Slippery Slope Christianity

Over the past weekend, a highly elected North Carolina official preached in the Cornerstone Church in Salisbury, NC. The quote from his sermon that is stirring controversy is this: “No other nation has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today because of lack of assimilation, because of this division, because of this identity politics.” First let me say, I don’t doubt this man’s sincere faith, however misguided it might be. All Americans are given freedom of religion. It’s what our founding fathers wrote in the Constitution.

What gives me pause is that other sincere Christians were sitting in the pews, hearing a message that is not grounded in anything Jesus said, or taught, or lived. And there were probably a few nodding their approval of a speaker who is using a pulpit to begin his campaign for Governor of North Carolina. From what I read of this man’s talk, it seemed all about ginning up distrust for the other, skepticism about multiculturalism, and fear of pluralism.

When hegemonies are lost, people rise up in fear. Historically the hatred that is born of fear manifests itself in nationalism and religious piety that excludes, villainizes, and persecutes any one who threatens status quo power or pushes back at systems that work better for the few than for the many. This is what is going on in America today as people of color, people of gender difference, and women – who have only had voting rights for about 100 years, are rising up to say, not so fast you who would work to disadvantage, silence, or suppress any of us.

For such rhetoric as was preached in the Cornerstone Church in Salisbury, NC, pandering church folk who are just there to praise Jesus, is slippery slope Christianity. Where do we think this will grow the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

Diversity is God’s design. Just look out the window and see the birds of the air and the plants of the garden and the river that flows right in front of me. The birds fly and sing their own song, the plants bear their unique fruit, the fish and crabs inhabit the same river. All creation, the whole biosphere is diverse, different by design, yet symbiotic and interdependent in its coequal-habitation. To say that nations have not survived diversity is simply not true.

When we look at Japan, Korea, Germany under Hitler, and others who have worked to eliminate diversity, people have experienced great suffering, pain and ultimate loss. So, Mr. Candidate for Governor, and any who preach nationalism and exclusion, how do we speak to a diversity that is edifying for all people, enriching the blessing that is Christianity at its purest and America as its best?

We can love one another as God has loved. We can listen to one another until we hear the cry of the needy. We can seek common ground, realizing that we are all in this life together for better or worse. We can lay down our pride and self-righteous rhetoric.

Sliding down slippery slopes often ends in a crash. I speak from experience. Neither the church nor the government will fare well sliding down slippery slopes that take us off the path of righteousness, fairness, justice, and kindness. Dignity and diversity, acceptance and productive co-existence will grow a truly great America and a truly faithful church. This is more than political; this is life.  

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Lisa is 50

If either of us had died before today, I would not have been able to celebrate this day, the day of my beautiful daughter’s birth. June 26, 1969. I was 23. Tom was on active duty in the National Guard. Water broke. My mother in law took me to Wilson Memorial for what would be a long, hard labor. Spoiler Alert: She was worth it.

When Lisa was born, the Viet Nam War was on. There was an international race to the moon happening. The Civil Rights Movement was moving into high gear. Women’s Liberation was a rising movement. Woodstock and Hippies; big time rock and roll. It was a dynamic, confusing, yet exciting time. This was the world into which Lisa was born.

Lisa almost came out talking. She was engaged and interested in the world from the beginning. She was the prettiest baby in the nursery, perfectly shaped head, beautiful nose and eyes. Bald…mostly, which lasted almost three years. Good thing she had a pretty head.

Her nursery was pale yellow with white trim. We had bought a used crib and rocking chair. Her little dresser was one my family had, painted white with little blue drawer pulls. The curtains I made had little ducks across the hem. Blue throw rugs and a changing table finished the room.

I had never held a newborn baby before. Had only babysat once. It has always been amazing to me that a very well credentialed hospital would send a perfectly good baby home with somebody like me. Fortunately for Lisa, her daddy had done a lot of babysitting. She lucked out there. Even with months of colic, our little family thrived.

We never talked baby talk to Lisa. And she never talked baby talk back. Even as a toddler, she would arrange her dolls in chairs around her little yellow nursery and teach or preach. When she would coax the dolls into singing she would shout, “Now we sing the Shirt Song. Hit it!” She always new lyrics, wrote lyrics, sang with gusto.

Lisa was the best big sister in the world. She was a trustworthy caregiver. She would pick her baby brother up and lay him across an open magazine because she thought he looked bored. All through school, she took care of her brother. Only in the past few years, usually around Thanksgiving, have we heard some of the stories of their high school antics. Statute of Limitations had run out, so telling the stories was OK.

To have a daughter is a blessing. Daughters keep us on our toes. Daughters have magic powers to wrap their daddies around their fingers. Daughters to aging mothers are a growing blessing. I have watched Lisa grow into a wonderful human being who cares about others, her neighbors, her community, her family. She is gifted as a cook, a writer, an artist, a friend, and she can still sing the lyrics of most any tune you name.

On this, her 50th birthday, I give deep thanks to God for letting me be her mama and for giving me years to watch her grow into the person she is today. And I give thanks that she has lived to this her Fifth Decade, which I expect she will know to be her best decade. She is a blessing in the world. Happy Birthday, Lisa. I love you.

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Bible Words

On Thursday night of Annual Conference, Rev. Greg Moore led us through an experience of creating spiritual friendships, showing how such practice works as the basis of new church development. It was pretty amazing that through a few questions and prompts, four strangers could sit in a circle and open themselves in ways that by the end of our time together we knew each other more than just casually. We have even communicated with each other since that initial meeting. Imagine such coming together as people of God.

At the very end of our time together, our last question triggered a response from one of our four that I have thought about and prayed about since last Thursday. Essentially hers was a response of pain in feeling like all the LGBTQ issue had been thrust upon traditional people in hurtful ways. My new spiritual friend asked, “Where is LGBTQ written or even mentioned in the Bible?”

The buzzer rang and our time was over before her question could be unpacked. I expect there are a lot of people like her who have trouble when more is required of their faith than the Bible has words for. Thursday night was not the first time I had encountered this mindset.

Several years ago I was facilitating a labyrinth workshop in a small church in eastern North Carolina. A group in the church wanted to build a community labyrinth on a piece of property where the old parsonage had stood. What was supposed to be a two-hour workshop ended up being like 3 and a half hours of Christian Apologetics that ended only when I called time. The question that night was, “Where is the word labyrinth in the Bible?”

Bible words seem to matter in the Bible Belt. Truth is there are a lot of words that define our faith that are not black and white in the Bible. Trinity is one of them. Sacrament is another word. Confirmation is another and there are a slew of others not written, but lived out in traditions in the church and the ongoing experience of the Living God.

Revelation did not end just because the canon was closed. Through all the ages, God has acted and we have known God’s movement among us. New words and new practices have been incorporated to tell the ongoing story of God as lived out in Jesus. As God’s faithful, we accept that God is not finished inviting and pressing us toward the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and we live with joy into that glorious future.

I sat in that little Thursday group in my full regalia as a progressive Christian. My rainbow boa and stole surely were a give-away. My hope is that I was part of a fresh wind that is blowing us toward the love and acceptance of all people, one in the spirit, one in the Lord. The Bible Word that speaks most loudly to me is LOVE. Love for all people and all creation. Welcome the stranger – it’s there in black and white. Love your enemies – yep, that’s printed. Do not be afraid – that one takes up a lot of ink. When Jesus says, “Let us love one another, for love is of God. God is love.” Those are words to live by.

Nels Ferre, a theologian of the 1940s, wrote a little book, The Sun and the Umbrella. Ferre talked about umbrellas we humans put up that block the Light of God. When he talks about the Bible being the umbrella that keeps us from seeing God, I think he is talking about how we use the Bible as an end rather than a means. The Bible is an entry point for hearing the story of God told through faithful hearers.

Bible Words can hurt sometimes. When they do, that is not God’s intent. God’s intent is that all creation be blessed and bathed in grace for the living out of a purpose set forth in the garden. Every living creature is invited to the feast and it’s a big table that’s been set before us.

My prayer is that with open ears and open hearts we will hear what God is speaking today. I pray it is a fresh word for a groaning world, a unifying, healing word that we would all be one.

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June 6

June 6 is my son in law’s birthday. Bless you, Wayne. Happy Birthday! June 6 was also my Mother and Daddy’s wedding anniversary. Smilax and satin marked that day. Mother was young. Daddy was a young VMI graduate. Their marriage was blessing to at least three of us – my brother, my sister, and me. This day, June 6, 2019 is particular as we remember the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

When Daddy graduated in 1938, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army, and sent to Georgia in command of a unit of National Guardsmen activated into duty as tensions were mounting in the world between Germany, Italy, Russia and whoever else who had a stake in control of the world. Daddy was young. Not at all a fighter. He had ended up at VMI because his tenure at NC State had resulted in little but movie tickets and he had a father who expected more of him than film literacy.

My brother was born in October 1941. He was an infant when the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened in Hawaii on Dec. 7. Richard was a baby; Mother was a new mother, and honestly a fairly new wife. The war was in full swing and the US Military were now part of it.

When the buildup of troops for the D-Day Operation swung into overdrive, Daddy and his troop were transported by train from their base in Georgia to Fort Dix, New Jersey. There they would undergo final physical exams before loading onto ships headed for Europe.

It was there that Daddy was pulled from the ranks. His rheumatic heart finally caught up with him. His leadership was compromised by his heart murmur. He landed in a hospital somewhere between New Jersey and New York while his company went on to Omaha Beach. His unit had over 100 percent casualties. If Daddy had been there, he would have been one of those casualties. And I would never have been born.

This day of remembrance and thanksgiving for all who sacrificed their lives, their potential, their families, their hopes and dreams – this day always smacks me with realization of the great gift of my own life and the great responsibility of my life to be a peace bearer and truth speaker in every place in every time for as long as I live.

Life hinges on many decisions, little choices that ripple into the ether. War is fraught with failed decisions and poor choices, huge egos and spiritual vacuums. Those who fight our wars are not usually the decision makers. They are just following orders. God be with those who are in harm’s way today. Guide us all into the way of peace. Amen.

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The Debatables

On the wall of the Visitor Center at Fort Frederica National Park hangs a replica map of the southeast coastline of the US circa 18c. To the north are the Carolinas, which are controlled by the English. To the south is Florida, under Spanish control. In the middle of the map is a tiny sliver of coastline, the sliver we now know as the Georgia coastline. It is called: The Debatables.

From the 16c, Spanish missions lined the east coast from Saint Augustine almost to Savannah. Fort Frederica was built to protect Savannah from any attacks coming from the south. The Debatable land was a buffer between two competing cultures. Either the Spanish would ultimately occupy the Debatable land, or the English would. Three centuries later, I think we know who won and who lost the Debate.

Winning the Debatable Land for the English was the goal. Blood was shed. Lives were lost. Losers were routed out. All’s fair, they say.  Who has the biggest guns? The largest bats? The most arrows in the quiver? The debate ends when one side has enough power to take it all.  

Human notions of power always come down the basic ego trap – I win; you lose. The rise and fall of nations reveals this binary existence. The truth is, don’t we all live in Debatable Land? Ownership, wealth, success are false notions and folly as the water rises and the winds roar. We negotiate and fight and rattle sabers and beat chests for that which in the end is not really ours to own.

Rachel Held Evans in her last book, Inspired, talking about the value of understanding Scripture as story, speaks to the issue of debate as that which enlivens conversation in its give and take. People bring different points of view, honing really good questions, agreeing to disagree, eating and drinking, debating and discussing till the wee hours when the debate stands by itself and the debaters carry on their life together.

In a Debatable Land, all voices count. All sides are heard. Every person is a player. All children are fed. All win. Why are we afraid if somebody else wins? Times are changing in this Debatable Land. The path of debate is there for us to walk. It’s time to drop the win/lose game. It’s time to fuel love, not hate. It’s time to seek gentleness and live generosity. It’s time for plowshares and peace among us. It’s time.

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Where Have You Been?

Coming out of Night Prayer into the first Great Silence I had entered in over three years, I heard God’s voice clearly say, “Where have you been? I have missed you.” Holy One, I have been busy. Otherwise occupied. Doing church work. Caring for my family. Indulging myself in things of little consequence and listening more to the screaming monkeys in my head than to you. But this is the week I set aside for the One who has waited without judgment.

Some in my circle call it “Monk Camp.” Actually it is the Academy for Spiritual Formation, a deliberate community designed with study, prayer, worship, and silence in each day. It is a rhythm that has blessed my days and grown my faith and increased my love of Christ and the Beloved Community for years. What I had not realized was that in leading the community, then leaving the community, I also left the great silence and deep listening to God behind.

God is patient; God waits even for those of us who are wayward. Oh, I played the music and sang the songs, and even prayed the liturgies. But extended periods of silence were not sought and not lived. I have loved God and served where I could. And I participated in small bits of silence – in lectio divina, in Lenten Listening, and in my little closet of prayer. Still, not a Great Silence.

Where have you been? I have missed you. I have really good excuses, Holy One. Important excuses. So why is my yearning so deep; why is my spirit so dry? So how much silence is enough? My experience this past week is that I don’t exactly know how much is enough, but I do know that what I have been living is not enough.

Tom scattered grass seeds the last time we were here at the river. As we drove in yesterday afternoon, we saw the parched and withered blades thirsting in the heat of the day. The first thing Tom did was to get the sprinkler going on the grass. Water, sweet water to quench that which appeared dead. I think it would be hard to over water the grass at this point; the heat of the day is still great.

This morning there is a little greening happening, both in the grass and in my spirit. At the feet of two great teachers, in a covenant community, and in the Great Silence, greening happens. Where have you been? I have missed you. I may have forgotten, but God did not. Thanks be to God.

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Today is my 73rd birthday, which means that tomorrow I begin my 74th year of life. Holy Cow!!! 74… almost three fourths of a century.  More cow here. Thank you all Facebook friends who have sent well wishes and blessings on my birthday. As I looked at the posts I have remembered you and given thanks for you and all you have meant in my life, and I have prayed blessing on each of you.

I will admit I had a little melancholy going into today. I have thought about family – Mike, Mary Mac, Patricia, Alton Vincent, Ardie, Joe, parents, grandparents who are not at my birthday party. I have thought about parishioners – Barbara’s granddaughter, Paisley, Keith, Gwen, and all the others whom I have loved and lost who are not at my birthday party. And I think of my dear friend whose mother is in that thin place between two worlds and my sweet Mother in Law who at 97 seems to have lost joy in the gift of years that has been given her.

My husband today gave me a wonderful and most unexpected gift, a clergy shirt with a tab collar that he said would help identify me as I march with mothers against gun violence, and Moral Mondays, and the Women’s Marches and the marches to resist hate against the LGBTQI community and to support a woman’s right to choose abortion when it is right over choosing the county coat hangers, and every other march and place of resistance I feel called to.

73. I danced at PLUS last week. There is photographic evidence. (I probably could not run for President or Bishop.) As I left the dance floor, there were two young couples looking at me. I walked over to then and said to them, “Do no fear getting old. Fear losing your joy; fear losing your purpose.”

Last night at supper my son asked me, “So, Mom, what would you say was your best year?” I told him, this one. This year is my best year. OMG what joy is mine tonight! Thank you all for blessing me with your words and your love. God has much for me – and all of us who might feel discouraged –  to do. This will be my best year, until next year and it will be even better. Blessings in the night all. Thank you all for a wonderful day! I love you and God loves you.

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O For a Thousand Tongues

The gulls were back tonight. Singing at the top of their tiny lungs and flying with vigor in circles over my head. I sat in wonder at their stamina and work just surviving in this hostile world, searching for food and sustenance before nightfall.

The moon must be full tonight. Over the river it reflected light in tiny waves headed for shore in a much calmer way than they did last night. Gulls and Moon, you reminded me that it is Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the tomb. His friends are sad and scared. The women are planning an early morning visit to where you are. They want to anoint you… as it you are not already anointed. O Jesus, Saturday is part of the mystery. What is happening in your tomb?

Tonight we had a dinner that was our traditional Easter dinner…. Ham, potato salad, deviled eggs, green beans and strawberry short cake. An ordinary menu for an extraordinary night. Our Carolina Hurricanes were in a playoff game. We had a young guest whom we have known all his life, but who had never had a meal at our house. Nick is a musician. Conversation was smart and lively. Easter blessing came early to us.

When everybody went home, I went to the porch to eat dessert and look at the moon and reflect on the goodness of life, the times of struggle, the times of the tomb and the promise of dawn and Resurrection. This is the first Easter that I have not preached Easter Sunrise in a lot of years. Other than the time when Mary went to the phone, I have done pretty well.

If I had all the tongues of the gulls to sing praise, I would employ every one of them to sing Resurrection… Christ is risen! Life and Light are Christ’s gift to us. It is mystery except that we live it in the joy; it is transcendent except that we live it in real time, in strawberry shortcake and full moons and the love we feel for one another.

Wake up early tomorrow, like Mary. Go to the garden, the Journey Garden or Camp Don Lee, or wherever you go and see for yourself. Feel the cool air and listen for the birds. They know. The Christ who has taught us and healed us and walked with us is not lost to us. Jesus is ours always in the resurrection we claim. Alleluia! Alleluia! Easter Blessings to you all! Amen.

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I Thought I Heard You Say

As I sat on a bench at the end of the pier, a huge flock of seagulls squawked and sang their way up the river. What looked like thousands of birds were loud, a rushing sound that could have been Babel, yet I heard something loud and clear from them that I have reflected on for the past week.

I thought I heard them say…. Or maybe it was God saying – yet it was a statement I heard my grandchildren say when they were little, “Are you picking up what I am putting down?” Seriously. Is this a word from God? That sounds more childish than I think the voice of God sounds, more confusing than even the squawk of the gulls.

The question, if it really came from God, sounds like holy exasperation to me. What a way to get my attention! “Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Lib?” Or is your tongue still lazy and your witness glaringly weak? Where are you proclaiming righteousness and serving the least and calling the greatest to more? Are you silent when you should speak and timid to live the lessons you have been taught and shown by Jesus?

The gulls were con-fabbing where they would find food for the day. Would it be in the river that was underneath them? Would they find it in the newly turned fields just beyond the tree line? Bugs and worms, or fish? At least they were seeking. They were busy making a plan to thrive. I was sitting. Silent.

The prophet hears, Have you not seen? Have you not heard? Three thousand years ago God did not speak in colloquial slang. But the message is the same. Does my witness bear forth what I really know and believe about Christ? Why is God still asking the same question? Where am I, a Christian, “putting down” what I know to be of God: acts of kindness, justice, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, hospitality, and love?

Last night I sat in a sanctuary at a church that truly is a sanctuary and heard John Pavlovitz, a preacher/prophet like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. He called out in a progressive voice, stand up and be the people God has called us to be. Now is the time we can’t sit idly by.

In plain sight we see the ills of a broken culture around us. It is not spin to see the pain that policy and rhetoric from pulpits and podiums, preachers and politicians inflict. Distortion of the message of Christ, sowing of division, ramping up of hate and distrust are everywhere, and it starts at the top with a president who gives new meaning to the word “base.”

Where are you, Senators and Congressmen? Where are you preachers and Bishops? Who is picking up what God is putting down? Why is it taking so long for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven?

I thought I heard God saying to me: look for new life, find a new voice, speak a new truth. Do not shrink from speaking and writing and acting out. Next week is Holy Week. Jesus comes into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. What must he have been thinking? Jesus has picked up what God put down; he heard and followed. O God, give me faith to pick it up in my life. And let me not be afraid. Amen.

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Dear Aaron Sorkin – Part 2

The other night we sat in the first row of the mezzanine for your evening presentation of To Kill a Mockingbird. The Shubert is a grand old theatre, in the heart of the theatre district in New York. We sat amazed. You delivered… or shall I say, dropped a culture bomb on all of us who sat there. Mesmerized by the performances, certainly; even more moved in a story line that began in the telling of the human condition by Harper Lee in 1960 at the height of Jim Crow segregation, the rise of the KKK, and the early risings of the Civil Rights Movement stirred by Martin Luther King. I was a teenager when all this was going on.

I must say, the vernacular that was certainly part of the culture from which the story was born in 1960, was uncomfortable. Good on you to make us see this spoken in southern drawl that calls us to reckon with our roots and our lingering failings. The drawl of a segregated south fell hard on our faces and in our ears. My personal recoil at the N-word, was intense. I thought about the actors who were repeating the N-word over and over to show us what it was like and how it felt to the four Black folk who were seated in the “courtroom.” I actually thought about how they all felt even performing. I thank them for their obvious resolve that we should see how all this that happened really was. I grew up in this story; it grieves me.

The pedal pump organ, like the one that was in my home church, played hymns as backdrop. No glitz or shiny. Another point of genius. Against the hymnology of the Christian faith, atrocities were perpetrated against minority persons, African Americans, first and surely, but also against a young woman abused and assaulted by her father, and a young man abused, neglected and discounted by his mother.

This show, dear Aaron Sorkin, is just the kind of message that needs to be spoken over and over again in the world until finally, we hear it, especially as we live in a time when hate is on the rise and white nationalism is being normalized from lips as high as the White House. The fact that you not only lay bare the pain, you also highlight the human pathos of comedy and tragedy mixed together just like we live it everyday. That is genius.

One Sunday during Lent I preached a sermon about the Barren Fig Tree. One of the congregation said she had never heard a sermon about manure before. Spread a little manure on the failing tree, the Gardener says. Give it three years, and if it does not bear fruit, cut it down. Apparently even Divine Patience has its limits. And the Psalmist cries out, “How long?”

I think that is what I heard in your play, dear Aaron Sorkin. Dill and Scout, Jim and Atticus certainly were calling us to consider how much longer racism will continue in our culture. How long will people mistreat and mistrust each other, especially in our differences of color, gender, age, faith, culture, political party, sexual orientation and any other of the dividing lines we stand behind to throw out barbs and spew out hate.

If every person in this country could see To Kill a Mockingbird and feel the shock of how we look in the world, we might awaken to the horror and sadness of it all.  Frankly, the world seems in a very fear-filled regressive place right now. Truth has become subjective and suspicion has become the fodder of choice. Even we Christians have distorted the message of Jesus to love and welcome and become one people.

You, dear Aaron Sorkin have ripped off a scab. I think I thank you; I know I appreciate what you have done in this play. I pray all of us who see it will be changed… even a little bit.

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