Posted by: smstrouse | January 23, 2017

Spiritual Defiance

22march9-superjumboWhat’s not to love about a book called Spiritual Defiance? With an equally intriguing subtitle: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance?

I read most of it on the plane from Oakland to the Women’s March in Washington. I was glad I brought a highlighter with me because I immediately started marking up lines on page after page (I don’t think I’ve done that since working on my doctorate).

I first heard author Robin Meyers at a seminar based on a previous book, The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus. This was at an annual meeting of the Westar Institute, which always appeals to the academic nerd in me, but often leaves the pastor side of me a bit cold. But Meyers is a parish pastor, as well as a professor of philosophy. And his down-to-earth pastor side spoke to me as he describes the reality of the church today. What’s different from the usual hand-wringing, millennial-blaming, angst-ridden jeremiad is his call for us to return to our roots as a community of resistance.

What does he mean by that?
To be clear, by resistance I mean that the church of Jesus Christ should be, as it once was, an “embodied force opposed,” a beloved community of defiance, a joyful but resilient colony of dissenters from the forces death – both physical and spiritual – that destroy and marginalize creation. The assumed premise here is that compliance with the unacceptable, even through apathy or indifference, is a sin. The body of Christ was born to resist in love all that is the enemy of love.

That is precisely why I wanted to be a visible presence of the church at the march. Even though I had to haul our First United sign across the country and rush at the last-minute to get buttons made for all our marchers, I knew we needed to be identified as followers of Jesus, a community of defiance committed to helping build the Beloved Community for all people and all creation. As we all know, this is not easy work. And Meyers doesn16174530_10210582709377244_3249432234498300359_n-1‘t give easy answers. In fact, he tells us that we have to become “undone,” that things have to fall apart before they are put back together; disorientation precedes reorientation. In our vulnerability, we become weak enough to be made strong.

Meyers describes this undone-ness as:
~ Faith as Resistance to Ego
~ Faith as Resistance to Orthodox
~ Faith as Resistance to Empire

Each one of them is a challenge worthy of a book it its own right. But recovering today from the march yesterday and reflecting on how to keep the momentum of this historic event going, I find the section on empire the most imperative.

I hope there’s an updated chapter in the works because the book was written during the Obama administration. And while the call to resist empire was vital then, it’s even more so now. Although, we don’t really need an update to figure to out. Just check out the God is not against building walls! sermon by Robert Jeffress at a service attended by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named on Friday before the inauguration.

We’ve got work to do folks. And this would be a great study for clergy groups and congregational study groups to read together and discuss – but not just discuss, implement!

16195069_1410625462284062_2991644720787638852_n

 

 

 

pastordawn

alice-in-wonderland

Listen to the sermon here

I never in a million years dreamt that I would begin a sermon by quoting not the scriptures but Alice in Wonderland, but…“The time has come” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—of cabbages and kings”

To say that the last couple of days have been unusually, would be an understatement of epic proportions. Suddenly, it is as if we are all following Alice in Wonderland and together the world has gone through the looking glass and we find ourselves in a strange new world, were up is down and down is up, facts no longer matter, the way forward has a strange orange hue about it, and I can’t quite see a path through to reality. Everywhere I look the darkness appears deeper and darker than I ever imagined possible. Just when I think I have…

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Posted by: smstrouse | January 20, 2017

Alice Paul & the Women Who Will Keep Marching by Kate Brunner

Hedwig Reicher as Columbia on the steps of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, March 3, 1913. Hedwig Reicher as Columbia on the steps of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, March 3, 1913.

The day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade took place in Washington, D.C. to demand the attention of the incoming administration and advance the cause of suffrage. Organized primarily by Alice Paul, 8,000 women marched on Washington on March 3, 1913.

Alice Paul is an often overlooked figure in American suffragette history. She’s no longer as common a name as Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her early feminist contemporaries weren’t always very fond of her, for that matter. Many found her “too radical,” especially after her return from training with the British suffragettes, where she was arrested multiple times. But Alice Paul knew how to get things done.

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Posted by: smstrouse | January 20, 2017

Privileged (?) to March

16114881_791390466109_682503744201553862_nAs I settled into my seat on the Southwest plane in Oakland this morning, heading to Washington, D.C., I reflected how privileged I feel to be going to the Women’s March. Being a pastor in a congregation that is sending a large contingent all the way from San Francisco, having my way paid because they felt it was important for me to be here, hearing well-wishes and support from those unable to go – I do feel privileged. And I will do my best to represent our community of faith as we protest the offensive language and behavior that some men (including the president) think is appropriate.

Yet as soon as that word came into my consciousness, I was brought up short. “Privilege” is – rightly so – a word with a negative connotation. Sian Ferguson, in Privilege 101: A Quick and dirty Guide, defines privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.We’ve been hearing about it a lot more lately, but all the way back in the 1930s WEB DuBois wrote about the “psychological wage” that allowed whites to feel superior to black people. And in 1988, Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar at Wellesley, wrote “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”

As a white woman, I am very aware of my privilege in this sense. But I struggle. This morning, while waiting in the airport, I read a blog advising white women to be silent at the march, to allow our sisters of color to take the lead in voicing our protest against patriarchy and misogyny. I will admit that I’m struggling with this. Not because women of color don’t have reason to be heard and groups that have enjoyed privileged need to recognize it and be mindful. But I wonder how we might come to a way of sharing our voices. Will we ever reach that point?

I do not want to exercise or abuse my privilege as a white person. However, as a young girl who was devalued and taught to keep quiet, and as a woman who has been groped, grabbed, verbally and physically assaulted, and yes, raped, I know that I need to have a voice. As do all women who have experienced such violations – no matter what color.

In my years as a pastor, I’ve been accustomed to responding to those who thank me for my services with “It’s been my privilege.” And I truly have meant those words; I often find myself placing my hand over my heart as I say this. In my position of being invited into some of the most intimate thought/ emotional/ spiritual processes of people dealing with all manner of situations of life and death, I recognize what an extraordinary thing that is. I guess “honor” might convey the same sense. But frankly, I can’t think of a better word than privilege.

It’s a dilemma. I hope we’ll continue to challenge ourselves and one another. I also hope that as we come together for the Women’s March on Washington that we’ll be able to do so in spite of these prickly issues that need so much more work.

But you know, just last week, a Republican town representative in Greenwich, CT was arrested and charged with sexual assault for pinching a women’s genitals. Read article here.

 

And that is why I march. pussyhat-project-537x403

 

 

 

Posted by: smstrouse | January 18, 2017

Confronting the White Christian Vote for Trump by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThis week a politician from Connecticut reached between a woman’s legs and pinched her genitals saying that he loves this new world where he doesn’t have to be politically correct. Sadly, this is just another act of violence among many perpetrated based on the example of our President Elect, Donald Trump.

While many have been very troubled by Trump’s candidacy and ultimate election to the highest office in the nation – and the world – more than 80% of Evangelicals and 60% of Catholics gave their vote to Trump.

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Posted by: smstrouse | January 14, 2017

Go High or Go Low?

il_570xn-1082532334_lvlrOne of the many online petitions I’ve been asked to sign since the election was to ask our legislators to block all of the nominees out forth by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I hesitated over that one. After railing for eight years about Republican roadblocks, could I in good conscience advocate for the same kind of behavior?

A Huffington Post article this week had no such qualms. It called Democrats “weak” for not going after nominees with the same kind of vigor as the Republicans had done. Some justified declining to engage in the same tactics. Instead, they are, as Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, “. . . trying to make sure that we’re still in character, that we’re still the party that believes in governing, we’re still the sane folks.” But many are wondering if anything can be accomplished by holding to Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”

ap_mlk_memorial_quote_kb_130723_16x9_992I would like to believe that the hight road can be successful. On this weekend of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., his words from 50 years ago ring out with new meaning:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. 

But I also believe that there is an added dimension to our new national nightmare that must be taken into consideration. When I read the article, “Coping with narcissistic personality disorder in the White House, I knew the author was on to something. While all ten of the insights about dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder, I found #s 1, 6, and 7 to be particularly relevant to this discussion.

dc23ec68e11e3fd8856c66529a204c8c# 1:  It’s not curable and it’s barely treatable. He is who he is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.

#6:  It’s very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic, and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. Do not do this and do not allow others, especially the media, to do this. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about why, step away until you recalibrate.

#7:  People with NPD often recruit helpers. These are referred to as “enablers” in the literature when they allow or cover for bad behavior, and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support the good people around him if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.

Our challenge is going to be “going high” with a whole lot of “going low” going on. Maintaining a spirit of love, while confronting hatred, bigotry, and ignorance will necessitate a strong spiritual discipline. But we’re going to have to deal with this mental disorder as well – not stigmatizing mental illness, but educating ourselves, setting our boundaries, calling out bad behavior, and calling out those who buy into it.

I am calling He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named a narcissist. No, I’m not a mental health professional who can make such a diagnosis. But after reading the literature and recognizing the symptoms, I believe we had to take this seriously – in the interest of public health.

I do not use the word as a pejorative or a joke, nor do I intend to stigmatize anyone with a mental disorder. But when there is a narcissist in the White House, it is incumbent on us to know how to respond, how to go high. Because he will go low.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: smstrouse | January 8, 2017

Epiphany and the New Herod

15965132_10211123120292287_7334055007453144376_nMost of us have probably put our Nativity sets away for the year. The Twelve Days of Christmas are over. And churches, like ours, that insist on celebrating Epiphany on the Sunday closest to January 6th – the actual day of Epiphany – are really pushing it having the angel, the shepherds, the animals, the whole shebang here along with the Magi today.

But Epiphany is a much too important part of the Christmas story to be overlooked in the jam-packed holiday season we’ve just come through. If the only story we know is the one we learned from children’s Christmas pageants (except maybe for this one at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan!), we assume that the Magi arrived on the scene at the same time or shortly after the angels and shepherds and were simply part of the great birthday party in the Bethlehem stable. But the Magi play a very specific role in this story that Matthew created to illustrate what the life and death of Jesus meant to him. As cute as the kids are in their bathrobes and cardboard crowns, carrying props that resemble gold, frankincense and myrrh, the words of the traditional song hint at darker days to come:
Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

Not the most cheerful birthday party song. I pity the one who had to offer Jesus that gift! But then Matthew wants us to know that from the very start Jesus was going to cause problems for the powers-that-be. Starting with King Herod, who had so obsequiously asked the Magi to come back and tell him about the newborn child so that he could go and pay tribute, too. If this were a movie, we’d be shouting at the screen, “Don’t believe him!” Thankfully, they’re warned in a dream not to report back to Herod and go home another way.

But that’s not the last of it. According to Matthew, after the Magi depart Joseph has a dream in which an angel warns him to take his family and flee to Egypt. A good thing he does because when Herod realizes he’d been tricked by the Magi, he goes into a rage and orders the deaths of all children in and around Bethlehem two years old or younger.

Did that actually happen? There is no historical evidence for it, despite other valid accounts of Herod’s misdeeds, including murdering three of his own sons, his mother-in-law, and his second wife. But historicity is not Matthew’s point.

15965193_10211123117692222_8687064585588012110_nThe point in this Epiphany tale is that the birth of Jesus would have both religious and political implications. The news of Light coming into the world was not necessarily good news for the rich and powerful of Jesus’ day. In fact, as the Magi discovered, the rich and powerful actually have a vested interest in destroying that Light. As one commentator wrote: “While politicians promise to shake things up and drain the so-called swamp, their words reveal more heat than light. The rich and powerful want to remain rich and powerful even if it means holding onto the status quo of widespread poverty, destruction of species and the eco-sphere, and the growing disparity of the rich and poor.”

Herods abound –as much today as they have throughout the ages. That’s the reality. But as the Magi discovered, that does not mean that it’s the end of the journey. It simply means (as my GPS often tells me) “rerouting” and going a different way.

I say simply, but it’s not that simple, is it? When you expect things to go a certain way, anticipate one outcome, one pathway but then have to let go of it and embrace another? Sometimes we get to choose another road, but other times not. All kinds of things can force us onto paths we would not have chosen: job loss, illness, accident, divorce, natural disaster, national upheaval. We make our plans, but often have to turn off the GPS and go forward, not fully knowing where our new path will lead.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we are left with no guidance system. If the Epiphany story tells us anything, it tells us about Divine guidance. A star in the sky leads the Magi to Jesus. A dream warns them to go home a different way. And Joseph’s dream, too, ensures that the Light will continue to shine on.

I think this is why I love Epiphany so much. It doesn’t allow the Christmas story to stop with a sweet scene in a stable on a silent night. It zooms the birth of Jesus out into the political realm with a realism that we recognize all too well. I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why Jesus was called Prince of Peace. If he came to bring peace on earth, something had obviously gone wrong. But then I came to understand that the birth of Jesus wasn’t about there being a new Herod in town. The politics of Jesus aren’t the politics of the world. And the politics of Jesus will always be confrontational to the halls of wealth and power. We will always have to stand in opposition to the powers-that-be.

It’s no wonder that being a Christian for the first three centuries was so dangerous. Even the Christmas story itself, so beloved for its promise of “peace on earth,” was essentially a story of political resistance, proclaiming a radically different kind of Savior and a vision of peace on earth based not on power over others, but upon compassion and justice for all people. I think the poem by Howard Thurman, the African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, says it best.

“Now the Work of Christmas Begins”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

That was the work of Jesus; it is our work as well. And I love that Thurman adds making music in the heart to our mission as followers of Jesus. Because music takes us out of our heads and into our hearts – into the realm of wonder. There is wonder in this Epiphany story: stars, dreams, angels, intuition, Zoroastrian strangers with symbolic gifts. Our rational minds want to shout, “That didn’t happen!” But our rational minds don’t know it all. Just because a story isn’t historically true doesn’t mean there’s not truth in it.

And the truth is that there is a star that guides us. Holy Wisdom, Divine Light beckons us both inwardly, into where our own heart of wisdom resides – and outwardly, into the world where we can walk unknown paths with un-rational confidence.

Our dreams guide us, too. We’re coming up on Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, and we still remember his dream – not just his speech, but his dream – and we recommit ourselves to making it come to pass. We have our own dreams. Maybe you’re a fan of dream interpretation, as I am. Or maybe you strive for a vision that you hold for yourself, your family, your country. Dreams are real and they are powerful. Matthew knew that when he wrote them into his story.

Epiphany reminds us to pay attention to the mystics – the ancient as well as contemporary ones. Meister Eckhart wrote in the 13th century, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. For God is always needing to be born.” And writing about Christmas, the 20th century mystic, Thomas Merton wrote: “Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity.”

We, too, are caught up in the mystery of Christ – beyond the story of the first Christmas as told by Matthew and Luke; beyond all the trappings that have come to surround this season – we acknowledge our role in bringing to birth God’s dream for the world.

There was a TED Talk that went viral back in the fall. Rabbi Sharon Brous spoke eloquently on the subject: “It’s Time to Reclaim Religion.” The video went viral and engendered tons of discussion. What caught my attention were her opening comments about the state of religion today. She began with religious extremism, but then she said that extremism isn’t the only challenge that religion faces today. She says, “At the very same time that we need religion to be a strong force against extremism, it is suffering from a second pernicious trend, what I call ‘religious routine-ism.’

“That’s when we find ourselves in endless, mindless repetitions of words that don’t mean anything to us, rising and being seated because someone has asked us to, holding onto jealously guarded doctrine that’s completely and wildly out of step with our contemporary reality, engaging in perfunctory practice simply because that’s the way things have always been done.”

I would add that for Christianity, another pernicious trend is the normalization of a kind of faith that I don’t believe Jesus would recognize. Of the six religious leaders who will stand with the president-elect and offer prayers on inauguration day, two are prosperity gospel preachers and one is Franklin Graham.

This Epiphany, we cannot succumb to ‘religious routine-ism’ or the normalization of a Christianity not true to the gospel. We must step out in faith into the world to claim the name of Jesus as our teacher, the Spirit of Christ as our guiding star. That’s why I want our delegation to the Women’s March to have some kind of identifying button or banner, so that the presence of the faith community is known.

There’s a new Herod in town. But our Divine GPS system is on the job, giving us the new way. It might not be an easy way – I dare say that it won’t be easy at all. But if we’re true to our roots as Christians, we’ll acknowledge that it was never meant to be easy.

The Twelve Days are over. The Nativity set is put away.
The song of the angels has now been stilled, the star in the sky is gone,
the Magi have gone home, and the shepherds are back with their flocks.

And now, now – the work of Christmas begins.

Amen

 

Isaiah 60:1-6
We can’t let our fears of darkness dampen our lights. When political leaders lack a moral compass, we must supply a new ethical and spiritual direction. When religious leaders sell out their faith for power and the return of the good old days, we must chart a different course. Not letting go of the name, “Christian,” despite the foolishness of popular Christian leaders, we must redefine Christian faith for our time to transform the world and to witness to those who have been traumatized or scandalized by the “captivity of the church” in our time.  

It is written . . .

Arise, shine, for your light has come! The Glory of YHWH is rising upon you!
Though darkness still covers the earth and dense clouds enshroud the peoples,
upon you YHWH now dawns, and God’s Glory will be seen among you!
The nations will come to your light and the leaders to your bright dawn!

Lift up your eyes, and look around: they’re all gathering and coming to you—
your daughters and your sons journey from afar, escorted in safety;
you’ll see them and beam with joy, your heart will swell with pride.

The riches of the sea will flow to you, and the wealth of the nations will come to you— camel caravans will cover your roads, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;
everyone in Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense
and singing the praise of YHWH.

Ephesians 3:1-12
Our light has come and it is for everyone. Paul proclaims the mystery of God that reaches out to the Gentile world. Today’s Gentiles are immigrants, Muslims, transgendered persons, and the forgotten working poor in inner cities and rural America. Our faith must include the “other” and this faith must be embodied in acts of kindness, political involvement, and community transformation.

 It is written . . .

For I, Paul – a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – am sure that you have heard of God’s grace, of which I was made a steward on your behalf; this mystery, as I have briefly described it, was given to me by revelation. When you read this, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was unknown to the people of former ages, but is now revealed by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets. That mystery is that the Gentiles are heirs, as are we, members of the Body, as are we, and partakers of the promise of Jesus the Messiah through the gospel, as are we. I became a minister of the gospel by the gift of divine grace given me through the working of God’s power. To me, the least of all believers, was given the grace to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to enlighten all people on the mysterious design which for ages was hidden in God, the Creator of all. Now, therefore, through the church, God’s manifold wisdom is made known to the rulers and powers of heaven, in accord with the age-old design, carried out in Christ Jesus our Savior, in whom we have boldness and confident access to God through our faith in Christ.

Matthew 2:1-12
Magi come from the East. They come from another religion and nation. Followers of Zoroaster, trusting the ultimate victory of light over darkness, they come to worship a simple, working-class child. The fullness of God is not to be found in the Jerusalem temple, the halls of Congress, Trump Towers, boardrooms, or even basilicas. God is in these places, of course, but Epiphany reminds us that God comes to us among the poor and vulnerable, in the life of a little child. The Magi reveal the truth of John 1:9 – the truth of God, coming into the world, enlightens all creation and every person.  

It is written . . .

After Jesus’ birth—which happened in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod—astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the newborn ruler of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay homage.” At this news Herod became greatly disturbed, as did all of Jerusalem. Summoning all the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. “Here is what the prophet has written:   ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
since from you will come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Herod called the astrologers aside and found out from them the exact time of the star’s appearance. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, after having instructed them, “Go and get detailed information about the child. When you have found him, report back to me—so that I may go and offer homage, too.”

After their audience with the ruler, they set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child lay. They were overjoyed at seeing the star and, upon entering the house, found the child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and paid homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented the child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: smstrouse | January 7, 2017

Moving (Slowly) Out of My Comfort Zone

star-east-copyI have a good friend who voted for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I don’t understand it. It’s upsetting to me. You’d think the temptation would be to write off the friendship and move on. Except that we truly like each other and enjoy one another’s company. She’s been a strong support for me when I’ve needed one, and vice versa. How do you just write that off?

I’ve known about her political leanings and she’s known mine. We’ve just stayed away from those topics. But that’s become impossible to do now. We had a phone conversation last week and waded into the deeper water. She talked about her experience of being a conservative living in a blue state, of keeping her mouth shut when friends and members of her church made disparaging remarks or assumptions about people like her. When she did “come out” at one gathering, she described her discomfort at having to immediately be able to defend her positions in a rather unsafe environment – even among friends.

On one hand, I can sympathize. No one should have to be afraid to claim their opinions or positions. On the other hand, I know I’d be in there pushing back on them.

And yet. We’ve been hearing since the election how we on the left haven’t listened, how we need to relearn how to be in conversation with those with whom we disagree. For heaven’s take, this is the exact same pitch I make for interfaith and intrafaith conversation! How can I not be willing to do the interpolitical work?

I am so aware of how easy I have it. I live in a solidly blue state. I reside in Berkeley; I work in San Francisco. My congregation is as progressive as you can get. There is no risk to me in speaking my mind and being an activist on progressive issues. In a very big way, I rejoice in this!

But now I have this little niggling voice in my ear telling me that it’s not enough. There’s work to be done in bridging the divisions among us and relearning how to have civil conversations. And what better way than to begin with a friend?

Respectful dialogue must begin with relationship-building. Participants must trust one another with their stories. My friend and I already have this, so it would seem that we have a foundation on which to build. In our phone conversation, we approached this possibility carefully. We both agreed that we’re not ready yet. Maybe after the inauguration, after I’m back from the Women’s March. We’ll see.

I confess, this is not a process I really want to undertake. But I believe it may be one to which I’m being called (really, God?!) But Epiphany is the season of revelation. I’m going to have to trust the guidance of the star of Wisdom on this one.

star-east-copy

 

 

Posted by: smstrouse | January 7, 2017

Moving (Slowly) Out of My Comfort Zone

star-east-copyI have a good friend who voted for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I don’t understand it. It’s upsetting to me. You’d think the temptation would be to write off the friendship and move on. Except that we truly like each other and enjoy one another’s company. She’s been a strong support for me when I’ve needed one, and vice versa. How do you just write that off?

I’ve known about her political leanings and she’s known mine. We’ve just stayed away from those topics. But that’s become impossible to do now. We had a phone conversation last week and waded into the deeper water. She talked about her experience of being a conservative living in a blue state, of keeping her mouth shut when friends and members of her church made disparaging remarks or assumptions about people like her. When she did “come out” at one gathering, she described her discomfort at having to immediately be able to defend her positions in a rather unsafe environment – even among friends.

On one hand, I can sympathize. No one should have to be afraid to claim their opinions or positions. On the other hand, I know I’d be in there pushing back on them.

And yet. We’ve been hearing since the election how we on the left haven’t listened, how we need to relearn how to be in conversation with those with whom we disagree. For heaven’s take, this is the exact same pitch I make for interfaith and intrafaith conversation! How can I not be willing to do the interpolitical work?

I am so aware of how easy I have it. I live in a solidly blue state. I reside in Berkeley; I work in San Francisco. My congregation is as progressive as you can get. There is no risk to me in speaking my mind and being an activist on progressive issues. In a very big way, I rejoice in this!

But now I have this little niggling voice in my ear telling me that it’s not enough. There’s work to be done in bridging the divisions among us and relearning how to have civil conversations. And what better way than to begin with a friend?

Respectful dialogue must begin with relationship-building. Participants must trust one another with their stories. My friend and I already have this, so it would seem that we have a foundation on which to build. In our phone conversation, we approached this possibility carefully. We both agreed that we’re not ready yet. Maybe after the inauguration, after I’m back from the Women’s March. We’ll see.

I confess, this is not a process I really want to undertake. But I believe it may be one to which I’m being called (really, God?!) But Epiphany is the season of revelation. I’m going to have to trust the guidance of the star of Wisdom on this one.

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Posted by: smstrouse | December 23, 2016

Shift Happens: The Dying Gasps of Nationalism

shift-happens-1000x437Shhh. Don’t tell He Who Shall Not Be Named and all his ilk: something is happening. There’s a paradigm shift in process, and while it may appear that the forces of xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, antiSemitism, and Islamaphobia have won the day, they are really the dying gasps of the old order. I don’t mean to downplay the misery these people can and will cause. But I also believe that there is a larger movement at work.

The Interspirit Alliance and others, such as Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord in their book, The Coming Interspiritual Age,  envision “the emergence of a new axial age, reconciling destructive tensions that have plagued the human family and awakening a transformed new era of enlightened understanding.” They not only agree with Brother Wayne Teasdale’s characterization of interspirituality as the religion of the third millennium, they predict that humankind is about to enter into a new age of interdependence among the people of the world.

interspirualageNow before you dismiss this movement as too “New Age-y” or simply a remnant of the 60’s Age of Aquarius, know that this prediction is actually based on social theory. Teasdale and others who consider themselves interspiritual pioneers would have us look back to a major paradigm shift in human consciousness called the Axial Age and consider that we are now in the first stages of a second such shift. Theologian Hans Küng goes so far as to call it a Macro-Paradigm-Shift, in which humanity is coming to understand the world and human responsibility in global, not local terms. This shift is the impetus for working together for the betterment of the world.

But first, a word about what came even before this First Axial Age. Human culture was primarily tribal. Being part of the tribe meant not only knowing one’s identity, but also having protection from other tribes. The lives of pre-axial people were intimately connected to the life cycles of nature and to the cosmos. Harmony in the relationship between human beings and the natural world was expressed in myth and ritual. However, this harmony extended only to members of one’s own tribe. Other tribes were considered “other” and usually with hostility.

Then from about 800 BCE to 100 CE (the date range varies among historians) a new way ofaustralian-gr-poster-gif-html thinking emerged from the eastern Mediterranean to China. Tribal cultures were faced with the rise of urban life. They had to develop ethical systems that could transcend the rules of the various tribes. Consider the phenomenon of the Golden Rule, which is expressed throughout religions, philosophy and ethical systems. This idea that we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves emerged during the First Axial Age, which ushered in a radically new form of consciousness. The great religions of the world are the product of the Axial Period. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Judaism all took shape in their classical forms during this period; and Judaism provided the base for the later emergence of Christianity and Islam.

And now, we stand poised to enter  the New Axial Age. What’s the difference? Here are some of the main characteristics of the emerging paradigm:

  1. It’s global. Humanity is seen as a single tribe and this one tribe is interconnected with the total cosmos.
  1. It’s an age of dialogue, not monologue. Instead of talking only with those like us, we meet with people of differing convictions, not as opponent, but in order to listen, share and learn from one another.
  1. It will be characterized by a deep commitment to environmental justice, including a shift from an exclusively anthropocentric view to one which sees humanity in interdependent relationship with all other life forms and with the Earth itself.
  1. It will involve a redefinition of religion. Many of the answers given in the past do not address questions being asked today. Just as Christianity moved from a Jewish way of thinking into one of Greek philosophy (which produced the ‘substance’ language of the Nicene Creed), we are now moving into a new way of reflecting on theological matters. Interspiritual pioneers, such as Teasdale, Johnson and Ord believe that interspirituality is the form that it will take.

Does this sound anything like what He Who Shall Not Be Named and his ilk represent? Hardly. However, paradigm shifts happen whether we want them to or not. As a person of faith, I believe in the continual unfolding of “all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). I’m putting my money on the indefatigable Spirit of Divine Creativity.

In the  meantime, our work is cut out for us. We must do everything we can to resist the forces of the gasping, grasping, dying paradigm. But do not lose heart.

Remember: shift happens!

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