Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dispatch from Portland 3

A short post....

As I write this tonight, 9:18 pm. PST, the Council of Bishops remain in session.  The General Conference has asked the Bishops to convene to offer a  way forward how we might transcend the impasse on human sexuality.  They bring that word to us tomorrow.

Bishops have no binding authority on the General Conference, and yet the General Conference is pleading for leadership.

I'll report and reflect tomorrow on what they bring, and all that has occurred during the sessions this week.

Pray for our Bishops tonight.  Pray for those who have been harmed by our decades of inaction.  Pray for the unity of the Church.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dispatch from Portland 2 - "Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, There is the One True Church"

"When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.  But because the house didn't give the requisite permission for the sound to be heard on the floor, it was ruled out of order."

I know what you're thinking.
General Conference over Pentecost. C'mon, that's a God thing, right?
Surely, of all things and at all times if there was a moment to crystallize and clarify the hope and promise of The United Methodist Church's witness to make disciples and transform the world it is right here, right now.  My Lord, we've got scriptural precedent on our side and everything.

Truth is, the Spirit has been in the room all week. There have been powerful words of witness, proclamation and worship.  I'm bringing home a bunch of liturgies that will be a gift for our worship at home.

And while we've been in the same place physically, there is no question we are far removed from each other spiritually.  It's in the room all the time. I'm INFP on Myers Briggs.  Let me share what I intuit, what I feel.

Power plays among a few---Sure, there are 860ish delegates on the floor, and a couple of thousand reserve delegates, representatives of General agencies, and visitors in the house.  The outcome of this General Conference will not be framed from a powerful address or sermon, but from the wrestling match of a handful of individuals who lead and manipulate their caucuses. Yes, it's as disgusting as it sounds.  It's beneath the dignity of the congregants I've been blessed to serve across my years.  Which raises the larger point - this body does not represent the hearts and spirits of ordinary United Methodists, even those who disagree.  Rules under which this intractable body operates perpetuates power at the hands of a few.

All of which is sad commentary. Because there are some wonderful people here from all over the world who love God and are seeking to be faithful.  While it seems Rule 44 wasn't ready to be implemented, whenever something rises as a differerent mechanism through which conferencing may occur, it will be met with similar parliamentary challenges.
----------

Anger and Distrust -
These are the feelings that are strongest in the room.  The theological straw men created by groups about other groups is amazing to me.  The anger exhibited toward people who seek nothing more than to be included and welcomed stuns me.  To be sure, I have a particular antenna tuned to that frequency so I'm watching for it, but it is there. No one seems to get the disconnect between refusal to engage in relationships with fellow Christians who disagree and being a Christian at all, since the sole basis of the faith is relationship!
-----------

And yet, there are moments of universal gladness.  Our connection is capable of powerful things across the globe.  There have been countless lives saved.  Relief has reached the afflicted.  The witness of a 14 year old girl (age of Jack) from Indiana who felt led to raise money to build fresh water wells in Africa was stunning.  That girl is a world changer.  I wondered to myself as the whole room stood in affirmation of her witness how she'd be received if she were to discover something about herself that would be "incompatible." Is her witness any less meaningful?  Or course not!

Or take the Young People's report that bore witness to the Church they want to see, the Church they want to be part of.  Let the young lead us, we'd settle out issues right quick.  And yet that report was questioned as suspect.  One delegate came to the floor to suggest that the youth were being coerced to say what they did.

Bishops Palmer and Dyck spoke words that touched me.  Palmer's words were encouraging.  Because of the faith we claim we aren't allowed to be without hope.  We must push on.  Dyck's words were as singularly prophetic as any I've heard. All that sermon needed was a mic drop.  It was the sound of the Spirit in her words that could/should bring a new visitation of the Spirit.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that it was not universally appreciated, but since when is that which is truly prophetic ever so?

Those two did for me what I needed for the next chapters of ministry.  Despite being tempted to despair, I will not lose hope, and I will not yield the belief that codified exclusion diminishes our witness and violates our core principle to "do no harm."  I will not yield to the conviction that we practice radical hospitality not "regardless" of who someone is, but "precisely because" of who God made them to be.  I hold this conviction only because I believe in the Rule of Love first and foremost.

------------------

The Pentecost story involved being together in one place, yes.  It was the presence of the Spirit among them that people were able to hear their language from someone they least expected to speak it.

If we're not willing to listen to one another it really doesn't matter what anyone is saying.  I'm more and more convinced that the construction of this body, the General Conference, makes that purposely impossible.

Veni. Sancte. Spiritus.  Come, Holy Spirit.  Please.





Friday, May 13, 2016

Dispatch from Portland 1

Beyond the real time social media reporting I've provided during our plenaries, many are asking for more insights. It's then I recall that I've had a blog since before it was cool and then passé, so I'll report as I can longer form impressions. 

As a reserve delegate, my work is to be available should the delegates ahead of me in the order of election need a break or become ill. As of yet that has not happened, but I anticipate it will before the Conference is over.   As a reserve, I'm not assigned to any legislative committee, so I get to sit in on any that interest me. Yesterday I sat in on Discipleship. Technically I have no voice or vote, but in queuing Sky who is at the table, we were able to tag team on amending legislation. Text messages can be effective. 

Even as I write I'm in line outside the Church & Society Legislative Committee room.  That room is packed out, so a line forms with hope that some observers leave to make room. Interestingly enough there's plenty of room in Discipleship room.   So there's that. 

On Plenary Sessions - 
It took me a couple of days to really appreciate what I was observing. I'm not sitting in a room with elected delegates coming to be open to the Spirit's leading with hope that the outcome will result in a deeper, more faithful witness.  Rather, I'm among entrenched positions of every kind intent solely on protecting their position and interests.  So what you end up with in plenary is a parliamentary wrestling match whose prize is control...who gets to call the shots. 

I guess at some level I knew this. Heck, I've participated in it in much much smaller spheres. To watch it on display is disturbing. Nothing can rob the Spirit an opportunity to transform the body like Robert's Rules of Order.

Logistics -
Those of you who know me know how much this drives me nuts. Yes, even at the General Church level, videos don't work on queue, mics don't come on as they should, and other logistical matters that should have been accounted for...which, strangely, leads me to Rule 44. 

Rule 44 - 
Coming out of the 2012 Tampa General Conference, the GC made a request for an alternate mechanism for the body to confer and discern what to do around very difficult issues. Yes, human sexuality could be one of them, but it was not the only issue through which this process could be employed. The process was formed and defeated. And here's why:
The usual alliance of Good News and the African delegation voted against it. Why talk with someone you see only as a sinner and a not child of sacred worth. And, a number of people who could/would have supported it but could not in its current form who were aware that the infrastructure to make it happen wasn't ready. 

To use a tool without being properly trained in how it works is a recipe for disaster. 

And here's my problem---you had four years to get this ready. You knew we were coming , right?

Me--
Finally adjusting to Pacific Time. 
Portland is beautiful. 
Public Transit great. 
Getting my steps in. Yay!
Tripped and fell first day...battered a little. Back, arms and shoulders. Thankful for screen cover for iPhone!
Working mightily to get Sky ready to meet delegates next week. 

That's it for now. 




Sunday, April 17, 2016

12

Most of us have certain dates on the calendar that haunt us.

Today does that to my family...to me.

There have been occasions across the years when this date has triggered what I can only describe as a PTSD response.  And I use that term not to demean or disparage those who suffer from that.  Rather, I think it helps me empathize more than ever with those who do.  Jimmy's unexpected death rocked our family.  Those of you who walked through that with us know this is true. 

Those of you who know me and love me anyway know all too well what that traumatic event did to me...what the recollection of it can do to me.

In these days, though, I'm struck with curiosity of who he would have been.  When he died I was in the last months being 39...now, I'm ever closer to being 52.  

He'd be 46...father to an impressive young man.

Most of Jimmy's adulthood he struggled to figure out who he was and what he was supposed to be.  I can only imagine that at 46 he would have found it.

While there is joy in remembering my little brother today, there's sadness, too.

Most of our adult lives together, Jimmy and I struggled to figure out how what our relationship as brothers would look like.  I grieve deeply having never done all I could then to work toward that.  I take it as grace that the gift of imagination of what would be now serves as healing balm for the pain of what wasn't and could never be.

Today my family's scars will likely throb a bit.  As you have all along just hold onto us and love us through it.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Joyful Resistence

In 2012, I wrote a sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent focused on Joy, like I do every year. Joy not in the abstract, but a joy that rises up as resistance to the principalities and powers of this world. It's the joy that can empower a change from what is to what is coming. It's a joy moves us from "how can this be?" to "let it be with me according to your word."  

And then came Friday of that week. 

Sandy Hook. 
Children. 
Assault rifles. 
School. 

The horrific mass killing that would have to change things, right?

Surely of all the slaughters we've endured up till now (a thought that is in itself obscene), this one will make us look at ourselves differently, will make us willing to seek the common good over special interests, will do so shake us to the core that we'd seek to talk to each other rather than past each other to find solutions to what was then considered epidemic. This one will make us question how we treat those with mental disease, how we propagate a violent culture through the media and entertainment industries, and yes, by God, how we have so made an idol of guns that there is nothing we will do to abate their hold on our lives. 

It was Friday, what was I to do with that come Sunday?   There was no profundity to be found. Just sought to acknowledge what seemed the only response I could give:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete.
"We rejoice this 3rd Sunday of Advent not because it's easy for today it isn't, but because it's true. We rejoice not because we feel like it, for the events of this week have knocked the collective breath out of us, but because this is what we do when we don't know what to do. We rejoice today not because we look at the world naively through "rose" colored glasses, but precisely because after a week like this with the slaughtering of such innocence - the hope, peace, joy and love of God with us, Emmanuel, is all we have left to cling to."

3 years later. 
I thought I knew what obscene was in 2012. 
I was wrong. 

Further entrenchment of positions. 
Fear based politics run amok. 
Oh, and countless more dead. 

I was very wrong 3 years ago. That "the hope, peace, joy and love of God with us, Emmanuel, is all we have left to cling to"..may be true ultimately. But the threshold to be so shocked that we'll change who we are and how we live together seemingly has no limit. Can't cling to Emmanuel when our fingers are on the triggers of our preoccupations. 

And just when I think there's no hope to be found I hear the voice of a young girl finding joy...

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.."

Mother Mary, the voice of joyful resistance, pray for us. 




Monday, September 21, 2015

Where All May Gather - A More Perfect Witness

A word from the outset--

I'm an advocate for The United Methodist Church to change its current position on human sexuality. If you are as well, I invite you to join me and sign on with our sister church in the Tennessee Conference, Belmont, who has been working to formulate petitions to the 2016 General Conference to amend all prohibitive and discriminatory language around LGBTQ matters.  If you are of that mind and heart, you may do that here:   If by some miracle I'm on the floor of General Conference and eligible to vote when it comes up, I will be casting my vote that way.

To sign on doesn't mean anything will change.  It does mean you are persuaded that in order for The United Methodist Church to live into its most faithful witness which points toward the Realm of God coming into being, these codified exclusions must fall away.  And in so doing, a deeper and I believe more faithful witness may emerge.

So this is my witness.

I recognize it is not everyone's. It can't be.

Some may be supportive for very different reasons than I am.  And that's to be expected.  I cannot nor will not puppet polarizing talking points so as to convince some constituencies that I'm a "true believer" about this or any other issue.

Anyone who knows me at all will know what my response to such litmus test expectations are.

Some are not supportive of this change at all and hold deep convictions for why it is so for them, even as I am confounded as to how we can be of any heart and mind but to change.

Thus is the tension of the Church.  It is not the first time the Church has struggled, it will not be the last.

Many, I believe, are not sure where they are on this question.  They have heard what the Church has said, and yet inwardly they know something seems disconnected between what the Church says is so and what they believe about the heart of God.

There are many issues occupying the Church's attention, and this is surely one.  While there are some who would want to lump this issue in with our struggles around discipleship, evangelism, generating leaders, and the rigors of an unwieldy system, to do so is to dilute this issue's import. Placed among the many we can hide from the particular.  I contend that how we deal with the fundamental question of true inclusion will define how we deal with the others.

One thing is certain, we are better than what we've been showing.  We are better than the anger, judgement, fear, condescension and bloviating we've been doing at each other.  Because while that's happening people are hurting.

Is not our first rule "Do no harm?"

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

I love and hold deeply my commitment to The United Methodist Church.  In addition to being a member of an annual conference, in my current work I serve as an officer of the conference where I am bound to uphold and honor the Church's rule.  I have.  And I will.  And I want that rule to change.

Without equivocation, I do not want to see schism.  I'm convinced that we are better, more faithful--together.  There are days when I believe it's hopeful that there will be a way made out of no way in which the circle will be drawn ever wider with glad and joyful hearts.  And there are days I know for certain that the inevitability of impasse leads only to one conclusion.  All I have to do is look at the name of the church I serve that's engraved atop the sanctuary exterior to be reminded of that:  ST.JOHN'S M.E. CHURCH SOUTH

About convictions...I preached on those recently:
"Convictions are conducted from the innermost place in the heart toward outward expression. They always are. The compelling question is not whether any of us have convictions. We all do. It’s being honest about the source within us that gives our convictions life. We may decorate our convictions with language that appears theological and biblical….boy, can we hide our true intent in that. But unless what is being conducted from our hearts into action is the love of God through Jesus expressed through love of neighbor, I don’t care what you say your convictions are based on, what people see outwardly is the truest expression of what exists within."
"If the courage of your convictions doesn't move you to live your love for God that confronts your bias, it's not a conviction, it's an idol."
We've got idolatry aplenty at work in the guise of convictions on both sides of this issue--even on the side of the issue I hold.  This is not about theological treatise.  Some darned good ones are out there. Knock yourself out.  This is not about grandstanding in a sermon.

The whole biblical obedience thing is a ruse.  It doesn't wash.  Why does Aaron Sorkin have a better handle on biblical interpretation than most of us who claim to live with the Bible daily? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALd6xCvZgpc  If that's where we're going to go it will always end up with winners and losers, and the Bible would have been weaponized yet again.

Lord, help me.   If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, Jesus does not need anyone to defend him.  Jesus is just fine.  What Jesus expects of us is something else...something that comes from the heart.

Herein lies the rub...

No matter what we say about sacred worth, The United Methodist Church is not drawing the circle wider.  We are robbing the Holy Spirit from bringing about a new day in us and in our witness.  We are robbing ourselves from being blessed and ministered by that of God in those who are gay.

Our witness is weakened because it is incomplete.

This isn't about nature vs. nurture.  

This isn't about "how" sexual identity is determined or "why," or "what" to do about it if it falls within certain "acceptable" parameters and especially if it doesn't.  My understanding of how our sexual identities are determined is not what guides me.  I don't have to understand it.  Which is a good thing, because I don't.

This is about "who."

This is about people, about children of God upon whom the waters of baptism have splashed being told that they cannot engage the Church like others. They cannot serve the God they've given their lives to through the pursuit of ordination.  While they can marry elsewhere they cannot here and the ones appointed to be their pastors cannot solemnize their covenant.

These people, whom God loves, calls to ministry, and calls into sacred relationships are not welcomed within the rule of the Church, our Church, my Church like I am.  There is something inherently wrong about that.  

This isn't about the prior practices of the Church and frontiers never crossed.  We've crossed into new frontiers before in our history.  It's an easy survey of our history see that.  Ultimately we discover there are moments when to let go of something long held so as to make room for something new defines our character regardless of how loving our rhetoric may sound.

This isn't about orthodoxy.  I have deep respect for orthodoxy.  And yet even it can made an idol.

This is about orthopraxy - about right practice of faith not as agents of the Church (which is always a fallen system in need of redemption), but as companions of Jesus, disciples, who's sole work is to follow the way of Jesus through living to the full the God's ethic of love.

Without fail, Jesus associated with those who caused great consternation and challenge to the previously held understandings of who God is, what God does and how God does it.   If he had a mantra found in Gospels, surely it is "You have heard it said, but I tell you..."  The very nature of Jesus' ministry was/is to confound previously held understandings for a newer way, a different path.

Why?  To What End?  Invariably, Jesus' teachings yield very specific fruit.  That is, as we live out the "royal rule of love" through love of God expressed through love of neighbor, the product of that equation brings us all to Table, together.  It welcomes us, each of us.  And all of us are made worthy to be present only by God's grace.  Whether I think you belong is not relevant.  It's plenty enough to realize that I belong, that I'm invited.

This place is safe.
This place is sanctuary.
It is the place where all may gather.
And we've got to make some changes in the Church so that we may be made ever more perfect in love, where ours is a more perfect witness.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Here's to the Ties that Bind

Every January for the past 5 years or so, I've made a pilgrimage, together with my brother, Sky, to Manasota Key, Florida.  My old friend, Ed lives there.  We sail.  We might cuss a little.  We might have a beverage.  We talk about the problems of the Church and how we'd fix them.  We talk about our lives and what we need to do to find peace.  We live in the transcendent place of a friendship that spans decades (like over 40 years), and of a trust in each other that is unmistakably a means of grace.

Of all the things Ed has been for me over the years:  someone whose craft I admired if not envied;  someone who came into my life every few years seemingly interested in who I was and who I was becoming; someone who after a time sought my counsel and earnestly wanted to know what I thought - the greatest gift Ed has given me in recent years is simply this - Sanctuary.

I love this man.  He's my friend.  His journeys into my life often intersect significant moments in my own.  He was at St. John's only days after Jimmy died. We'd booked him months in advance.  Who would ever know or expect that this man who's been a part of every church in my life since First United Methodist Church, Mayfield, would on this occasion be chaplain, a real pastor to my family who made pilgrimage to Memphis to be together in the days following the most traumatic experience we'd ever encountered.

This man--singer, storyteller, artist.  Of all the things he is, he's my friend.

And I get to share my friend with the people of St. John's again this weekend.  He loves St. John's. In fact, in my first visit with him at his place I remember him asking me, "What did you leave St. John's and is there any way you can go back?"  I told him it was complicated and that I did promise I'd go where sent, and I can't imagine how going back was an option.

Who knew?

He's coming Friday to The Way.  He's not doing anything but being there.  So captured is he by John and the recovery ministry at St. John's, that he's coming a day early to experience it.  He'll lead us in worship on Sunday, and he'll be in concert at 3 p.m. in the sanctuary.

You should come...it'll be worth your time.

I'm excited to see him...that he's coming.

But I'm even more excited about being with him, pulling out my calendar and booking my next time to be with him at his place.  The thing about sanctuary - once you know where it is, you'll do whatever you can to return to it whenever you can.