Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

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Warning: This is not a “how to win friends and influence people” post. You may actually lose some friends by speaking truth, but you might also gain some new and very interesting friends.

I’m not talking about truth-telling as in pointing out to your friend that she has lettuce in her teeth. That is a common courtesy, although awkward, depending on the depth of the friendship.

And I’m not talking about a fundy, stick your nose in my business, “Just speaking the truth in love, brother, you shouldn’t be dating her.”

I’m talking about the kind of truth-telling that happens when one looks at the world, at the dominant culture, and realizes that “we” have gotten off track. Telling the truth in that situation is much harder. People don’t like to hear that kind of truth because we don’t like to admit we’re hurting people with our words, actions, or laws. But that is exactly the kind of truth we need to tell in order to get back on track. It’s a prophetic voice.

*In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the Prophet to help “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative.” 

I had this experience when I began to align myself with my LGBT brothers and sisters, which cost me my job with a large evangelical ministry. I was not trying to be a prophet or rattle any cages, but the very act of standing with my rainbow family was apparently enough to challenge the power structures of the dominant Christian culture. Once you see an injustice, you cannot un-see it and the way the “church” was treating my gay friends was clearly wrong. I felt called to stand up against this injustice and consequently was booted from my spiritual tribe. This was an excellent opportunity to know what it feels like to be a gay Christian. In the aftermath, I gained a wonderful, supportive rainbow family, and found a new spiritual tribe among affirming churches, parents of LGBT children, and others standing with them.

 

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Our job as truth tellers is, to tell the truth, then stand in that truth. My spiritual director once told me that staying in a difficult place was a form of intercession. The good news is, we are not responsible for the outcome, we are just called to stand firm. It can be hard and it can be lonely, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways to sustain your energy during times of truth-telling.

  1. Give yourself radical rest. This in itself is a statement to the dominant busy, consumer culture we live in. It is a radical thing to choose to stop and rest. Rest, Sabbath, silence, and solitude will restore your soul and sustain your activism.
  2. Meditation/prayer/yoga: These things help connect your body, mind, and spirit which can get burnt-out and disconnected during times of cultural upheaval and chaos.
  3. Dance with your friends. I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters model a “dance it out,” way of dealing with stress. We also see this modeled in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom, his sister Marion whipped out her tambourine and led the women in a dance. When David returned with the Ark of God, he ripped off his clothes and danced. Dancing in the midst of pain, heartache, and push-back is a testament of hope, a celebration of battles won, or a prophetic statement that we believe they can be won despite evidence to the contrary.

What has helped you in your quest to speak the truth? I’d love to hear about it or stand with you as you find your voice against injustice.

 

*This quote and many of these ideas are from Christine Valters Paintner in Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

 

Photo credit: protest

 

Spiritual Practice: Overcoming Darkness

 

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It’s easy to be overcome by all the evil in the world. From political decisions that separate children from their parents to the rampant abuse coming to light in the Catholic church, to the thousands upon thousands of heart-wrenching “Me Too” stories. It feels like too much to deal with, and sometimes I just want to shut down or give up.

A few days ago, after reading about the Catholic abuse cases and how the leaders of the church tried to deal with it by moving the perpetrators to other parishes, I had a dream. In this dream, I was trying to single-handedly deal with two people who had become possessed by a great evil, a familiar evil. It was like trying to contain chaos. I knew my efforts wouldn’t work even though I was trying to put the two people in a house and nail the door shut. I knew it was futile.

It’s hard to see where God is in times like these. But, I love the quote believed to have originated with Theodore Parker  but used by MLK and so many others:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

It doesn’t seem to be true in the here and now, but overall things are better than in the past. Not to say that there are not still HUGE problems, obviously, there are, but compared to say, the dark ages, things are better. How do things get better? Well, as my dream told me, we can’t do this alone.

First, we need to stop trying to hide evil. Bring it to light. Let the victims come forward, let the “me too” folks share their stories, let us all say that ‘Black Lives Matter,” let the media report on things that are wrong so we can all see them, let our LGBTQ family come out of the closet. Because once those things come to light, then we can begin to admit that we have some work to do, grieve and heal together.

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Second, we can’t do this alone. It’s too overwhelming. We need to work together, all of us on all sides of the political and philosophical spectra. We each need to do our part to heal those who have been hurt, to change unjust laws and to realize that these are systemic issues. There ARE systems in place to keep people of color down. There ARE systems in place, in church, and in the business world, to keep women out of leadership positions and our rainbow family in the closet. There ARE systems in place to protect pedophiles. All of these systems need to be seen, addressed and we need to work together to break them down.

Third, it was clear to me in my dream that this evil is “bigger than us.” I believe we also need God. We need the divine good, the benevolent forces of the universe, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. However you need to say it, we need help!

Am I alone out here, shouting into the wind? What do you think?

 

Photo Credit:, Light in Darkness

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Displacement

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Have you ever been in a place where you are the only one who looked like you? Maybe you went somewhere you didn’t speak the language, or the food was unfamiliar, or the customs were confusing. What did it feel like to be in that place? What you experienced is called a displacement experience.

For those who live in the margins, the non-majority folks, displacement is an everyday experience. Being a white, cis-gendered, straight person, I am rarely displaced. I live in a city where I’m in the majority. It is comfortable for me to be who I am here. Why then should I go out of my way to displace myself?

It is important to displace ourselves because this is often the only way to truly know the human experience of our brothers and sisters. How can we have love and compassion if we have never known what it feels like to be “other?” If I am to grow beyond my prejudices and assumptions, I’m going to have to start by displacing myself.

Displacement is the first, and easiest place to enter into honest dialogue about cultural, ethnic, religious and world view differences. If God is the God of all people, and we want to move closer to oneness with God and with each other, we will have to take steps to cross the barriers that separate us.

Here are five easy ways to displace yourself. Pick one, try it and share the results. If you are already from one minority culture, try one from a different group.

  1. One of the easiest ways to displace ourselves is to read a book written by someone who is not like you. Some of my favorites are:

Fiction: The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas. (especially good on audio)

Non-Fiction: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Memoir: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians by Justin Lee  

  1. Purposely go someplace where you are not like the majority of people in the room:

Visit an ethnic church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Places of worship are still the most segregated parts of our society. Let yourself really feel what it is like to be unfamiliar with the culture of the church. There are black churches, Latino churches, Korean churches, Greek Orthodox churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish Synagogues…all will welcome you in, but you may not feel welcome there. This is a good thing to understand as it is often the experience of when a person of color, or a different region, or one of our rainbow family members visits your place of worship.

Take a trip to an inner-city ethnic enclave. Visit China Town or Little Italy; walk through Harlem; go to a gay bar or dance. How do you feel there?

Notice your bodies reaction to this environment: Are you scared? Are you anxious? Can you imagine that some of your brothers and sisters feel those sensations every day at work, or when a police car comes up behind them?

  1. Try a different ethnic food restaurant each month. How does it taste on your tongue? Do you like it? What would it be like to feed it to your baby? What can you learn from different diets? This is a fun and easy displacement exercise!  
  2. Invite someone different out to lunch, or even better, over to your house for a meal (ask if they have any dietary restrictions first!). Then open an honest dialogue as you get to know them. Be a learner, not a teacher.
  3. Watch a movie that is out of your comfort zone. Some of my favorites:

Black Panther (What Africa, undisturbed by European colonization and European cultural dominance, might look like, a sci-fi version of course, but still awesome.)

Love, Simon (When a gay protagonist is the star of a sweet, chaste film, like “Never Been Kissed,” it can open our eyes to the experience of our gay friends.)

The Sea of Trees (Learn about the Japanese suicide culture and deal with the truths of grief in the American culture and how they intersect.)

The Danish Girl (What does it feel like to have one body on the outside and feel like the inside doesn’t match? This will help build compassion for our trans friends.)

I’m still a newbie in this racial reconciliation dialogue but my friends of color have taught me that displacement is a good first step. In light of the things I’ve learned in the last twenty years, I wrote a book that helps put white people into a fictional displacement. It might be a fun and easy on-ramp for you to read. It’s called, Cracker.  

Some comments from reviews:

“Cracker is a must read as it takes you away to a world that we should all see, one that helps you truly open up your eyes to the magnitude of racism and prejudice against gay and lesbian’s. This story not only forces you to face your own thoughts on racism, but it also educates you on the history of oppression creatively through her vivid and strong characters. Cracker will change the world you see and the way you decide to treat people that are different from what you see in the mirror; it opens your eyes and your mind.”

“I recommend this easy to read yet profound book to teens and adults without reservation, and hope that it yields deeper curiosity, trust, and courage to love across difference in every reader.”

“This story made me keenly aware of (and question) my own beliefs in the most profound, imaginative way. Ann’s story riled me up and shocked and shook me to my core. Jacci challenged me and changed my perspective.”

Let me know which displacement exercise you try and what you learn from it!

Photo Credit

Doubly Marginalized

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If you follow this space, you’ll note that most of my brilliant revelations come after I meet with my spiritual director. A spiritual director is someone who companions with you in your life with God.

I meet with my spiritual director for an hour once each month. I usually spew my tangled emotions and somehow she manages to find a theme or important question in the midst of my ramblings. That helps me make sense of my life.

Lately, for the last several years, my confusion has been around not feeling like I fit in my “evangelical” Christian culture, yet not fitting anywhere else either. This leaves me feeling rather untethered and lost. God is still real and near, but where do I fit in community with others?

Last month when we met, she used the analogy of a cog of the “wheel and cog” variety and I realized, I just don’t cog very well anymore. I don’t fit the prescribed evangelical Christian culture; I love gay people, and I can’t understand how ANYONE could vote for Donald Trump. With some of my dear friends, this makes me a rather uncomfortable person to be around.

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Some friends have unfriended me, some have unfollowed me. Some hold me tenderly, at a distance. Others are watching to see what crazy thing I’ll do next. I am confident that they all still love me. We just don’t speak the same language anymore.

This month, that wizard who is my spiritual director used a term she had heard from Brother Don Bisson, a Jungian-Christian spiritual director. The term is, “doubly- marginalized.”

It comes from the idea that when a person works with those on the margins, they fit neither with the people they are working with nor with their former community. I find this to be exactly true for me. I love my rainbow family, yet, as a cis female, I am not one of them. And working with my beloved rainbow family has changed me. I am a different person now, which makes me not “cog” well with many in my former Christian community. God is bigger to me now and has blown out all of the tidy boxes I used to keep him in.

So, where does that leave me? I’m still a Christ follower, that is true. And there are others who don’t cog well that I’ve found to cluster with. And there is my rainbow family, who love me unconditionally. So, I’ve decided it’s time to put the blinders back on and keep my eyes on Jesus – to go where he leads me, to love those he has called me to love and to try and ignore those loud, very loud, voices telling me I’m wrong, crazy or apostate.

This is me, a not cogging well, doubly marginalized, Christ follower. Care to join me? Do you ever feel that you don’t cog well? I’d love to hear your story.

Cog picture credit

 

Say Something

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Man with duct tape over his mouth

When I was trying to understand about Racial Prejudice (I am still learning and will be always), I learned that keeping silent during times of injustice is a power position that comes with privilege. That is if I am not directly affected by injustice, then staying silent doesn’t change my personal experience. But those directly affected by injustice only stay silent at a significant personal cost.

White America has forgotten how to lament. Did you know that the Psalms of Lament and the entire Book of Lamentations has been removed from many prayer books? We have forgotten good Friday and we have jumped to Easter. We’ve taken on a happy, positive Christianity.

But that is not real life. Real life is hard, and scary, and messy – as we have learned in Orlando.

Please watch this short video about the rough day when I learned not to stay silent in the face of injustice but to “mourn with those that mourn.”

 

I encourage everyone to say something about the tragedy in Orlando. You may not think you have any friends in the rainbow community, but you do, and they are hurting and afraid. Here are some templates you are welcome to cut and paste to help you “say something.”

“My heart is breaking over Orlando.”

“Praying for the families and friends of all who were lost in Orlando.”

“Praying for the men and women killed in Orlando, their families, those caring for the wounded, and the first responders who rushed into the gunfire.”

“I can’t stop crying.”

 

It doesn’t ‘t take much. You can practice here if you want. Tell me how you are feeling about Orlando.

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