a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘UCC’

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim

walls.jpgLast night I dreamt I was Muslim.
I did not wear hijab
but I wore it in my heart
and they knew
and it was enough.
At first we could avoid them,
taking alternate routes,
changing our plans because we could not
change their minds.
Avoidance kept us safe.

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
The escalation came without warning.
Stone walls and iron gates kept us in or out
I was never sure
We huddled together
safety in numbers or barreled fish
I was never sure
We prayed
I watched
I was never sure
.

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
Or maybe I was an ally,
with them in body
because solidarity demands not spirit
but flesh and blood
messy incarnation
.

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
I woke up afraid.

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
I woke up afraid
of what I must do
now that I am

awake.

 

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Things I’ve given up

I am a pastor. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The role comes with many responsibilities–some delightful, some heart-wrenching, and yes, some onerous at times. There are certain things you give up when you become a pastor. It simply goes with the territory. And it’s worth it–it’s so worth it–to get to do what I do. Still, there are some sacrifices pastors make, just as there are in many occupations and callings.

As a pastor, I am prohibited (by law and tax code and ethics) from using my pulpit for political purposes. I am absolutely free to discuss biblical and moral issues and decisions, and to apply the scriptures to contemporary life. This sometimes sounds political to some people, but as long as a pastor isn’t partisan, she or he can–and must–address issues that are part of the political arena because they are part of the religious arena as well.

Still, throughout this presidential election season I have tried to be careful, especially on social media.  Anybody who knows me or who has heard me preach on a regular basis can probably assume my party affiliation, but I have not promoted any candidate. I do not want to alienate my parishioners who think differently. I have bit my tongue and deleted my words before posting out of deference to our diversity. But, as the pundits keep telling us, this is not a normal election, and these are not typical candidates, and drastic times may call for drastic measures.

I may not be able to preach what is on my mind, but this is my personal blog, not my pulpit. And it is not only my right but my responsibility as a person of faith to speak truth. Yes, I am a pastor. But first, I am a Christian, and as a person of faith I must speak out against that which is the antithesis of my faith, that which is against the teachings of Jesus, that which is anti-Christ.

Racism is anti-Christ. Throughout this presidential campaign I have been shocked and appalled by the blatant racism in our society. I guess “shocked” isn’t the right word because I am not surprised racism exists. Even living here in the whitest state in the union, I am aware of the systemic racism that plagues our country. After all, I’m a good democrat, a bleeding heart liberal, a minister committed to preaching justice and working for change. I am aware of the white privilege I carry—not as aware as I should be, but I know I benefit from it as surely as I benefit from my ability to pass as a straight woman unless I’m with my wife.

What has shocked me is not the existence of racism but the validation and legitimization of it that has occurred throughout this election season. We white folks no longer have the luxury of believing it’s only a small pocket of ignorant, hateful people who hold such vile views. One of our two major candidates for president repeatedly insults “the blacks,” claims an Hispanic judge can’t be impartial, accuses Mexican immigrants of being murderers and rapists, and wants to register and/or exclude people based on their faith. His hateful rhetoric has normalized and legitimized bigotry, and I am terrified of what his actual presidency might do to our nation and to my family.

My son was three when he asked me what color I am. Not sure if this was about race or actual color, I returned the question. “What color do you think I am?” He thought for a minute and then said, “Let’s call you tan.” “And what color are you?” I asked. He held his head up high and announced with pride, “I’m gold!” He deserves better than a president who will not see him as a golden child, but will assume he is or will become a criminal because of his ethnicity.

My blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter deserves better, too. She deserves better than a president who defines women by their physical attributes, who treats women like objects who exist for his pleasure, who sexualizes even young girls, and who thinks he has the right to force his “affection” on any female he finds attractive. No, Mr. Trump, this latest video is not, as you claim, “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today.” Sexual assault is not a distraction. It is a crime and it is a sin. It is anti-Christ. And as a woman who has survived both public groping and private assault, I will not be silent while you deflect blame and diminish your own atrocities.

This is no longer a partisan issue. Or at least it shouldn’t be. As people of faith, we all should condemn rape culture and male dominance and the objectification of women. We all should condemn the scapegoating of Muslims. We all should condemn the denigrating of immigrants. We all should condemn the killing and incarceration of young black men. We all should acknowledge that black lives matter and trans lives matter and refugee lives matter. We all are responsible for making sure that what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 40s never happens again.

The experts say that other people are not changed by seeing a political post. But I am changed by keeping silent. I am a pastor. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The role comes with many responsibilities, including speaking truth to power. I am giving up the right to be silent.

 

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

I am embarrassed by my family.

I’ve tried not to be, tried to tolerate them, tried to be accepting of their “eccentricities.” I’ve tried to remind myself that I come from them, that I used to be like them, that we share so much history. I’ve tried to tell myself that what unites us is greater than what separates us.

It is no longer true.

I was taught that we are bound by blood. Not human blood—that’s for relatives, and I’m not talking about relatives. The blood of Jesus is what makes us family. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God,” I used to sing, just as I was taught. I used to sing about the “Power, power, wonder-working power of the blood of the lamb.” I believed that “Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.” And above all, I was taught that believing in the power of the blood made us family.

But the family of God has become an embarrassment.

Too many members of this “family” will gladly cut food stamps and let children starve. Too many members of this “family” will happily support racist policies. Too many members of this “family” will joyfully tell you you’re going to hell. All while claiming to believe in “the joy of the Lord.”

Here is a great (and by “great” I mean horrific) example. A website called ChristInYou.com offers “The Twenty-third Psalm: Welfare Recipient’s Version.” Read it and weep.

Society is my shepherd: I shall not work.

It alloweth me to lie down on a feather bed;

It leadeth me beside the still factories.

It destroyeth my ambition.

It leadeth me in the paths of a goldbrick for politics’ sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of inflation and deficit spending,

I will fear no evil,

For the welfare agencies are with me.

Their generosity and their staff they comfort me.

They prepareth the requisitions that filleth my table.

By mortgaging the earnings of my grandchildren

My head is filled with mirth

That my cup runneth over without effort.

Surely, the taxpayers shall care for me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of a parasite forever.[1]

 

That’s right, nothing says “Christ in You” like calling hungry people “parasites.”

Then there’s the church that cut ties with a group providing housing for homeless families because one of the families had same-sex parents.[2] Apparently WWJD now stands for Who Would Jesus Deny?

And the incidents in response to Target’s inclusive restroom policy have been hideous. Watch Here and Here if you have the stomach for it. (Warning: don’t read the comments.)

Let’s not forget the Christian people at a school board meeting in South Carolina who were confronted with one lone woman standing up for the rights of transgender kids to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The Christians present chose to drown out this voice of compassion by singing none other than “Yes, Jesus loves me—the Bible tells me so.”[3]

If I sound angry, I am. And for once I’m not going to apologize for it. I am angry that the voice of Christianity is, far too often, a voice of hate. I am angry that my faith has been co-opted by bigots. I am angry that nursing home residents have to be fearful about what the visiting minister might say to them. I am angry that, according to GLAAD, 75% of religious messages in the media are from anti-LGBTQ religious leaders. I am angry that when I tell people I’m a minister, I have to immediately either swear or mention my sexual orientation so they know I’m not like them—them! Another reason to be angry: I have come to view other members of the family of God as them. I was taught not to be ashamed of the Gospel. And I’m not. But I am ashamed of those who pervert the gospel of love in the name of Christ.

So, yes, I am angry. But I am too old to believe that anger is the end. Too much of the anger in our society is self-serving. It allows people (not to mention politicians) to smear their opponents with impunity, both sides claiming their cause is righteous. I’m not interested in that very much anymore. I am interested in reclaiming Christ. I am interested in reclaiming the family of God to include all God’s children. I am interested in reclaiming my own faith and my own religious experience and my own evangelism and my own voice. I am interested in singing not “Jesus Loves Me” but “Jesus Loves You” … because I already know it and maybe you don’t.

So on June 18 I will again march with my church in the annual gay pride parade. And I will again offer apologies on behalf of the church to those who have been wounded by the church at large. And I will again be prepared to confront those who come to the parade to preach judgment. And my anger will fuel my feet but it will not scar my heart, for my heart has enough scars from prior lashings.

If you see me, my heart will be singing. I will not be able to sing “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.” Instead I will sing, “We are a gentle, angry people, singing for our lives.” And I will sing, “It is well with my soul.” And I will sing, “Yes, Jesus loves you”–not to silence anyone, but to amplify the song.

 

 

[1] http://www.christinyou.com/pages/psalm23.html

[2] http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/5/18/1527889/-WWJD-Church-cut-ties-with-homeless-non-profit-after-they-tried-to-help-a-same-sex-couple-with-kids

[3] http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/watch_parents_sing_jesus_loves_me_to_silence_lone_transgender_supporter_at_school_board_meeting

 

They said “Thank you.”

09_Ash_crossThey said “Thank you.”

Over and over again. The vast majority of people. “Thank you.”

It wasn’t their usual procession before me, and not my usual gift to them. Usually when they come before me I hold out to them the bread and cup as I say “the bread of life and cup of blessing.” Sometimes that gets me a “thank you,” mumbled as an afterthought through a mouth trying to mind its manners. Sometimes I hear a soft “Amen” as they dip the bread into the blessing with agreement.

But today is Ash Wednesday. Today my first offering to them was not life and blessing but ashes and solemn reminders. “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” I don’t always say these words on Ash Wednesday. Some years I tell people, “From God you have come and to God you will return.” Other times I have said, “Remember that you are human.” But this year I was compelled to use the more traditional words because of a blog someone wrote about needing to hear them. Her mother received a terminal diagnosis last year, just days after receiving the ashes of Lent, and she died six weeks later. The author wrote about how she is preparing to attend another Ash Wednesday service this year, waiting to hear the words of mortality. She wrote:

“I hope the minister won’t get all progressive about it, change up the old words to soften the blow, tamper with the truth and use flowers instead of ashes, or some such thing. It will ring really false to me after last year when things suddenly got real. I might get visibly pissed, and that would mess up the contemplative atmosphere. Just give me my burnt cross of ashes and let me cling to it grieving for a while.”(Read her blog here.)

So even though I don’t know her, I did as she requested, in honor of all those for whom things have suddenly gotten real. From dust you have come and to dust you shall return. I said it to each person who showed up at noon on a weekday, the youngest of whom was probably fifty, all of us closer to the end than the beginning. From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.

I said it to them all. The lapsed Catholic. The man going through chemo. The man whose wife is. The woman who comes to our building for other meetings but not for worship. And most of them said, “Thank you.” Perhaps they were being polite. Perhaps the intimate touching of my finger to their foreheads, my attempt to look them in the eye, made them feel it required a response. Of course, earlier I had told them that they were dust and stardust, made of the stuff of galaxies. I reminded them of what miracles God can do with dust. But then I said those words. I reminded them that they are mortal, reminded them that they will not get out of this alive. And they said, “Thank you.”

I made the mark on my own forehead and repeated the words: From dust you have come and to dust you shall return. And then I echoed my parishioners, my teachers, as I whispered, “Thank you.”

I got so distracted pondering my response that I forgot the next hymn. But I will try again in my evening service. To speak truth. To look people I love in the eye and remind them that they will not live on this earth forever. And to say “thank you” for the reminder.

 

 

Breathe

Click this link to hear the poem read:

https://soundcloud.com/cinshop/breathe

gunsAnother week, another shooting.

Another day, another shooting.

Another campus / theater / mall, another shooting.

And I am sick.

I am sick of the bloodshed, the flood red

wave that crashes again and again

as if gravity were guns

and we were powerless to stop the tide.

I am sick of witness accounts and fatality counts and

“thoughts and prayers” going out

to families who vow to change the system

when we all know the system is rigged,

the Kool-Aid already swigged

in mugs that proclaim

“Happiness is a warm gun.”

I thought twenty would be enough.

I thought twenty first-graders would be enough

to make even the most trigger-happy fingers

drop their guns in horror.

But apparently we Americans love assault rifles more

than trifles

like living past age six.

I thought twenty would be enough,

but we’ve had 986 mass shootings since

and I hate using a number because this poem will be wrong tomorrow.

I can’t write as fast as they shoot.

In response, our bought-and-sold leaders point fingers at our borders,

point fingers at those seeking asylum

when we cannot even seek shelter in our churches

without guns taking our breath away.

There has to be a better response than sitting in my basement writing poetry.

There has to be a better response than sitting and claiming impotency.

There has to be a better response than

silence.

But I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

Excuse the profanity

but do not excuse what is truly profane:

a nation kneeling at the altar of arsenals,

a nation praying to the god of guns and glory

hallelujah.

I don’t know how to say “enough.”

So I sit in my basement with the baby monitor turned up

and I listen to my children breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

I can’t stop thinking about you

I can’t stop thinking about you. And I don’t even know your name.

We met on the playground. Your young sons were friendly and open—eager, it seemed, for companionship. My son can be a little shy, but right away he was running and laughing with his new friends. My daughter became the instant big sister to the group.

Watching them play together, I couldn’t help but notice the contrasts. Your boys, ages 3 and 5, have dark eyes and dark skin. Our daughter, age 13, has blue eyes and fair skin. Our son is in the middle, his Latino heritage showing in his brown eyes and light brown skin. None of this seemed relevant to them. They only cared about whose turn it was to be the monster and who had the better roar.

You seemed happy for conversation but not pushy. We easily could have ignored you if we had wanted to. I don’t know why I didn’t want to.

I think it was your posture that intrigued me. There was something regal about you as you sat on top of the monkey bars. Something proud. And at the same time, something beaten. Like you were a princess who lost her kingdom, or a lioness worried that she couldn’t protect her cubs.

You didn’t offer much at first—just an apology if your English wasn’t perfect because you are from a country that speaks French. You didn’t even share your name when we told you ours. Slowly I learned that you left your country because of the violence. You didn’t say so, but I know enough to realize that if you had stayed, your sons would be carrying guns before they were old enough to shave. You said you were afraid of Maine at first, afraid of you and your boys dying in the cold. You went through your meager savings in a warmer state and then headed here because you heard that we were kinder here in Maine. You had no way of knowing that the same politics driving the state you first landed in would spread here as well. And now you have nothing. Your visa has expired. You cannot work. You are living in a shelter. You have no idea when your asylum case will be heard. “We may have to leave,” you say at last, “because things have changed here.” Where will you go? You shake your head and shrug.

I look at our boys, more alike than different, and I am painfully aware of how different their circumstances. My son is currently a ward of the state, part of the foster care system. A whole tribe of people have worked for three years to get him into a safe, loving home. Our home. Your sons have nobody but you. My son pauses to drink from his smoothie, unaware of how thirsty his new friends are, how thirsty their souls are for what a smoothie cannot provide. My daughter notices there are no other cups or bottles around the playground. She gives them what is left of hers.

I try to think of how to help you. None of my ideas get past my lips because I realize how absurd they would sound to you, how truly limited your options are. So I give what I have: a listening ear, an apology for what you have experienced in our country and our state, the cash in my wallet, and a phone number to a place where you can get free clothes. I don’t know what else to do. I feel helpless. And I realize that’s what we have in common: a sense of helplessness in the face of the system. That, and a desire to protect our children from all the monsters.

As we begin to pull out of the parking lot, my daughter realizes she has an unopened bag of chips from her lunch. She jumps out and gives them to you. My son starts to cry because he wanted those chips. I explain to him that his new friends don’t have any chips, and we have more at home. I explain that they don’t have much to eat. I tell him they don’t even have a place to live. He says, “They could live with us.”

I know it’s an impractical solution. We’re still adjusting to life with four of us instead of three, and our home isn’t that big. Even as the thought occurs to me, I laugh at the absurdity. We have almost 600 square feet per person, and they have – what? A place to sleep that they can’t even call their own.

It’s an impractical solution because there are hundreds, thousands, in our community just like you. You just are real to me because I met you on the playground and our children played together and I liked you.

I came to the office this morning expecting to find a voicemail from you. The number I gave you for free clothes was at my church. You know you can reach me here. I expected you to call asking for more help. I am relieved that you didn’t because I don’t know what else to do for you. I am disappointed that you didn’t because what I gave you was so small, and I should be able to do better. I am ashamed that you didn’t because today I read “When did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?” 

I can’t stop thinking about you. And I don’t even know your name.

A Note to My Newly Ordained Self

DSC_0590When I was interviewing with my current congregation, the search committee asked me a wonderful question: If you were able to write a note to your newly ordained self, what would you say? I came across my answer today and decided to share it.

A note to my newly ordained self

First, congratulations. You worked hard to get here. There were people who opposed your ordination on principle, but you believed in your call and you stayed the course in order to open the door for others. You should feel really good about that. Now don’t forget the lessons this process taught you:

  •          Rely on the strength of those around you.
  •          Believe in the power of music to get you through.
  •          Remember that the conflict was caused by clergy and the solution found by a layperson.
  •          Don’t take it personally.

That last one—that’s a big one. If you do your job well, someone will always be upset with you. Nine times out of ten, it’s not about you. That doesn’t mean you didn’t screw up. You probably did. But angry, wounded people will try to blame you. Listen to their complaints and if they have merit, take responsibility. If they don’t, learn to let it go. Learn now. It gets harder.

You know that problem they handed you the day you started at your first church? I hope you learned from that experience the importance of face-to-face conflict resolution. Also learn that you can’t fix in a day what took years to mess up. Be patient. With others and with yourself.

Lots of what you learned in seminary will serve you well in the church. Lots won’t. Few of your parishioners will care about your eschatology. Many will care about your authenticity. Be real. Be you. It’s not a bad thing to be. And remember that your greatest lessons will come from unexpected sources.

And that self-care stuff that experienced clergy talk about: they mean that. But you’re not going to understand until you’ve faced it, so I won’t waste my breath. Just try to remember one thing: you’re not Wonder Woman. Or, come to think of it, Jesus.

Since you’re not Jesus, you will not be able to raise people from the dead. And you will want to. You will sit and hold hands with the dying and will want desperately to keep them here . . . and not just for their loved ones’ sake, but for your own. You will lead funerals with your heart in your throat, which makes it hard to speak. But the good news is, any words you speak will come through love.

You will make mistakes; make them with love. Your judgment will not be perfect; err on the side of love. And when you find yourself stuck or frustrated or overwhelmed, remember that the way out is the way through and the way through is the way of love.

And finally, always remember the lessons you learned fishing with your dad:

  •         If the fish aren’t biting, try something else.
  •         The flashy lure may catch their eye, but it’s not enough to get them in the boat.
  •         Creatures that feel trapped will try anything to get free, and you can get hurt in the process.
  •         Sky and water are good for the soul.

Oh, and one more thing. Be grateful. If you are trustworthy, you will get to be called pastor.