Monday, February 16, 2015

Death, Be Not Proud...

Death has come unexpectedly so many times in my life...intruding...
insinuating, even more than that... abruptly slicing into the
fiber, the essence, of everyday life and wounding me- and so many
others- to the very core.

Death is the great interrupter, doing so with no apology, with no
apparent concern for its life-changing implications, for the pain
it inflicts or the emptiness it brings or the way it overturns all
that is known and safe and comfortable.

Death wanders down the halls of hospitals and hospices, to be sure.
But it also lurks in the dark and lonely and unexpected corridors
of the mind. It reaches out its icy tendrils to grasp and hold the
unsuspecting adventurer. It hides along roadways and behind
highway overpasses, unseen and unexpected by travelers.

Death, it seems, would like to believe that in its intrusion into our
lives, it has the last, the final word. And, indeed, if this earthly plane
is all one knows, all one believes, Death is indeed the victor- has the
victory over every living being. But for those of us who "see" and
know and deeply believe something more, life does not cease with
our death, but goes on. How or where or in what way does not
matter- at least to me. What matters is that I believe that the
life-force inside each of us, the God-energy which was breathed into
us at our birth, lives on...and that Death must, at the last, slink
away in defeat, as the beautiful, holy essence of the human being
who was, continues to exist, to be, to live on.

Death has come unexpectedly so many times in my life: my
youngest sister, my eldest son, an old and dear male friend and
colleague; more recently, a precious female friend, and the
husband of my dear pastor and friend...intruding...insinuating
itself... slicing deep into the lives of those of us left behind.
And it extracts a toll...leaves behind a hole which nothing or no
one else will ever fill. But I feel...I believe...I know, that the last
word is not Death but life... ongoing and eternal. Therein lies
my hope; therein lies my faith; therein lies my trust. And so,
even in the midst of Death's painful, tenacious grip, I can say,
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus
the Christ!"

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sometimes Reading is Hard...

Sometimes reading is hard. Oh, not the words or the way they
are strung together, but what they say...the subject matter...
the story they tell...the information they impart. I have just
finished two hard books...very different in subject matter but
both heart-rending and mind-boggling and certain to stay with
me for a long, long time, perhaps for the rest of my life.

The first was The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by African-
American theologian, James H. Cone, in which the author links-
in some dramatically intense ways- the cross of Jesus the Christ
and the lynchings of African-Americans in this country in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As a white American growing
up in in the North during years when such reprehensible
behavior was still taking place, I must confess my total ignorance
of the history of what had and was still taking place during my
childhood. And we learned nothing about it in school...nothing.
Throughout my elementary school years I knew only two
Negroes, as they were called then- (when they weren't being
called something far worse): Clarabelle Jimmerson and James
Williams. They were bussed to my school from a small town
outside of our small city because we were the nearest school.

Clarabelle was in my class for several years and I remember
being fascinated by her beautiful dark skin and the many small
pigtails in which her hair was braided. Sometimes we shared
our lunches and when we had to double up in our desk seats
for some activity or other, we were quick to seek each other out.
But I knew nothing of her life outside of school, just as she knew
nothing of mine. We were classmates and school friends.

My junior high/high school was totally white, located as it was
outside the city which is where most people of color lived. And
though Friday night's Teen Canteen at the YMCA was totally
integrated, the black kids pretty much stayed with the black
kids, the white with the white. Oh, I do recall hearing about the
Ku Klux Klan but that seemed like some ridiculously unreal
apparition in the deep South. Never once do I recall- until I
went to college in New York City- wondering about the life and
treatment of black people. It simply did not enter my headspace
and I do not recall the adults around me discussing it. Lord,
have mercy. College presented a different world, a world in
which I came to know several black students who became
good friends...but I still knew nothing about what it was like
for them to live inside a black skin. Christ, have mercy.

Forgive the digression...lost in memory's corridors.

Cone' s book was difficult for me to read because page after page
not only presented me with facts previously unknown to me, but
also convicted me as a white woman, a white Christian woman, a
white Christian pastor, and caused me more than once to have
to put the book down and walk away for a while to permit my
emotions to settle a nausea to ebb. Over and over again,
I found myself asking how human beings could commit such
heinous acts upon another human being. But, as Cone reminded
me again and again, the African American was often viewed by
his/her white "sisters and brothers" as less-than-human. Over
and over again, I was astonished and horrified by what I read;
over and over again I find my eyes filling with tears and my
heart filling with sorrow and deep, deep regret for what had been
done, often in the name of religion, by people whose skin color
is like my own. And I learned the names of many courageous
and gifted African Americans: poets, writers, activists, of whom
I had never heard. I learned about the Harlem Renaissance as
well as the daring and committed women who started the
National Association for Colored Women. (Today, I spent
several hours at the library, looking up name after name from
Cone's book, determined that I would expand both knowledge
and appreciation for these fellow-citizens, these fellow-travelers
on life's road.) Would that this book were required reading in
every high school and college in this nation, to fill in the glaring
gaps in our children's education.

The second hard book was Redeployment by Phil Klay, a series
of short stories about troops serving in Iraq, written by someone
who had been there, done that. I was astounded by the rawness,
the honesty, the horror of these stories. Indeed, they are not for
the faint-hearted. And if you're offended by foul language- well,
you'll just have to get over it. Klay doesn't pull punches, but tells
it like it is...and those of us who have put people into office who
continue to send young men and women into harm's way need
to come face-to-face with what is happening to them, with the
toll their experience is exacting from them. And perhaps Klay's
book will also help us to more compassionately deal with those
suffering from PTSD and TBIs and depression and alcoholism
as a result of their service...on our behalf. I recommend these two very different but equally-
disturbing books to you, dear reader? Yes, yes, and yes again-
if you want to be informed...if you want to understand...if you
want to be linked to your fellow humans in many and varied
ways. But, I warn you, sometimes reading is hard.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bill Moyers and I...Reflecting Together

"They burned him alive in an iron cage, and as he screamed and
writhed in the agony of hell they made a sport of his death." So
began today's "Perspectives" column by Bill Moyers as he wrote
about the horrendous death of Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-
Kaseabeh, at the hands of ISIS.

I found myself feeling nauseated, held captive by a sinking feeling
in the pit of my stomach as, with my all-too-active imagination, I
could picture the dreadful scene. Except there was no way I could
accurately do this because it is so far outside of my personal
experience, so far beyond what my mind and heart and intellect
could take in. Barbaric, is what I thought, what I said aloud.

But in his piece, Moyers goes on to recall the death of a young
black man in Waco, Texas back in 1916. No, death is too light
a word. His murder by lynching and burning alive for the death
of a white woman of which he was accused and convicted by a
grand jury in just four minutes, in spite of the fact that there were
no witnesses, no appeal, no judicial review. Instead, a courtroom
mob, according to Moyers, "dragged him outside, pinned him to
the ground, and cut off his testicles. A bonfire was quickly built
and lit. For two hours, Jesse Washington (for that was his name)
-alive-was raised and lowered over the flames. Again and again
and again. City officials and police stood by, approvingly.
According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as
15,000. There were taunts, cheers, and laughter. Reporters
described hearing 'shouts of delight' When the flames died away,
Washington's body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as
souvenirs. The party was over."

More nausea, but this was more familiar, as I have been reading
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, learning
about this dark and shameful period of our collective national
history...this period during which, between 1882 and 1968-
(yes, you're reading correctly, 1968!)- there were 4763 recorded
lynchings in the U.S., and who knows how many unrecorded
ones. The majority were young black men who died horribly
at the hands of white death squads, lynch mobs, tortured and
often burned while still alive.

So here we are, Bill Moyers and I, both horrified at the recent
dreadful death which has made the news, horrified at the
callous, barbaric cruelty displayed by ISIS...yet neither one of
us can forget the horror of our own nation's past, when so many
thought it was both right and proper to treat other human beings
in such dehumanizing ways. Moyers ends his reflections in this
way: " was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the
news of the Jordanian pilot's horrendous end. ISIS be damned!
I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own
barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders.
Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People
like us."

And all I could think- as I had been all along, was, "Lord, have
mercy. Have mercy on us all."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Theology Unleashed...on an Overcast Sabbath Morning

I call you "God"...
I call you "God"-
   that one whom I can neither understand nor explain
      who dwells in enshrouded mystery
      yet manifests in my life
      day after day
   that one whom I know even as I am encompassed by
      the Great Unknown
      who fills and enlivens and empowers me
      in ways both terrifying and glorious

I call you "God"-
   for no other human word fits-
   yet even this one fits badly,
   since those three small letters hold within their grasp
      meanings both familiar and strange
   bear definitions which vary from person to person,
      time to time, place to place, even day to day
      within my own experience.

I call you "God"-
   but Holy One, Ground of Being, Source of Life,
   Creating Energy are other names to which I turn
   as I seek to know you, to embody you, to honor you
      with my living and being

I call you "God"- and sometimes, this is enough.

clothed  (from Life Lines)
'The spiritual clothing one
person wears can never fit
the soul of another.'- so say
the ancient Celts. Yet we modern
folk insist the garb of spirituality
be 'one-size-fits-all'... losing in this
homogeneity the awareness of the
        beauty and uniqueness
        of individuality.
Some days, I wear the
cheerful garb of rainbow
colors, of swirling patterns,
of rustling, swaying fabrics
        which enhance & enliven
        my dancing walk...
On others, I reach for somber
gray & black, the muted blue
of denim, fabrics both quiet
and still, accompanying my
        silent way through
        thoughtfulness and
        remembered grief.
And much as I would like to
shed my garb at times to
clothe myself in yours, I know
it will not fit... and you cannot
wear mine...
       The best we can do, I think,
       is walk together, hand in hand,
       in loving company and holy
       admiration for the way in
       which our clothing fits,
       enhances, beautified,
       defines who we each are.

loving God...   (from Life Lines)
What does it mean to
     love God?
Is it to love life?
Is it to love creation?
Is it to love others?
After all, if God is all in all,
              if God is source and substance,
              if God is creator and sustained,
                        then- ALL of the above...
     But perhaps even more,
          it is to know
               You are LOVED
     and perhaps that is why it is
         such a challenge...
                              I wonder...

God talk (from Life Lines)
My personal theology is truly
an amalgam- born of experience and learning
                            of the daily journey
                                       and occasional revelation.
My roots are deep within Christianity, but they
have grown and blossomed into an ever-diverse
expression of God with us
                     God IN us
                     God around us!
     It is not about being right,
     or having the right answers.
     It is about finding my own way,
                      being a perpetual pilgrim
                            on the journey of life
                      and meeting many and varied
                            companions along the way.

God speaks... (from Life Lines)
God speaks-
   in the sound of rolling thunder
   in the early-morning warble
        of the wren
   in the delighted giggle of
        a baby playing with its toes
   in the quiet murmur of friends
        sharing life's secrets
   in the majestic and mysterious and
        melodic strains of Mozart and Sondheim,
        Joplin and McCartney
   in the insistent and persistent chant
        of Navaho shamans
   in the whirling dance of
        Sufi mystics
   in the quiet dedicated chant of Buddhist
        monks and nuns in Tibet and Burma
   in the taste of shared bread and wine
        in Christian worship
   in the gentle thud of earth
        scattered on a coffin
God speaks in languages
many and varied...
                    so how can we listen
                    in only one?

needing space (from Life Lines)
In Hebrew, so I am told, one of
the earliest words for 'salvation'
is also the word for 'space'...
          So how have we made
          the road to salvation
          so narrow, so well-defined?
In order to grow,
              to become,
              to be transformed,
we need S                 P                A                 C               E
           both within and without...
we need companions who, in love and
           trust and compassion, both allow &
           encourage us to be and become who we are
                                                             meant to be...
           to celebrate & cherish &
                preserve our differences as
                well as our oneness and connection
                to all that lives.
Perhaps we have so narrowed the road
     because conformity is comfortable...
     because difference is daunting...
     because answers are preferable to questions...
But then, where is room for
     the awesome, breath-stopping joy
     of mystery?
     the overwhelming, miraculous
     wonder of resurrection and
     new life?