Posted by: smstrouse | May 24, 2016

Pluralism Summer IV

firstsundayheader1It’s hard to believe that at  First United we’re gearing up for our fourth interfaith summer series! Pluralism Summer IV begins June 12.

Pluralism Sunday began back in 2007 as a project of the Center for Progressive Christianity. We’ve always observed the day, but four years ago we decided to extend it for the whole summer.

And now we’re already halfway there in lining up twelve different speakers – one for each Sunday from June 12 to August 28. The truly wonderful thing about being here in the Bay Area is the wealth of awesome people who are willing to come and share themselves with our little congregation.

I learned a  l0t the first year. The main thing was that it’s easier for the speakers when we have a theme. It also creates more interest in the congregation and curiosity about how each tradition will address a particular topic.

Nina Pine BuddhistFor example, two years ago the theme was the environment. We asked our guests to answer the question: how does your tradition inform how you think about caring for the   environment? The variety was amazing. Nina Pine, a Buddhist originally from Nepal, talked about the environmental degradation of Mt. Everest.

Linda Crawford ICP and Don Frew COG

Don Frew (seen here with me and Linda Crawford, executive director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio) is an elder in the CovenanSridevi Ramanathan Hindu1t of the Goddess. He led us in an earth-based meditation.

Sridevi Ramanathan, a Hindu, laughingly told us that, “Of course Hindus believe we should take care of the earth. We believe in reincarnation, so we want the earth to be here when we come back!”

Last year, it was gender.
11539775_10206233265883875_663553422419599292_nMitch Mayne talked about being an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint (Mormon), who has recently served as the executive secretary in the ecclesiastical leadersh11705140_10206182129445496_6793989997650344369_nip of the LDS Church in San Francisco.

Sister Chandru from the Brahma Kumaris (our neighbors over on Baker Street) taught us that the Brahma Kumaris (“daughters of Brahma”) movement is known for the prominent role women play in the movement and led us in a meditation.

And this year? The theme is – what else? – politics: How does, does your, what aspects of your tradition inform your politics? So far, we have speakers from the Baha’i, Muslim, Mennonite, Jewish, and Integral Yoga traditions. We even have a Lutheran (how could we not ask about Luther’s theology of “Two Kingdoms“?).

I’ll be posting more as the rest of schedule gets filled in. Visitors are always expected. If you’ve ever thought about visiting a funky, little, progressive church, this summer would be a great time to do it!




Posted by: smstrouse | May 21, 2016

Has Phoebe’s Day Come at Last?

St-Phoebe-Tradition-of-the-Deaconess-Stayer-Karras-final_21There is one moment that stands out very clearly from my first year of seminary, way back in 1982. That’s when New Testament professor and Greek taskmaster, Dr. Richard Jeske revealed that the Greek word used for Phoebe in Romans 16: 1-2 is the same word used elsewhere for male followers of Jesus. Diákonos, is defined as servant; deacon; minister. However, when the word was used for a woman, translators steeped in patriarchal assumptions would call her a “deaconess.”

It’s gotten a little better since 1982; Phoebe has graduated (in some churches) to “deacon.” But back then, this was a revelation to those of us who – even thought we were in a church that had voted to ordain women – were still fighting to be recognized as equal partners with men. My copy of Biblical Affirmations of Woman by Leonard Swidler, published in 1979, was well-worn and heavily highlighted as I learned how to biblically justify my existence. 

101326c59411b77caf01b70832d75bc1And now Pope Francis has announced that he’ll create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church. Don’t get me wrong; I’m very glad that the pope is trying to bring reforms into the church. But this one is a no-brainer. “Allowing” women to serve as deacons doesn’t even address the issue of translating the same word as “minister.” It simply returns to the practice of early Christianity.

The question for the Catholic church is whether it will be faithful to the biblical witness or stick to tradition, with all its patriarchal baggage.

Sure, there are many who will see this as a toe in the door for women to become priests. And I say, what would be so bad about that? Even the oft-accused misogynistic St. Paul recognizes the ministry of Phoebe.

profile-3-600x600So, c’mon Francis. Get with the program.
Phoebe’s day has come at last!


CNS-Berrigan BANNER_croppedWhere is the anti-war movement today? I’ve heard – and asked – the question often in these past decades.

Who are prophets of the stature of Phil and Dan Berrigan (sheesh, even spellcheck keeps changing it to Kerrigan)?

I know. There are many, many people speaking up and working quietly for justice in many areas, e.g. Black Lives Matter, Sojourners,  Veterans for Peace.

But where is the kind of outrage that drove the Berrigan brothers (part of the Catonsvilleplowshares Nine) to burn draft records with homemade napalm in 1968 and to lead the Plowshares Eight into a GE plant in King of Prussia, PA, pouring blood on company records and damaging nuclear warhead nose cones?

There are many reasons why times have changed. In my own admittedly very simplistic analysis, I can see three. One is that we don’t see the war on TV. Those of us who can remember Viet Nam surely were affected by nightly footage of coffins being unloaded at Dover Air Force Base. In fact, the phrase “Dover Test” became an indicator of public tolerance, or lack of it, for war casualties. That is, until 1991, when the media were banned from covering the arrival of remains at Dover. The ban was lifted in 2009, but the media itself seems to have gone MIA on war coverage.

Two: where they have done a good job, though, is in defusing any criticism of the war by equating it with “not supporting the troops.” So we’ve bent over backwards to reverse the stigma of the Viet Nam era when returning vets were called “baby killers” and the like. I do not want us to go back to that kind of behavior, but my concern for returning vets does not depend on my opinion of our foreign policy. In fact, I lament that those who send them off to fight do not “support our troops” by providing adequate medical care, housing, job training, etc.

The third reason for our malaise, I think, is that getting out of the mess we’re in today is a lot different from the quagmire of Viet Nam. We created the disaster; just picking up and abandoning the people caught in the middle won’t make anything better. Except that nothing appears to be making anything better. We’ve created an “Apocalypse Now” horror show with no end in sight.

It seems hopeless. Even for Dan Berrigan. In an interview with The Nation in 2008 (which could have been written today), he said  “This is the worst time of my long life. I have never had such meager expectations of the system.” Still, he also wrote elsewhere that what made it bearable was a disciplined, implicitly difficult belief in God as the key to sanity and survival.

The Berrigans and all the other anti-war protestors of the past can still be role models for us today. Maybe war is different and the world is different. But our ability to live in the world with conviction, faith and courage does not have to change. WE can be the prophets. The spirit of the Catonsville Nine and the Plowshares Eight can live on is us, in whatever ways we are called to embody peace and justice in the midst of a very difficult time. lxiRc7HngdkqN1uxCsRAiQ-smallw



Posted by: smstrouse | May 7, 2016

Where Would Jesus Pee?

Fighting-Restroom-Sign-900The Pharisees asked Jesus, “What does the law say about where people may relieve themselves?”
Jesus replied, “A person went into the restroom. There were several other people there. One, looked at the newcomer and said, ‘Let me see your identification so I can determine if you’re in the right place.’

Another pointed a gun and said, You don’t look like you belong here. Get out before I blow you away.’
But a third held open the door to the next available stall and said, ‘Next!’
‘Now, which one,’ Jesus asked, ‘displayed the proper restroom etiquette?’
‘The one who let the person go in and pee.’
And Jesus commanded them, ‘Go and do likewise.'”

I grew up in a house with one bathroom for six people. Without going into detail about the dysfunctionality of my family suffice it to say we had some issues over access to the facilities. So, even though I’m a cis female and don’t expect to be challenged when I enter a woman’s restroom, I do know what it feels like to not be able to go when you got to go.

I know. It’s not that simple. I’ve been reading about the restroom wars. And I have to admit to some mixed feelings. I have no problems using a unisex restroom – as long as everyone obeys rules of common decency and courtesy. I’m not sure we’re ever going to solve the “seat up or seat down” controversy however. I haven’t been able to win that one in my own house, where we do have the girls’  bathroom and the other one.

I’ve also read a very thoughtful blog post by San Francisco transwoman, Bertie Brouhard: A Case Against Unisex Bathrooms. She describes waiting in line in the women’s room and being asked by another woman, “Don’t you hate waiting?” She reflected that the question “piqued my attention and got me thinking how grateful I am there are both Men’s and Women’s Restrooms! My answer expressed in my softest, warmest, lilt with a smile on my face was, ‘No, not at all. In fact I’ve waited over fifty years to use this bathroom.'”

In another interview, she says she believes that the bathroom isn’t the appropriate place for this particular fight: “It’s not a sexual thing. It’s not a right-to-carry-a-gun issue. It’s not same-sex marriage. It’s not abortion. It’s going in to relieve yourself. Don’t carry it too far… The bathroom is not a good place to start a fight.MsqBgwtODsuwwlg-800x450-noPad

Still, there are those who are ready to carry the fight into the stalls, pledging to carry guns into the women’s room to fend off – what? someone who simply has to relieve themselves? Really?!

I don’t have answers to the complex issues surrounding this controversy (except the right to carry guns; that’s a no-brainer). All I know is that, according to Amnesty International and the U.N. General Assembly, access to toilets is a basic human right. And we’re not even touching on the problem as it relates to people who are homeless. Easier to complain about feces and urine on the streets than provide access to facilities.

How sad that we have to even say that we need legislation ensure a basic human right. Yet, since we evidently do, we must advocate for those rights. But the bottom line for me is still common human decency and courtesy. Whoever we encounter in the restroom, may our simple greeting be, “Next!”

Posted by: smstrouse | April 30, 2016

Let the (Muslim) Dead Bury Their Dead


Well, it seems that this has been going on for a while now. But I just heard about it. Some of the good citizens of the United States – whose constitution grants everyone the right to freely exercise their religion – are protesting against having Muslim cemeteries in their communities. Towns in Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota have mounted opposition to proposed sites. A CBS News report has stated that, in some cases, new cemetery projects have been defeated.
Muslim Cemetery, Denton, TX

I just don’t even know what to say. Even if I accepted a community’s fear of living Muslims (which I don’t), how can anyone justify the rejection of the dead?

Has Islamaphobic hysteria become this rampant? Are these people this ignorant? How can we call out this kind of nonsense? Do we really have to specify that when we say “All are welcome here,” we mean even your dead?

I doubt that anyone from Dudley, MA or Farmersville, TX or Carlisle, PA or Farmington, MN is reading my words. But if they were, I would say to them, “Get a grip! Act like a human being. And start behaving like a real American.”


As tulips open they mimic the shape of the female body, the body which in ancient times was honored as a vessel of grace. Yet they, both tulips and women, remain grounded in the earth. I also love tulips because they remind me of chalices. Recently I was walking among the tulip fields of Skagit…

via April – Tip-toe through the tulips with her… — AWE Gallery: Stacy Boorn

Posted by: smstrouse | April 23, 2016

Bible Challenged Because of Its Religious Viewpoint?!

bible-with-question-markThe American Library Association’s “State of America’s Libraries” report includes a list of books that have received the most challenges from readers. A challenge is defined by the ALA as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

Coming in at #6 on the 2015 list is The Holy Bible.

But unlike other “objectionable” books which had either sexually explicit content, such as  Fifty Shades of Grey or an LGBT theme, such as Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, The Bible earned this distinction because of its “religious viewpoint.”

Does anybody besides me think that’s really funny?!

Obviously not everyone. On one side are the Christians who have taken this development as proof of the “war on Christianity” and are warning that The Bible is about to be banned.

On the other side are the challengers. But, as Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, explains: challenges to The Bible are based mainly “on the mistaken perception that separation of church and state means publicly funded institutions are not allowed to spend funds on religious information.”

So I don’t think we have to worry about Bibles being confiscated from library shelves.

Still, I like the idea of challenging The Bible. Why shouldn’t we ask questions of our sacred texts? When were they written? To whom? Where? Why? Especially texts that are problematic: violent, patriarchal, homophobic, xenophobic, those “texts of terror” as Phyllis Trible called some of them.

We should take very seriously our culturally-conditioned responsibility to challenge our scriptures – not to ban them, but to enable the message embedded in them to shine forth through the  humanity of its writers.








Posted by: smstrouse | April 16, 2016

Resurrection on Glass Beach


After the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, it became a garbage dump. It remained a dump until the mid 1960s. But Glass Beach on the Pacific coast at Ft. Bragg is now a natural wonder.

I was in Ft. Bragg for a brief r&r this week. Glass Beach, reputed to have the highest concentration of sea glass in the world, seemed like an interesting place to check out.

What did I know about sea glass? Turns out, not much. But I learned a lot about it from the Ft. Bragg “Things to Do” website. Over time, as glass from the dump was broke800px-Glass_Beach_Fort_Bragg_3n up into smaller pieces, it was also slowly polished by the sand as it is rolled around in the surf. The most common colors are greens, browns, and clear white, which came from things like beer and soda bottles. Rare cobalt blue, the sapphires of the beach (I didn’t see any of these)  came from bottles such as Milk of Magnesia and Noxema. Also rare red glass, the rubies of the beach (none of these for me either) startd out as perfume bottles, the tail lights or traffic 12991059_10208152508343737_5030843985465295905_nlight lenses.

All this was very interesting, but the best thing was  spending an enchanted hour sitting on the beach sifting through tiny stones, shell pieces and glass. Collecting is discouraged, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t take some souvenirs home with me. Then I had an idea; I would create an altar with the best pieces I found, along with some shells and other interesting finds.

Being at the ocean is already a spiritual experience for me, so this added dimension was an exercise in wonder and gratitude.

But it was also a story of resurrection transformation. Even being cast onto a garbage heap (or being crucified in one) doesn’t mean the end of the beauty of life. How many times have I been like a shard of glass, with my sharp edges and cutting words? How many times have I felt tossed and tumbled in the sea of life, going under for the umpteenth time, helpless against the tide? Like an old beer bottle, I’ve had my moments of feeling tossed aside, broken and useless.

And yet, out of the water, through no effort on its part, the beer bottle emerges as a polished gem. Humility keeps me from claiming that I’m either polished or a gem. But isn’t that what we claim to be in the eyes of the Holy One? Beloved. Beautiful. Transformed. Precious. Loved. Polished gems. Wave_polished_glass_fragments_from_Guantanamos_Glass_Beach

Can I keep this resurrection experience in my heart to remember in my next time of feeling “down in the dumps”? I hope so. But even if I don’t, I’m sure that there will be other moments like this visit to Glass Beach to remind me.

Posted by: smstrouse | April 3, 2016

The Theology of Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter 2In a recent video, I noticed the cross that Ann Coulter was wearing. So I was curious. What were the religious beliefs of this icon of the political right? I was watching the video in the first place because I was curious about the comments she made this past week about Donald Trump: “Our candidate is mental … I am a little testy with our man right now. It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison.”

I thought she’d finally seen the light and was ready to abandon her neo-con ways. But, alas, no. She’s decided that being a parent to a spoiled brat is better than having good government.

But back to matters of faith. Coulter is indeed a Christian. She has said, “Christianity fuels everything I write.”

Wow, I thought. How does she figure that?

“Being a Christian,” she explains, “means that I’m called to do battle against lies, hypocrisy, cruelty, and injustice, you know – all the virtues of the church of liberalism.”

I was with her up to the part about the church of liberalism. 

How can Christians be so polarized? What’s the theology underpinning the polarities of the religious right and the religious left?

Here’s Jesus according to Coulter: “People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and it’s your lucky day because I’m here to redeem you, even though I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it.”

That’s the theology of God as the angry judge who has to send Jesus to pay for our original sin. The cross around her neck signifies the price Jesus paid for our “redemption.” It’s a theology held by many Christians. Jesus’ “sacrifice” is the main event, not so much his teachings. I can’t really blame them; the Nicene Creed skips right over Jesus’ birth to “crucified, died, and was buried.” 

But many of us have rejected theories of atonement like this one. For us the cross is a symbol of God’s unfailing promise to bring something life-giving out of any death-dealing situation. Crucifixion and resurrection are happening around us all the time. It was not a one-time event. I don’t even like wearing a cross because of the atonement associations. How can I convey a theology of a Cosmic Christ in any one symbol?

I don’t think that this explains everything about the widening gap between conservative and progressive Christians. But it’s got me thinking. Can we all claim the same symbol (the cross), the same language (redemption, salvation), the same Jesus? 

Wouldn’t it be fun to see a dialogue between an Ann Coulter and a John Shelby Spong?! Actually I think the late Marcus Borg would have been the best challenger. Maybe it’s now up to the rest us. 





Posted by: smstrouse | March 25, 2016

We Can Be Better than This

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