(May 19, 2013 – Pentecost) Just as in Hebrew and Greek, our English word for “spirit” is linked to words for breathing. Can we take some time to simply breathe in the Spirit and let that in-spire and move us? (Acts 2:1-21)
(May 12, 2013) This phenomenal story from the Book of Acts invites us into the heart and experience of those who have been complicit in oppression, and reminds us that the chains of bondage and oppression bind both the jailers and the jailed. The true power of God lies not in the breaking of shackles around our feet, but breaking those around our hearts. Where are you called to be set free? (Acts 16:16-34)
I share in this sermon my compassion for Bishop McLee, which I wrote about here, and my own need to, like Paul and Silas, wait with him in our shared sorrow, so that each of us might find healing.
We then sang this hymn by Mark Miller, which is too good to not share.
This blog post is part of a synchblog today on the topic of schism in the UMC. Please share your thoughts here, on the DreamUMC website, on your blog or facebook page, and tonight at 9 pm eastern on Twitter as we chat together.
Sadly, I have recent experience with splitting up.
It’s not easy, and it hurts more than anything I’ve experienced– a profound loss akin to the death of a loved one. A complex and roiling issue, filled with technical, procedural, emotional, psychological, and spiritual transformation: this is the road of divorce. It’s not an experience I’d wish on anyone.
At the same time, I can attest that sometimes a relationship becomes unhealthy, un-fulfilling, unloving. Sometimes, separation, while painful, brings new life and more beautiful, vibrant hope than either party has known.
I’ve never been a huge supporter of the idea of schism in The United Methodist Church. I recognize that there are many times when I exclaim “I’m done!” or “I’m getting out!” I see the efforts for inclusion thwarted again and again, and the uniquely Methodist understanding of grace eroded away. I hear my ecumenical colleagues lament struggles within their denominations, but talk openly about their sexuality, or see them tagged on Facebook, officiating weddings for their gay or lesbian congregants, and want to weep (okay, sometimes do). But I remain. I recognize that this urge to quit is born out of anger and pain, not my best place of discernment. I stay because I believe history is too full of schism over people of color and women, and I want this to be the time we learn to embrace God’s children as they are. I stay because I want to leave no one behind. I stay because there is much I love about the UMC, not the least of which is the love that binds us together, a deep commitment to engage in struggle together.
I suppose I say to myself, in the words of the Indigo Girls: “I still believe, despite our differences, that what we have’s enough. I believe in us, and I believe in love.”
I wonder, though.
I wonder, because my ability to minister effectively in my community and my context is being severely undermined by words in the Book of Discipline that do not offer love and grace, but condemnation and dehumanization. Even while my local church welcomes and embraces all persons, and even while I have vowed to officiate weddings based on the love, maturity, and commitment of the parties and not their genders, even so, simply calling my friends, loved ones, family members, congregants and community members “incompatible” makes it nearly impossible to extend the love and blessing of Christ. I wonder because so much time, effort, and resource goes into trying to change the Book of Discipline in a handful of paragraphs, or to stonewall any changes, that our witness and mission as a global denomination is hampered if not completely halted. Most of all I wonder because we cannot even agree that we are in disagreement. We can’t acknowledge our differences openly and with vulnerability (by saying, for example, that people of good faith disagree about homosexuality). If we can’t say we have differences, how can we believe Love is enough, despite them?
Weeks like this past one have me thinking maybe schism wouldn’t be so bad. But then I think about how it would play out. It starts to feel like arguing over china. But sometimes plates have sentimental value, and sometimes people need a way to eat. How would agencies and committees be allocated? Who “gets” the Board of Discipleship and its work? Who “gets” the Committee on Relief? Oh, we’d figure it out, I’m sure. But if the publishing house and the Board of Global Mission are plates and cups and wedding gifts, what I really worry about are the children.
I worry about people in local churches.
Take my local church. We are not a reconciling congregation, although every so often, the background conversation begins that we should do the work to search our beliefs and values and make a statement about sexuality and inclusivity. It would not be unanimous, but there would be large support. Mostly, I think folks haven’t’ done it yet because they don’t want to leave any loved ones out. So where does that leave this small but vibrant, progressive but cautious, inclusive of queer people and of traditionalists, congregation of beloved children as their parents argue and split and divide the shared property? I can’t answer that question, but it makes me heartsick.
There are a couple of reasons why I think we can remain together, and should at least try:
1. Our strength is in our diversity. The nearest United Methodist Church to the one I serve is six miles away. It is a more conservative, traditional congregation with a more conservative, traditional (male) pastor (until July 1 anyway). My colleague and I can be found at the Vermont State House on marriage equality days, wearing our clerical collars and standing on opposite sides of the demonstrations. But on days when there are rallies for workers’ rights, economic justice, or health care access, we can be found side by side, partners in the religious and spiritual task of seeking justice. When someone comes to my office, expressing dismay that the church where I serve– or I myself– is too liberal, I gladly give them the contact information for the church in Barre. Every so often a person comes in to Trinity, having tried the church in Barre and finding it “too conservative,” and finds a happy home in our congregation. Together, these two United Methodist Churches serve the needs and build the gifts of people who are and may be United Methodist in this area. We need each other.
2. When I worked on the reproductive rights subcommittee at General Conference, we found that a great number of people from a huge variety of contexts, backgrounds, and beliefs could come to the table and discuss abortion in fruitful ways. We reached an impasse every time we tried to proscribe what doctors and patients should and should not do. But every time we refocused on who were were as United Methodists and how we were called to be in ministry before, during, and after crisis pregnancy, we were able to reach a closer consensus despite our vast differences. When we listened to each others’ stories and asked what our proactive, loving, spiritual response should be, we could live in harmony. Despite our differences, Love was enough.
Here’s what I think we should do.
1. I think we need– right now, at the next General Conference– enabling legislation to create a United States Central Conference. This will allow The United Methodist Church to hold some things in common– our articles of faith, our boards and ministries, our local congregations, and yes as of this most recent General Conference, our Social Principles. It will allow every Central Conference to amend the rest of the Book of Discipline, and the way is is lived out, to take into account their local context. I think Jurisdictional Central Conferences could work, but that leaves a lot of southern progressives in a tough spot, in strange solidarity with northern conservatives. It is the only way I believe we can remain united, however, allowing us to hold essentials in unity, non essentials in liberty, and all things in deep grace and love. This change necessitates a second, no less important one…
2. We need to remove all proscriptive language from the Social Principles. As the UMC tries to make the Discipline more global, this is the only way forward. As a positive example, this is what we found about discussing abortion. We could all mourn the circumstances that might cause individuals to consider abortion, but we could not make any statement with consensus about calling for an end to practices, supporting or not supporting organizations that provide access to medical care including abortion, and so on. Let that be a local, contextual response. So, while paragraph 161 of the Discipline says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and I imagine we would keep arguing about that, it cannot further state that “self avowed practicing homosexuals shall not be appointed to serve as ministers in the UMC.” See the difference? The latter is proscriptive, and is more rightly a conversation for a more local context.
3. Consider this a trial separation. Can we give one another the space to live and serve in love in our contexts, equipping each other but not constraining the ministry that needs to happen? Or has too much damage been done? Can we live with or change the “incompatibility” language? Can we live with the liberty of our siblings in the movement? Can we heal the pain of the past? If not, can we use this breathng space and the time and space we need to more amicably consider how we would move forward together and apart?
Today, for now, I hold on to hope. Love is my favorite name for God, and so when I consider our divisions, I have to hold out for the power of Love. Despite our differences, what we have is and can be and I hope will be enough. I believe in Love.
I get headline notifications on my smartphone from both NBC news and the AP. This means that I can have Olympic results spoiled, know who won a country music award for music I dislike, and be in the know about the deaths of celebrities I’ve never heard of, all in nearly real time (which is about 2 hours behind Twitter). Huge, huge news happened this week, but I noticed something curious.
My smartphone was silent about it.
I didn’t receive a single update about the three states voting on marriage equality this week. I can’t help but think that giving equal rights to all people has become something of a given. A less interesting headline than which animal won the Kentucky Derby (I hear it was a horse of some kind).
Sadly, not in all places.
Also in the news this week, the United Methodist Church is charging a clergy person with violating the Book of Discipline by officiating the wedding for his son and his now son-in-law. Stop me if you’ve heard this one (or read about it on Hacking Christianity, or the New York Times).
The matter surrounding Rev. Dr. Ogletree yet again highlights the division and discrimination lurking at the heart of the denomination I love. But this case has hit me in a different way than previous instances, stirring up a multitude of emotions and reflections that I will flesh out in the next few blog posts.
1. As ever, questions of trial and dissent call to the forefront discussion of schism within the United Methodist Church. This will be the subject of Monday’s blog post, which is itself part of a larger synchblog (many bloggers discussing the same topic on the same day), and a DreamUMC twitter chat that night.
2. I’m fascinated by the focus on the fact that Rev. Dr. Ogletree officiated the wedding for his son, as if this makes the action more pastoral and beautiful and blameless. I want to explore this.
3. Like my friend and colleague Vicki Flippin (see below), I too have a story about saying no– or at least not saying yes. It is time to confess and seek further healing.
4. I have various and sundry thoughts about what is and is not prohibited by the institution, and how impossible it is to uphold this unjust law, even if we wanted to.
5. I love people.
I’m going to start with #5.
The New York Times article referenced above names some elders in addition to Rev. Dr. Ogletree. In particular, it focuses on the response from Ogletree’s Bishop, Bishop Martin McLee, whose response has drawn heavy criticism from progressives. Additionally, the article cites Rev. Vicki Flippin, who offers her own love letter in response, as one of two clergy in the New York Annual Conference openly stating that they have officiated at same sex/same gender weddings.
Both Bishop McLee and Rev. Flippin are friends of mine. In fact, It sounds ridiculously silly to me to not use their first names.
Both Martin and Vicki are friends of mine.
Vicki and I met this past year as we were both Fellows is a young clergy leadership development program through the Lewis Center. Our group met three times over the past nine months, and have stayed in contact on facebook in between meetings. Vicki is compassionate and intelligent, with a quick and friendly smile and a deeply loving heart. After our first meeting, we each drew a name from a hat and prayed for that person until the next meeting. I was happy to learn that Vicki drew mine. She’s also a passionate voice for justice and inclusion, and I cannot wait to hear her preach at Reconciling Ministries Network’s Convocation in August. I’m proud to know her and so proud of her words and actions this past week especially.
Martin was a District Superintendent in my annual conference, and we served together on our conference’s delegation to General Conference last year. An alternate delegate, Martin was frequently my go-to person when I needed to step away from the floor (like right after this happened), and on at least one occasion– when the body refused to even discuss security of appointment, but summarily dismissed the concerns of women and persons of color– was the set of broad shoulders upon which I unabashedly cried. Long before the Northeast Jurisdiction got a chance to meet him as a candidate, our delegation interviewed Martin and heard his vision and passion for the future of the United Methodist movement. I was proud when our conference nominated him, and proud to support him as a candidate for Bishop. I told people of his passion for justice and inclusion, and I stand by that conviction still. I wept when he was elected, and consecrated, and then again, later and alone, when I realized this meant he wouldn’t be part of our Conference any more.
As I said above, I’ve said “not yes” to marriage equality, and it broke my heart. Knowing and loving Martin, I can only imagine how much this breaks his (I preached about this a little here).
I’m not excusing or condoning the way his response has played out thus far.
I’m also not saying that I feel betrayed and abandoned by him, either.
First and foremost, when I see this case, and I see Rev. Dr. Ogletree whom I don’t know but imagine I would like and respect, and I see Vicki whom I am so proud to call colleague and friend, and I see Martin whom I love as well, I can only stand with an open and hurting heart. No speculation, no elation or anger, no judgement or excitement, only compassion and complexity. This is the connection. This is the Church. These are the people called Methodist. Bound, in ways we can only begin to grasp, to a structure, to a movement, to the Divine.
And to one another.
(May 5, 2013) The Biblical story is filled with gardens, always conveying humanity’s flourishing– or lack thereof– as we seek to live before God and with one another. Although we may feel like we have been cut off from the blessing and abundance all around us, the story is not complete; the story is complete only when healing and peace and blessing unfold. (Genesis 3:9-12, 17-19, 22-24, Revelation 22:1-5)
A year ago, I broke a loaf of bread.
A year ago, grace again was shortchanged, voices again were silenced, division again went unnamed.
A year ago, hearts broken and sealed and scarred over were broken again in places familiar and new.
A year ago, the Body of Christ was broken.
And so I broke a loaf of bread.
I wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t my action.
It was the action of a body, a community, a family, a Christ. Wounded and hopeful, hurting and despairing, fragmented and one.
A year ago, as we always are, we were broken.
And we broke bread together.
And I was broken open.
Somehow, some way, this breaking of bread– something I do at least once a month, something I participated in thousands of times– somehow this changed me.
I found, in the breaking and sharing of bread, in the reflection on the chaos and frustration and agony and fragile hope of General Conference, a deeper sense of my calling.
A year ago, I was broken open. A year ago, I was called anew.
I set my feet on another path. A path running parallel, or nearly so. A path to someplace deeper.
I found a depth of passion I didn’t know I had. I renewed a sense of vision and purpose that had dried up and hardened, like our scarred-over yet fragile hearts.
From that place of brokenness, or broke-open-ness, life could never be, entirely, the same.
Seeping up from the cracks was a need to advocate for deeper justice, to live with deeper conviction, to delve more fully into faith an ministry and compassion and peace.
I spoke out when injustice happened. In my denomination. In my church. In my home.
I spoke my true heart. I said the hard things. I let myself feel what I was feeling.
A year ago, Someone broke down my defenses, demolished my protections and stumbling blocks (and made it harder to tell which were which).
And in the past year I have watched a new movement grow. I have witnessed the elation of church doing it right and the crushing betrayal of getting it so wrong. I have relived the pain of the past and envisioned hope and purpose for tomorrow. I have been a better pastor, and Methodist, and person of faith. I have struggled more deeply and trusted more fully, or really, really tried to.
In the past year, I have found my truer self, uncovered pain and vulnerability I didn’t know I had and tapped a depth of strength I didn’t know existed. I have seen my children grieve, and let them surprise me with their resilience. I have mourned the loss of love. I have celebrated it in new and beautiful places. I have seen cruelty in ways I never imagined, and received compassion from unexpected sources. I’ve made friends who changed my life. I’ve lost friends who had touched it deeply. I have shattered all my understandings, and learned from life what grows out of that rubble.
All because of a loaf of bread.
A year ago, Christ’s Body was broken.
And when we take hold of that reality, it takes hold of us. When we lift up the pieces of the bread, the body, the world, broken and wounded, we are lifting up parts of ourselves. When we live into the broken places, we find ourselves in them, seeking transformation and new birth and needed healing.
A year ago, I broke a loaf of bread.
A year ago, I didn’t know how broken I was, or how broken open I could be.
A year ago, I broke the Body of Christ. And Christ broke me open too.
(April 28, 2013) Like children and teenagers, in trying to understand our purpose and mission, we must constantly ask “why?” and “so what?”. In living out God’s vision for life made new, however, the why is clear– so that we may live in abundance in God’s presence. God has no hidden motive any more or less wonderful than that. (Revelation 21:1-6)
Nods to Lovett Weems in his Lewis Fellows 7 lectures, and in his book co-authored with Tom Berlin, Bearing Fruit.
(April 21, 2013) In the wake of the bombing in Boston this past week, we reflect on what it means to forgive, and to reach out to those we might call enemy, drawing on Jesus and the lesser known Ananias of Damascus as examples. (Acts 9:1-20)
Before the sermon, I played this video from MLB.com
During the sermon, I read this letter by Rev. Michael Rogers, S.J.
(April 14, 2013) A few days after the resurrection, the disciples return to doing what is familiar to them. Often we find ourselves stuck in familiar habits and routines, even when we want to make a change. Is there a small change you can make today to live into transformed life? (John 21:1-14)
My family and I have a spot from which we like to watch the Boston Marathon.
It’s just at the top of a tiny hill, that by the time the runners climb it, 26 miles in, must feel like a mountain. The barely perceptible rise in Hereford Street seems insignificant to me as a spectator, but from the sidewalk, packed ten or twenty people deep, it’s clear how hard the runners are struggling.
But when they reach the top of the street, just outside the Hynes Convention Center, just a couple blocks from the sites of Monday’s blasts, the runners turn the corner and see, arching over Boylston Street, the banner marking the finish line. At that moment, for many their very first glimpse of a Boston Marathon finish line ever, for many the first glimpse after serval tries at completing the race, anything is possible.
Some runners burst into tears. Some literally stop and turn cartwheels. Some collapse in relief. Some who seemed on the brink of collapse find a new burst of speed. Some cry out in celebration. Some pull a loved one from the crowd and run the last few blocks together.
Whatever happens, the reactions of those who have suffered and struggled and wanted to give up a million times, turning and seeing their goal for the first time, always move me to tears of hope and pride and love and joy.
And they always, always will.