego's belt. 

And God, when I confessed, said: “So?”

So what, indeed!  God's power is in humility—not control. Sister Wendy Beckett, artist and theologian, says” “Some Gods are worth letting go of.”  The omnipotent God is worth letting go of.  Anglican theologian John MacQuarrie’s metaphor for Divinity is Letting-Be. I love that.

In the beginning of Genesis, God’s choice to create humankind is a self-limiting and paradoxical choice. The Creator God lets go of being God in any traditional sense of that word.  Why?  For the sake of letting-be. God want to be in relationship, more than to control destinies.

I pray for it all anyway, of course, just to keep in touch, as I would with anyone I loved. And always I am strengthened for whatever may come.

We pray for a rescuer and we get a lover.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013.01.27 Atheist/Faitheist/Theist

Recently I heard a talk, sponsored by the Massachusetts Bible Society, by Chris Stedman, the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and the author of Faitheist: How An Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious.

I braved windy frigid weather to go hear an avowed atheist!?  I remember once 20 or more years ago I began a talk for a Connecticut parish group with “I’m an atheist.”  People shifted in their seats. I quickly followed up with my reasons, which still hold true. I am an a-theist, because I do not put faith in the God, still promoted by many religions and individuals, who is imaged as partial, selective, power-happy, supportive of violence, exclusively defined, and altogether conditional with divine love. Add to those descriptors, infallibly masculinized—by image and pronouns.    

That’s my a-theist platform. It’s why I went to hear Chris Stedman. He is part of a group of newly organized Boston atheists. They don’t believe in God at all, but rather in the strength and salvific power of human compassion generously shared. I also believe in that but, since genuine empathic compassion is relatively rare, when I see it freely given for no reason, I tend to think it expresses Divinity; it does feel supernatural.  God is in that kind of love.

At the talk I was filled up with words ending with -ist, the suffix that identifies a practitioner of some -ism or other.

I confess to a slight bias against -ist and -ism words, although I am a feminIST devoted to the core values of FeminISM.  The trouble with -isms is that whatever goes before the -ism usually holds all the power and can become a dominant and possibly domineering perspective.  I hear  this lopsided braying the left.

Chris Stedman is both atheist and humanist, but he is not an -ist/-ism type.  In fact he is open to conversation in a compassionate context among and within all religious and irreligious or anti-religious perspectives. In short, I found him a man of integrity who identifies as a committed atheist without a conversionary agenda. He is committed to a life of service and has faith in human potential.

He told his story, coming from a non-religious, secular home, to meeting an open-minded pastor, to conversion to evangelical Christianity, to intellectual religious studies, to atheism.  

Chris’s book title, Faitheist, is engagingly, invitingly ambiguous. When I asked him about the God he didn’t believe in, he responded that he wasn’t comfortable with the supernatural aspect of God. He asked. “Why must people use God to describe love, justice, and reconciliation?” God language does not feel authentic to him.  I don’t think we are far apart. Further conversation would be nice. 

I came away with warm feelings and hope that all voices will be heard and respected as we join together to make this world a better place, whether we speak of that as serving God or not. The Rev. Anne Robertson, MassBible Executive Director, expressed this in prayer: “Whether we look to a God that transcends human knowing or whether we find our salvation in the depth of human compassion, it is love that binds us—love that feeds us.”

We will be know by our acts—but also by our words.

I pose some questions for reflection: Who is the God you don’t believe in?  What is your own image of Divinity? What words do you use to speak about your faith?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2013.01.23 A New President

I should be writing about Barack Obama of whom I feel proud, and his drop dead gorgeous wife Michelle, but right now I’m captured by the new President of Smith College, my alma mater. When I was at Smith there had never been a woman president of this all-women’s college with the woman founder.  What’s with that?

But Smith came through in 1975, fifteen years after I left, and has stayed with women presidents ever since. 

I heard the new President-elect, Kathleen McCartney, speak briefly on a YouTube video sent from the college. She is mild-mannered and soft-spoken. She said she “absolutely loved fund-raising,” which told me a lot and gave me hope for the future— didn’t turn me on much.  She said that Smith would be “bold” going into the future, which did turn me on.

McCartney used a quote from Smith’s founder Sophia Smith. Sophia, Lady Wisdom as her name suggests, said that “Smith College will be “a perennial blessing to the world.”  It was to me, even though I nearly killed myself with my drive to excel—compulsively so. But I did, and now I’m proud.

Then President-elect McCartney said this about her vision for herself as Smith’s next president: “I will be a servant leader.”

I felt an unexpected rush of joy-tears. That is what Jesus is remembered as saying to his followers: “I am among you as one who serves.” 

I don’t imagine Kathleen will be washing any feet as a demo of servant leadership as Jesus did, but I do hope she will be a leader of compassion, vision, and vitality as she serves one of the places that served me as I grew.

(I quipped to a friend that the next US president would probably be a gay man, and the next a Latino man, and the next???  Could we have a woman, please?)  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2013.01.20 Weddings in Cana of Galilee and Massachusetts

When we were in Israel in June, 2012, we went to Cana of Galilee, just north of Nazareth. There is a Byzantine Christian Church in Cana erected in the 6th century.  Cana is the site of the biblical story about  the Wedding at Cana the place where, according to the gospel of John, Jesus performed his first miracle:turning water into wine when the wine ran out at a wedding feast.  If I were going to do a miracle I might have chosen something less dangerous, more dignified. 

Our group of pilgrims went into the convent garden to read the story aloud and to hear our professor tell us about its historical, cultural context.

 Here is what we learned about wedding customs in the Palestine of Jesus.............
     A whole village celebrated a marriage. It would have been a Tuesday, the third day of the week, the day set for marriages. The festivities lasted 2 weeks. So maybe they would need all that wine!
    Many guests at a wedding celebration were not invited. Were they crashers? No. All first-line members of the family were automatic guests. You had to expect your Uncle Oswald at your wedding, whether you liked him or not. AND, each family member brought 15 additional guests with them! 
    Mary, Jesus’ mother, was not an invited guest because she was a family member. Jesus as well, and he would have brought his disciples at least, and maybe a few anonymous women. Today we have problems with wedding costs and guest lists disputes. It can be a real hassle and expense, but in that day the custom of hospitality set the rules.  Y’all come, for days and days.
    But.............women and men had separate parties. Let’s say the women drank too much wine and Mary, a family member, was approached with the news. Since all family members were responsible for the hospitality. Mary would be expected to provide more wine. She would have to go home to get more, or to the store.  Instead she went to Jesus.
    In going to her son, Mary transgressed a social boundary. 
     Jesus was surprised to see Mary on the men’s side. “Woman,” he said, “what are you doing over here?” He isn’t rude, just astounded.  His mother had broken a strong social tabu.The plot thickens. We can begin to see why this is a miracle story, a reversal of expectations.
    Jesus had a choice: come out as who he understood himself to be, or send his mother away in disgrace for breaking a rule which, socially, was like breaking the sound barrier.  He took care of the wine shortage with a miracle. He followed his mom’s sense that now is the hour he should come out, show his true powers. She knew him well.

This story suddenly was no longer about water into wine, or even about the symbology of divine abundance, or the sanctity of marriage, but about daring to defy, to break down the gender barrier completely—far more dangerous, far more costly, and far more holy even than hospitality. Mother and son defied custom. This is radically prophetic they did together, out of mutual respect and love—and their knowledge of the divine hope, not for wine but for social change. 

My jaw dropped open. This old story came alive for me in new ways, just by knowing its culture and custom.  Never heard a Cana sermon with this radical prophetic message.

What Mary started is how social transformation begins.

It reminds me of the transformation that Chief Justice Margaret Marshall started in 2003 when she delivered her landmark court ruling that allowed same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Mitchell cited higher values: “a public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.” Marshall’s words are read at many same-sex marriage ceremonies. They are gospel to many, even those who claim not to be religious.

But here it is in our ancient scriptural text and in the 21st century in another setting and culture entirely: God’s bold, ongoing spiritual work of transformation toward oneness. 


Monday, January 14, 2013

2012.01.14 Blogger Questions

A blogger, who identifies herself on line as Velveteen Rabbi, has been nominated for an award, given to bloggers by bloggers for an up-and-coming blog with fewer than 200 followers. "Leibster" is a German word  which mean beloved or favorite. Rabbi Rachel Barneblat of North Adams, Massachusetts, has answered the questions asked of her as a nominee and is meant to identify eleven other small-readership blogs and nominate them. Rachel sent out five questions to potential nominees to help her select nominees.  I'm a small-readership blogger, unable to resist the temptation, or invitation,  to be a Liebster and get more readers for my off-beat religio-spiritual blogspot blog called Spiritual Lemons.

Here are the questions the Velveteen Rabbi asked and my responses:

1)  What's your favorite book?  My favorite book is The Little Book About God published in 1934, just four years before I was born, and written by Lauren Ford for her granddaughter Lauren.  It's the biblical story, from Creation to the Annunciation to Mary, Mother of Jesus—the whole sweep.  I fell in love with the book as a young child and recently retrieved it while writing my memoir. The book present an image of God as Creator of wonders, but also as Meditator in a garden listening carefully and identifying all the sounds of Earth. God listened to and tracked every single sound, even "weeny sounds,"  like those of a small girl-child crying.  I got my image of God from that book.

2) With what fictional character do you most identify?  Jane Eyre.  I read the book a long time ago and re-read it recently.  I was not as bereft with hardship as Jane, but have had my share of struggle. Jane prayed and had faith against great odds. She also developed self-reliance and never abandoned herself, or her God.  I loved to watch Jane make hard choices. I love to see love and freedom win together.

3) If you could throw a dinner party and invite five people, real or fictional, from any moment in human history, who would you invite?

       Jane Eyre for her spirituality, and fortitude, and compassion.
       Beatrix Potter for her love of everything wee.
       David, the biblical hero, who faced a giant of an obstacle and became aware of his own resources in five smooth stones.
       Jesus, a lover of people and a man who spoke in parables that challenged, not lesson plans that assigned.
       Hillary Clinton, a woman leader who has suffered greatly just because she is a woman, but who has not given up or lost her voice, in spite of public and private scorn

4) What's your favorite place to pray/meditate/engage in spiritual practice?    My liebster place is my home altar, a low table at which I kneel on a prayer cushion daily to lament, plead, bitch, beg, gripe, eat consecrated bread, and praise every day. On and under my altar is an array of spiritual tchotchkes, some traditional icons and some personal icons, all of them with meaning, great and small. I get grace and grit at my altar.

5) What's something you're hoping for in 2013? Personally I'm hoping, also praying, that I will get my memoir Under The Table: Becoming a Woman Priest published.  Religiously, I'm hoping for honest interfaith conversations. Spiritually, I'm hoping that the one Godde will acquire a new wardrobe, specifically that the use of exclusively male language and image for Divinity will be transformed. I'm a writer and a wordsmith, and I'm tired of feeling left out of the imago dei.  Language can change.  Politically, I'm hoping for a wannabe woman president for 2016 who is progressive, wise, wry and able to be a non-anxious presence with humility, and who can heal our wounds and move us along out of patriarchy and into a new unitive way of being a country, and a world.

How would you answer these questions? A good way to get to know your own depths and maybe God/Godde.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013.01.13 Pink Is the New Black

It’s the 50th birthday of my oldest daughter and first child, the 10th birthday of my oldest grandson, so I’m thinking of firsts, and of time and its passage—not a preoccupation I usually bother with, at least until my body lets me know my age.  And it is the Sunday we remember Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Another first.

My daughter was born on Jan. 13,  at 1:13 a.m., weighing 8 pounds, 13 ounces.  Thirteen is a very good number.  Some say it represents the divine feminine. Here is the 13 girl Bev with her boyfriend Steve. Happy Birthday to you Bev—young, beautiful, and limitlessly beloved.

In 1989, the diocese of Massachusetts, against all human odds, elected the Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris as its bishop suffragan.  She is the first woman to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church. Some people thought it was “the final crisis,” a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. But it wasn’t. It was simply history making progress in the flesh of a small, feisty  African American woman with a passion for justice, and a sense of humor that has peppered the Church with the courage it needs to keep God’s creation alive and well in the Body of Christ.

I lament that no one ever seems to care or count what the Church does to advance the cause of women in leadership, unless that Church is Roman Catholic.  The Episcopal Church is small but mighty, and rarely gets noticed—except for its firsts: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, first woman in that office, elected in 2006; Bishop Gene Robinson, first openly gay man elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2002; and Bishop Barbara Harris

HOWEVER......on Jeopardy this week, one of the clues under the Women Firsts category mentioned Barbara Harris. We Episcopalians made it to Jeopardy.  And, one of the contestants, a  a young man of Indian descent, knew which Church she represented—and pronounced it correctly!

Here is the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, bishop, maker of history, and woman of Godde, at a recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  Have you ever in your life seen so much PINK on a Church dignitary? 

                                                            Pink is the new black!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013.01.13 GPS On Track

Last evening at about 6:15 p.m. we heard a big BANG, followed by police sirens, and every blinking light there could at the railroad track that runs just behind our house. 

We are quite used to the trains rushing through back and forth from Fitchburg, and to the clanging of the warning bells to stop traffic as the gates go down. The train never honks, because the gates are usually faithful. But last night we heard two honk— at the lone car on the tracks facing into this speeding ball of steel, called a train.

The train always wins.  Although the driver had put on the emergency brake it wasn’t in enough time to stop the train, and the car went flying off the tracks.

Oh my God, is always the first prayer.

Dick and others went outside to see what happened. They saw a demolished car, a train full of commuters stopped in mid-journey, firemen and police directing traffic and creating order, and one woman talking to police.

The dazed woman told police and others she was okay.  She said her GPS told her to turn left. She turned left and found herself on the RR tracks facing into an oncoming train headlight. Second prayer: thank God, she got out of the car and was safe before her car was hit.

No one was hurt physically, but I prayed for the woman: thanks for her life, that shame and horror would not overwhelm her and would in time be healed, that her family would be forgiving and not scorning, and that everyone who relies on a GPS device would NOT trust it over their own senses. 

I also renewed my own resolve not to get a GPS.  Knowing myself, I would become dependent on it and never know at all where I was going—a dangerous state of affairs for someone who is already directionally challenged.  I’d rather stop and ask a human being.

After all, God dwells in human flesh, not computer mechanics. Or so we Christians say.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013.01.16 Epiphany Stories

Epiphany means revelation or insight. Or in words of James Joyce, the "revelation of the whatness of a thing . . .the moment when the soul of the commonest object...seems to be radiant." 

Twelfth Night, Epiphany Eve, is an English celebration, a time to try everything new you can think of—pranks, scandals, and role reversals.  This is my favorite season of the church year, because I just LOVE new ideas and insights that shed light on something in a different way. And I love the God of reversals. I watch for such surprises and usually applaud.

Epiphany takes us from Christmas to Lent and is based on the biblical story of the Magi arriving for a baby-viewing. They’ve heard that this kid may be special, sent from Godde—also dangerous, according to King Herod who feared a challenge to his own almighty rule/dictatorship. He sent the wisest men in his kingdom to check out the truth of the theological rumor.  

Imagine the scene: three august foreigners, Gentiles, astrologers from the east no less, arrived at the stable entrance bringing lavish gifts to the little Jewish baby cooing in a filthy crib around which huddled two exhausted parents, wondering if they would survive. Just imagine what Mary and Joseph felt at this appalling visitation. 

It's only a story (but never say only a story), for this kind of thing happens all the time to mess up what we all agree is true and real, and even what we are sure God’s plans are!   The story is biblical, therefore a bit grandiose on purpose, and rich in symbols and imagery of light and star, things these Magi know something about, and trust to guide them.

The story’s meaning is not just to emphasize God’s action in history to enlighten the people, but also to show that Jesus Christ is intended as Messiah, a liberator for ALL people. 

Stories have power to transform and inspire no matter how fantastical they seem. Even if they don’t turn out the way they predict we keep on telling them, because we need to hear them, over and over. 

I remember when a man who lived in the local shelter in Gloucester started to come to church at our parish of St. John’s. His name was David. He sat quietly in the back for weeks, and in time came up to join others for the Holy Communion meal. He said,  “something's going on here.”  He revealed nothing personal, except that he had a drinking problem.  No one asked for more.

One day the office staff heard someone talking out loud in the sanctuary (open for prayer when the parish office was open, or people were in the building), and peeked in to investigate. They saw David standing at the lectern reading aloud to an empty church the biblical readings for the Sunday just past. I don’t think the church was really empty. 

In time David vanished, as quickly as he had appeared. He left the place richer for his presence, and perhaps he received something himself.

I have a story I’m trying to write.  You have a story. Theology has a story. Even Science has a story. 

What might be the inside story the Wise Men would tell?  I wonder if those ancient astrologers and sages faced some of the same problems and insights modern astronomers and astro physicists encounter? They could read the stars, and they knew the sky pretty well, but they couldn’t quite come up with a really good insight about the origins of the universe.  For that they needed theology’s story.  Their astronomical GPS wasn’t enough.

Even today, scientific calculations come up against a brick wall in the search for truth. Sometimes, they need theology, or let’s say insights from the mystical/spiritual/religious faith traditions. They need the Mystery some call God to fill in the blanks about the cosmos and its quantum beginnings.

Like the ancients who followed a star that the prophets advertised as leading to Divinity, scientists today are in respectful conversation with theologians they once dismissed as too non-scientific to be useful.  A result a new discipline called astro-theology is evolving.  (The Journal of Cosmology, based on the science of astronomy and mathematics, has a theology issue.)

When two or three gather together to share their gifts, there is Epiphany and epiphanies.      

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013.01.02 What is God Like, Really Anyway?

How can we possibly imagine that anyone who constantly hears, pray, sings, and reads “Oh praise HIM, Oh praise HIM,  Alelluia Alleluia”  and the like, will think of God as anything but male?

Godde needs a wardrobe change. It’s not fair to women who feel excluded from Divinity,  and it’s not fair to men who may feel proud and powerful as demi-gods at first, but then suddenly realize what a set up it is. As Dad used to say, “we’re riding for a fall.”

And, most decidedly, it's not fair to God!

No, this vocabulary  must change. We can do it. It’s not hard. In this new year I hope to write, and make it the case in my memoir, that God is not exclusively male. 

Let’s hope it won’t take another century to revise our language and images of Divinity.  Jesus of course was a man, a good and great one, divinized to a high degree.  The Christ, however, is not a man. If Christ were a man, how could we seek and serve Christ in all persons, when half of these christ-bearing persons are female! !?? 

A friend recently wondered if God were really perfect and immutable and all the things she’d learned in church. It didn’t make sense to her, and, in an article she’d read and shared, the author had written that the God of the Bible was none of these things. In fact the biblical deity was quite moody and changed HIS divine mind regularly. HE  had also made a very far from perfect creation program.

Sounds right to me. So..... language is not immutable.

God isn't perfect, because Godde chooses to mix it up with all of us. Divinity is about love not perfection,  and we all know how blooming imperfect love is.  We are free to give and receive love; so is Godde, although I happen to believe that God, more spacious of heart, is able to love a bit better and more gracefully than most of us are. And Godde consistently chooses connection over distance.

The Bible is a patriarchal document out of a patriarchal age. It’s language for God is all masculinized, though translations over time have made the language for humankind inclusive, so we address humankind as brothers AND sisters now.  We can do more. So what if the word for God in Hebrew or Greek is gendered? English nouns have no gender. What are we afraid of?

This grand memoir of faith has a thrumming spiritual truth that vibrates through it and keeps us all wondering— which is the point. Let’s help the truth along.

Our religion consistently proclaims the glory of God, while our pronouns, with equal consistency, proclaim God’s maleness. Enough already.