Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On the first day of Christmas ....

  Time for my annual rant. 

"Christmas is over," so says the marketplace, media types and others. The work of putting away all the exterior fixtures showing we had "Christmas spirit" will be gone by the weekend. Presumably, so will any of the interior work we will have done. 
As long as we can put Christmas in a box to open when we want and put it away when we say, then there is no true transformation. 

The Church observed Christmas as a season. The impact of Incarnation requires meaningful time be observed. The newborn Jesus deserves our attention more than just seeing him lay away in a manger. We who have had newborn children know that there's only one thing better than the first time you see the baby---it's the next time you do. 

The days of Christmas (yes, there are 12), allow the reality of Jesus to "breathe" in us. It gives room for us to take in the implications of his life in the midst if ours. 

Maybe one of the reasons we put all evidence of Christmas away so quickly is that while we're happy to observe the season, we're not convinced we can be transformed by it....and that goes for institutions as well as people (can you hear me talking, UMC?)

So let this season "be."  And "be" in this season.  It may just be that the changes in life we most seek are being packed away in storage boxes with tinsel and lights. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Don't Feed the Bear

We are creatures of calendar.

In recent conversation with a colleague in which we were conferring on a date for a possible meeting, I reached for my iPhone to touch the icon that opens my calendar app. He, on the other hand reached inside his blazer and there found his little black "Cokesbury" calendar.

Doesn't matter the medium, we are bound by what we mark inside our calendars. Appointments, events, meetings--ah, yes, the many, many meetings...these things written in a calendar become the official record of our lives. We do what it says and when it says to do it.

Standing there with my clergy friend with calendars open offered a moment of clarity glimpsed only for a second by any with awareness to notice, as we both did. Almost instantly a memory sparked of life growing up in a parsonage, as we both did, when the "preacher's pocket calendar" would arrive in mid-December just ahead of the new year.

I watched that calendar referred to, checked and studied with a frequency and intent one normally reserves for sacred texts. Many were the times I recall several preachers being together when someone would mention the date for an upcoming event, it was as if a liturgical cue had been uttered on a par with "The Lord be with you." The hands reaching inside suit coat pockets to bring forth the appropriate response was an automatic as is now a congregation's "And also with you." (By the way, interesting thing, that...how a response comes so freely and automatically that, only 25 years ago in the Church, was a strange and foreign tongue).

For me, that little black book, which I've not used in years, was among a handful of talismen verifying and validating who I was as a Methodist preacher. Long before I was credentialed by my Conference to be an Elder in the Church...I knew I was a Methodist preacher when I received my black robe (which I haven't worn in 20 years), possessed my very own bonded leather hymnal, and when that little black calendar came in the mail addressed to me.

When I wore or brandished these things in public, more than me knowing who I was, I wanted to be sure you knew who I was.

These things all mattered more than they should. But as we all try to figure out who we are, there's a tendency to place more value on the exterior than those things of ultimate meaning found within.

As I've journeyed, and as I still seek to know who I am, I lean on those exterior things too much.
The complexity of life right now is such that dependency on a calendar is required. I'm not sure I know where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing without it.

Hmmm, maybe the comparison to calendars and sacred texts is more prescient than it is a cute observation?

The exteriors, those things I allow you to see, are not what they once were, but they're always there. I'm not alone and hardly unique in this regard. We clergy all have them. For some of us it's the toys...I mean, tools we use to "do our work." Maybe it's what we drive, or where we're appointed, or what committee we're on....if not grounded well in things of ultimate meaning, how we think we appear to the world (and especially to our peers) holds way more power than it should.

I written many times about clergy and our relentless pursuit for relevance. Given the personality types of many of we who are clergy, you can't really blame us. Each week we are charged with the task of saying something of meaning framed from the text of the day to help guide the lives of those under our charge. Sometimes we're able to do that and we know we've done it. Often it's the case that we get through a sermon fairly certain we've completely screwed it up only to hear in the gratuitous "enjoyed it preacher" line someone with teary eyes and open heart look at us and say "you said exactly what I needed to hear, thank you," and you've no earthly idea how that happened (no earthly idea, indeed).

I learned several things long ago from Michael Williams, who's now at West End, Nashville. I don't really know him, but I remember him preaching at Benton Chapel, VDS, when I was there. Rather than stand in that venerated pulpit he stood there, in the nave, with us and proclaimed Gospel. I was transfixed. And I remember saying to myself, "I've got to do that." The other thing he said when asked about the task of preaching was seeking to be very clear about getting out of the way. He said that the prayer he prays before he preaches, every time he preaches is something like this, "Lord, if I screw this up, please use it anyway."

Ever since then, I've prayed it, too. Oh sure, my mouth may say "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation....," but my heart is praying "Lord, if I screw this up (and being from where I'm from and given what my mood may be at a given time, the language may be more colorful than that), please use this anyway."

We like to feel like we've made a difference. When that's acknowledged, it feels good. I don't care how much we feign modesty, it feels good. There's nothing wrong with that. But when we depend on that and conspire by what we say or write to receive it, we become little more than actors on a stage begging for applause.

Preachers, did I just break the code? Ooops, sorry.

And now we've more ways to feed that narcissistic beast than ever...Facebook, Twitter, sermons streamed across "the internets," and blogs, blogs, blogs. We've multiple avenues to say something, be seen as important, insightful, a mover and shaker. Exterior stuff, that.

Nothing wrong with the exterior...so long as there's something of value inside and our intent is clear as it comes through what we say.

As one of my clergy parents (and I have a few) is want to say, and speaking at a time when none of the above existed, "Some people have something to say, and some people just need to say something."

No longer driven by the calendar that says we've got to find something to say because Sunday comes every week, we now have the opportunity to proffer a "relevant" comment about everything, everyday in real time. We've gone from week to week to minute by minute.

Some of my colleagues are really good at this. Their sense of awareness of life, the world and the challenge of the Gospel provide real guidance along the way. Some of my brothers and sisters (mostly brothers) need to learn the wisdom found in that great hit by the Tremolos, "Silence is Golden."

There's a lesson to be learned by clergy from the greatest sportscasters. In the moments of highest drama, of greatest impact...they fall silent to let the moment be, to let it breathe among all the witnesses. There will be ample time to speak to the moment, to reflect upon it and offer perspective. But in the moment to fill the space with words is to get in the way.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to wrap this up and push "publish."

I've not posted anything on my blog since September.

Like I said, we're creatures of calendar, and I'm oh, so late in writing something for people to read.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Voice


The music library on my iTunes is a mess. So while trying to clean it up the other day I came across a few files I didn't expect to find....didn't even remember they were there. 

They were of me. 

Not of me singing, although with the advent of various iPad/iPhone apps, there does exist recording projects not for general distribution.  When coupled with those projects I have done for public consumption, I've amassed a decent body of work. 

No, these files were of me preaching. 

They were of sermons preached between 2004-2008. There's about a half dozen or so.  I don't recall loading them up.  I've wondered if they got caught up in my library when I changed the location of my music from the onboard hard drive to an external one.

My first impulse was to clean them out, delete them.  Why bother?  No one is more critical of the preacher than the one who preached it. There was a time when that self criticism would devolve into self loathing, but that ain't me no more!

So while tempted to delete them, I didn't. Instead, I play-listed them, put in the earbuds, and let them serve as the soundtrack for my nightly walk. 

Thought it might be fun to see if I could remember preaching them. 

I didn't. 

But there was something I heard that sparked remembrance. Something I'd not heard in some time. 

It was the voice. 

There were flashes of the prophetic. I guess it could have been there since, but messages carefully calibrated for context lose there, uh, "umph" (that's a homiletics term).  And I've been deep in the wilderness of my own spirit since, so I'm not sure I could have heard it anyway. 

But I've "Come out the wilderness," in the last year, so ears that can hear, do. 

"Hey!  There he is!  I know that guy!"

It's not they were extraordinary, in fact I'm quite sure they weren't, but they were proclaimed with conviction. To be sure ("to be sure" was a favorite clarifier of my Hebrew Bible professor at Vandy, Walter Harrelson, may he rest in peace), if you can't preach prophetically from the pulpit I stood in back those days, you may as well hang it up and go home. 

Within any vocation there is a moment when one in pursuit of it finds their voice. It happens when confidence is imbued from the solidarity and faith found in those who believe in you and claimed internally as being true.   It's that  moment when all you've done before, all you've studied and practiced flows freely.  The product of that acceptance is "the voice."

I've witnessed it happen. It is a glorious thing to behold. 

We clergy live into many roles in our work--pastor, priest, prophet. Because the need of the moment may require more energy from one nature of work than the other, some parts of our voice stand back to make room for what is more necessary. 

I know this is so. I've done it.

Sometimes we don't utter the prophetic not because we need to be more pastoral or priestly, but because we're afraid of the consequences that come from having done so. Scripture is pretty clear about what happens to prophets.

This whole "follower of Jesus" thing is not for the faint of heart.

Because if the gospel we preach is only a warm tub of cheap grace goo, it's not real. If it's not making us squirm as it confronts us then we're not speaking it. 

If it's only about "them" and not at all about "us" then we are deluding ourselves, and are just playing at being church...which is really the best definition of a hypocrite I've found..."play acting."  

The Gospel that needs to be spoken must be with a voice that even if silenced "the very stones would cry out."

Well, I haven't been playing at it, but I have been careful, and I think necessarily so for context. 

But having heard something I'd missed, it reminded me of a part of my call that cannot be denied...it must be spoken. 

And it will be. 



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Home Is...

Robert Frost said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." It's Maya Angelou's take on Frost that resonates more with who I am..."Home is that place that when you go there, can't nobody put you out."

My weekend in Mayfield far and away validates Frost via Angelou.

Despite what I've thought and preached about "home," as it relates to me in my own story, I've lived too long with the thought that it's Thomas Wolfe who was correct..."you can't go home again."

I'm here to tell you that in this instance, Wolfe's wrong, and so was I.

The sequence of events that brought me to Mayfield on the occasion of the Class of '82's 30 year reunion is not nearly as significant as the keen sense of knowing that I was welcomed and remembered.

In that one openly wounded chapter of my life for which there seemingly could never be closure I found grace--grace in the celebration of memory. Now some memories are those I'd just soon forget, but to have them recalled in the company of those who knew, who were there, it was a remarkable thing.

While many of the people with whom I reconnected I had seen around my senior year (thus, the aforementioned utterly unforgettable episode), most I had not seen in 37 years.

"Hey, I remember you!" I heard that quite a bit...which was wonderful because with the exception of a few folks whom I knew were interested, I was expecting "And you are?
What are you doing here?"

I also heard, "I thought that was you!" Wonderful!

On seeing people I thought I'd never see again - Yes, we're all older. And yet through the signs of age, of life lived and sometimes lived hard, I could see the spark of people as I remembered them. The curiosity of what ever became of someone was present but the gladness of just being together was stronger.

A number of people live in Memphis. Who knew? One in particular lives not too far from my Church. So knowing who I am and what I do, he had no qualms about asking me to pray for the gathered bunch before the party really got started.

"Really Arthur? They don't know me like that, I'm just Johnny."

Well, actually for a number of them I was JJ. It was the early 70s. "Good Times" was a hit TV show...you do the math. If "Dyno-mite" means anything to ya, there you go.

So I prayed, and it felt right because the emergence of the "me" I've long sought has found joyful passion in reclaiming that what I do is who I am. And to be who I know I'm called means that I'm bringing the fullness of who I am, without fear or worry, into what I do.

I was taken aback by the table on which many candles burned reflecting the memory of those no longer with us. It was so many. I remembered most and some very well. Car wrecks, drugs, violence...all of it was sobering reminder of life's fragility and the consequences of choices made that yield results never expected.

While there I had occasion to walk the old neighborhood, to see the places I used to live in Mayfield. Surprisingly, the walk didn't take me nearly as long as my memory would have me believe. The place is small, and as a community Mayfield struggles to find a viable way through amidst the exodus of industry across the years.

My old school isn't a school anymore. It's the County Health Department. That was an odd thing. But the new elementary school is a sign of progress, right?

I saw my first grade teacher whose name I had never forgotten (you always remember your first grade teacher's name, right?), but that was a long time ago, would I even recognize her?

Answer? Yes. Not even a question. And even more surprising was that she seemed to remember me. Evidently, I was quiet and sweet in the first grade (what happened there, I wonder?) "Yes, ma'am" came out of my mouth automatically when she spoke to me.

I saw and spoke to the first girl I ever called on the phone.  Age 6.  Thank you.
She gave me about as much time as she did back then, too.  Seemed about right.

I owe much to my friends who really wanted me to come back. Kenny, Liz, Elaine and so many others. It is a good thing to be wanted, no?

Because I have a gig on Sundays I didn't stay as late Saturday night as I would have preferred. But as I drove away I had this strange feeling. What I expected to be closure wasn't. The journey isn't complete, it's ongoing. No more than my leaving in 1976 left relationships undone only to realize closure in 2012, for a number of these people, my friends, who know me only as Johnny (ok, or JJ), it's just the next thing in relationships that last a lifetime.

As I was saying my goodbyes, my friend Michael (apparently he's Mike, now), says, "See you in December?"

"For?" I ask.

"For when Mayfield goes back to State. See you there?"

"Would not miss it."

And why wouldn't I? It's my hometown team.

Monday, June 25, 2012

You Take a Step - Year One

Not too long ago I wrote about my journeys of this past spring in reconnecting with old friends. It's one that continues in earnest with a profound opportunity on the horizon in just about 3 weeks.

I've never attended any high school reunions. Nothing against the fine folks at Wooddale's Class of '82, but that was never home. Southside? Southside felt like home, but I've not really reconnected in any meaningful way with my classmates. Truth is, I ran with the older bunch. For the guys I hung out with back in the day it would have made more sense for me to be a part of the class of '79. To this day I'm not sure how or why I was welcomed into that bunch, but I'll be forever thankful for it. There's some stories that could be told of the exploits of our crew south of the Forked Deer River, but you ain't getting 'em out of me.

If there was a class that I would have longed to be part of, it's Mayfield's Class of '82. I've reflected on that period of life and how formative it was for me. In the past year or so, as I've moved from believing all that was is past, to something yet unknown and wonderful could emerge, I've enjoyed having the Mayfield chapter of my life refreshed by new engagements with childhood friends.

So imagine my curiosity/surprise to receive an invitation from Mayfield's Class of '82's 30 year reunion. You're kidding, right? I left there in the 6th grade. Really?

And yes, it is real. And yes, I'm going. It's even over my birthday, but I'm going. Would not miss it. Have no idea what to expect, and don't really care...that's huge movement for me.

Movement has been a key word for me in the last 18 months.

Tomorrow, June 26, marks the one year anniversary of my intentional, daily physical movement. I started walking.

I was just beginning vacation. It was a time of focus. Something on the outside needed to begin reflecting the stirrings on the inside. And so I started.

I went from "I've got to start walking," to "walking." For some of us, the gulf between the two is immense.

In the last couple of months I've been asked a lot of questions about what, how and why of this whole thing. I've never really addressed them in any real way, until now. Let me say, I do this not to inspire, but to explain. And as much as I offer some detail of the movement in me, there's much more I cannot speak to through this medium. This is not one of the "brag" testimonies. So help me, when I was at my worst, watching or reading any of them did not inspire. They pissed me off.

We all have to find our path. This one's mine.

First, I have no idea how much weight I've lost. I don't care. It was never about a number. I've had to buy new clothes, twice, so if numbers matter, there's something to go on.

Second, it is true, I walk every day. Every day. Every day. I've missed a handful of days (5) in the year. When that has occurred it's because I was traveling or some extraordinary circumstance. Why? My logic is this - I walk because I don't want to die, not yet anyway. And when I don't walk, I don't exercise, and the temptation to be sedentary whispers. The daily goal of the alcoholic is not to drink, today. That's a good day's work. The daily goal of someone like me is to walk, today.  No need worrying about tomorrow's "oughts."  I deal with the daily.

Starting is hell. It was tough. But my life was on the line. So I did it. Into the second week while still in Florida last Summer I rolled my ankle on a pine cone. I was so frightened that I had done myself in before I started. I missed a couple of days and kept on going. Took forever for my ankle to go down, but hey, I know me. If I give myself an excuse, I won't do it.

Man, my feet and legs hurt for months. But I could not stop.

How much? For most of the year, I walked no less that 4 miles/day. A couple of miles wasn't enough. It had to be something that demanded real time. I walked in the brutal heat, the pouring rain, snow/sleet (which was awesome). I usually walk at night, sometimes very late. If you're in my neighborhood between 10-11:30, you'll probably see me. At least I hope you do, I've had to go to reflective clothing so I'm easy to spot. In the last couple of months, I've stepped up to 6 miles/day. I've walked through three pair of walking shoes in one year. Right now, I'm a Brooks Ghost fan. Like that shoe.

I've never done anything like this before.
Do I feel pride in myself?
Truly?  No.
I look at the image in the mirror and I still have issues with him.  Guess I always will.

Don't pat me on the back for discipline when desperation to not merely survive, but live - is the truer motivator.

Something walking has taught me...a simple lesson.  When you walk, run, move...whatever it is you do, to do it means that by definition you are moving away from something and toward something else.  Every step puts that much distance between the "you" you are, or were, and the you that's to be found ahead.

And maybe it's only now in my life that I could emerge and be what I'm called to be.
I've long thought the the insulation I carried was my version of a shield to protect what's out there from getting in. There may be some truth to that.  You who know me know that I'm a good listener.  I counsel well.  I can be deep and insightful.  But want to know what's going on in me? Not going to happen. Ain't nobody getting through...and with the rarest of exceptions (like one), nobody has.

But this past season has revealed something I least expected and the ramifications of it are at once liberating and frightening.

I've discovered that what I was doing was providing a barrier preventing who I am from being set loose out there.

It's easy to do. A life of complacency is easy to come by when occupied by life and all its entanglements.

If your rationale begins "for the good of"..and the next word is someone/something else that, while seeming to be noble brings you pain...you insulate yourself.

The job. The Church. The relationship. The family. The business. The reputation.  If the "for the good of" mutes life's joy, what are you to do with that?

When am I going to stop? I stop. I die....physically, spiritually, and every other "ally" you can list.  It's that simple.

How do I feel? Never like I've arrived. But I'm on the way. And I'm not sure where "there" is just yet.  That has become so OK with me.

In my reflections in a recent post, I wrote, "... when you're lost in the wilderness, how do you even know where to begin to find your way out?  Answer? You take a step.
Both literally and spiritually, you take a step.
And I've taken many in the past year, but not nearly as many as I've yet to take."

So there's my witness, such as it is at this point.

Lest you're tempted to ask "Who are you and what have you done with Johnny Jeffords?"

You'll find me on the road, earbuds cranked (I like the rock and roll), and moving somewhere between 4.3 - 4.6 mph.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Response to 'Inconvenient Truths'

For those who read this and don't know either of us...this is not an argument.  It is conferencing.  It is in the great Methodist tradition of Mr. Wesley who often penned letters articulating points of disagreement.  Sky and I go back over 25 years. He is to this day one of my few trusted friends.  I love him as a brother in Christ, and he has been as a brother to me, especially when I lost mine.  I let him know I was writing a response, and he has seen it before I've posted it.  The contents of this post does not contain anything he and I haven't discussed many, many times before.

Sky and I are contemporaries.  In fact, I was ordained elder in the class a year ahead of him.  We go back to college days and summers at Lakeshore.  Our friendship, our love of worship and liturgy, our appreciation for a pint of stout or a fine bourbon is mutually shared (although, even from The Commonwealth, I have a heart for what emerges from Lynchburg, Tennessee). Sky is a faithful servant now swept up into a level of church leadership that I don't envy.  It is a thankless task, and he is among those faithful to it.

I just want to acknowledge from the jump - anybody who quotes Zefram Cochrane to start a blogpost is already aces with me.

It is not my intent to point/counterpoint every one of the items he posits.  Truth is, I'm in league with him on most of them, although I'd likely come at some of the same points from different perspectives.  That's just the nature of being different people who seek unity in essentials, liberty in non essentials and charity in all things. I want to offer some basic points and then focus specifically on one that I want to come at differently.

Sky and I stand alongside each other in many ways as we have our lover's quarrel with the Church.  We don't hate the Church.  But the Church needs to change.  As I've alluded in previous posts, I'm fearful that as a system, we, the Church, have so boxed ourselves in that the capacity to adapt and innovate is gone.  We bought in wholesale to the thought that the Church stands firm while the world must be convicted to conformity. Whatever wisdom and intent there was in the establishment of polity to that end, the result is arrogance, a malaise of spirit, and an intractability of perspective that tins the ear of the Church from the real needs of people where they are.

The guiding presupposition, whether spoken or assumed, was that people will always see the Church as a constant pillar of strength, and will bend to it ultimately.  You want to know why people don't come to church, or why they call themselves "spiritual" but not "religious?"  It has nothing to do with Jesus, it has everything to do with the people who say they represent him.  And I don't think the Church will ever understand the magnitude of amazing grace until it offers full, complete and unconditional confession to God for the ways we have masked our biases and prejudices in religious rhetoric and thereby poisoned a soul from ever wanting anything to do with God.

What was it that Jesus said of those who cause others turn away?  Something about millstones?  Necks?  Very deep water?  The capacity to pervert the holy for purposes other than God have always been there.  It was that way in Jesus' time.  It's that way now.

My friend Sky is a "facts" guy.  He loves the stats, the actuarials, the structure of things.  Being the pragmatist he is it's a perspective that must always be in the room.  It keeps guys like me (you know, a Vandy liberal) from venturing off into theological la la land.  And he's right, our mistrust of one another as a denomination will be our undoing as certainly as any other of the mountains we've to climb to reach wholeness.  And yet, it is the historic track record to do harm to our own by virtue of being "other" (gendered, raced, prophetically witnessed, etc.) that gave the guaranteed appointment a theologically grounded place in our polity.  There are constituencies that would never had voice in the church without the guarantee that they had a place.  I agree that the unintended consequence of what the guaranteed appointment has wrought on our Church justifies ending it, but to lump it into a consent agenda at GC, have it done away with so easily without articulating clearly that this is meant to deal with those who are ineffective, not those who are prophetic, was a moment missed to bring that disjoined bunch in Tampa together.

The work of DS gives Sky a keener view of the issues wrapped up into appointments, the itineracy and the obstacles in both.  I honor and respect his perspective.  The appointment system is a mess and it is complicated by those of us (like me) who serve appointments without parsonages and have our own homes.  The cascading impact of inconsistent itineracy, diminishing congregations and the consequence of their lack of resources from the local level all the way up the pipeline while having placed from the top/down increasingly heftier prior claims on every dollar (mostly because of clergy benefits) is purely untenable.  It just is.

I was in the room when the discussion was ongoing on the floor of annual conference about the salary adjustments for our superintendents.  I didn't engage the conference on that point but I did have fun texting Sky and admonishing them for the money grubbing scoundrels they all are!! :)  There were multiple dynamics working in the room,  more than any one of us could identify. And while I think Sky's perspective has place on this point, it is not the totality of what was operating on the floor that day.

But the disconnect between what we say about God reflected in our conference theme, "Extravagant Generosity," and what we actually do as a people is an apt image for the Church writ large identifying the existential crisis of our time.

And now I address the point in Sky's blog where I come at a question from a different perspective -
His first point, "Changing the stance on homosexuality in The United Methodist Church will not stop the loss of membership in the denomination." Wanting to be clear that I understood exactly what he intended, I called him.  I take the position that the statement is a red herring.  It's the wrong question.

I'm not clear who would be making such an assertion that changing the denomination's stance on homosexuality would equal an increase in church membership.  It's wrong headed on its face.  And Sky gives stats as to why that's the case.  A misdirected question further obscures the heart of the matter. It comes off as rhetorical subterfuge to avoid what must really be addressed.  My suspicion is that to change our position would accelerate a decrease on some fronts but not all. .  And doing it is still the right thing.  It's the gospel thing to do.  And to my mind, nothing else matters.

He and I are not of one mind on this point.  I know it.  He knows it.  And we love each other through it.  As the Church, we are utterly entrenched, so much so that we are unable to acknowledge what is true about where our Church is on this matter.  Think of it this way - when justice, God's justice is subject to a vote, you know we've got an inherent problem.

Consider...our Church continues to codify exclusion.  It's just that simple.  And we have wasted so much energy defending turf, doing battle...the leading voices are mere caricatures of the polemic.   When I have to argue with a caricature, I don't have to deal with the particular, the personal, the one I know who is so powerfully gifted by God to spread Gospel and our hearts are too hardened to care, and our system won't allow it.

Another red herring...we have to keep it as is for the good of the Church.  Child, please.  "For the good of the Church" is code for "keeping things as they are," which means keeping them the way the majority wants.

If ever you think a democracy equals Christocracy, somebody needs to wake up.

Do you hear Jesus saying "Great job! United Methodists!  It's unfortunate, but necessary, for the good the Church, keep those folks out!"  That's full blown, unadulterated "cover' for the system.  It's not grace based, no way, no how.

Fear a split in the Church? What Tampa has shown is that if there is a split it will be about power, who has it and who doesn't and not so much about human sexuality. It is the appearance of a social issue being the culprit that masks truer intent.

"But we're a global church, and different realities necessitate keeping things as they are."  Take caution, United Methodist Church, the very thing we herald with pride, being a global church, might well be idolatry of another kind.

I believe the Church could have its heart transformed by this change.  And I grieve another day of it not happening.  And while I believe the Church is wrong on this front, I will not be an insurrectionist.  I will not dishonor my vows.  I do not judge those who are choosing that path, but I do think it unwise.  It's hard to see how that ushers in an age of grace. Rather, it furthers the entrenchment.

This issue is not about whether or not you understand, or even agree.  It's about whether or not
we as a Church will be guided by the inexplicable nature of God's love and grace.  And let's be clear, we are not modeling the grace we say matters so much in our behaviors toward each other on this point and on more than a few others, including how we will order our  life together going forward.

And the world is watching.  And so is God.

That may well be the most inconvenient truth of all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dispatches from Renewal Leave - Witness, Part II

Throughout my life I've been witness to many sacred things.

I've stood watch with the dying as they breathed their last.
I've been with new moms and dads as they welcome their children into the world, sometimes against all odds.
I've presided the promises made by two people in marriage covenants.
I've placed baptismal waters on the heads of infants, adults and even the aged.
I've looked into the eyes of disciples who've come forward with hearts opened wide and hands outstretched to receive the body of Christ, broken for them.

What constitutes the sacred? My sense is that it's when what is true is known and claimed in the midst of life, in whatever context, then that which is sacred rises. The preamble to "A Modern Affirmation" says it clearly..."Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true Church..." Or, maybe St. Paul says it better, that "nothing in life, in death, in life beyond death can separate us from the love of God."

The dailyness of life makes that truth no less real. However, dailyness without spiritual discipline dulls awareness of what is always true. And that's where most of us live most of the time.

There's always a sense of wonder, awe and mystery in presence of the sacred. And it is in these moments that the inner voice whispers, "Remember what you've seen here, and bear witness to it."

I didn't know what to expect as Kristy and I travelled out of the New York by bus toward New Jersey. I was eager to see my friend, Leslie, again. Having dined with she and her family only days before, I was eager and curious about what the night would hold. And even though I was convinced that the desire of Victor and Leslie was for us to be there, and even though I wanted to be there to spend more time with them, I couldn't help but feel in some small way that we were intruding.

That feeling abated quickly however, upon arriving. It was a party! Victor, remembering what Kristy was drinking at our dinner a few days earlier, had played bar tender and had a spirited beverage ready for her as soon as she walked in. It was a lovely April evening in New Jersey and the back patio was the place to be. The food? A Polish feast. Poland is the land of Victor's family and those roots run deep. The cuisine wasn't that familiar to me, and although I didn't eat too much of it, what I had was good.

There was mixing and mingling - the Ohio part of the family was curious about their Swedish cousins they didn't know they had, and vice versa. The lore of family was told for fresh ears to hear (and retold for others who'd heard the tales many times before). We weren't the only folks there we were not family. Neighbors were there, too. For a time, it looked just like any "get together."

Part of my time there was spent searching though photo albums of long ago. Leslie documented much of our journey at Vanderbilt. Based on the number of photo albums she has, she is keen on documenting life, photographically. So we spent time looking at who we were back then. We were in a sunroom/library. It sparked memories of people I've not seen and for some of them even thought about since 1990. I found myself more than once asking "Who's that?" I remembered faces readily. Names had faded, as had some of their stories. But the benefit of any witness is to remind you of what you once knew. Leslie's capacity to stoke my recall was remarkable.

We were in a library/sunroom - a place where living occurred. After all had eaten and while Leslie and I were looking at photos, Victor came in. With DVD in hand he turned on the tv and cued up its contents. It was then that I became aware of Victor in a different way. There was a burden...well, not really a burden, but there was a weighty responsibility that he was carrying. Within every family system, we each have roles to play. Among the many that had fallen to him over the years, it was this one...the carrier of the story of family estranged by evil only to be reunited was his to convey. He was the bridge. I sensed he felt the fullness of his responsibility and this opportunity to change the trajectory of a family's story hereon.

The gathered party was summoned to the room where Leslie and I had been reminiscing. And after a few words of introduction, Victor told their story. It's the story of the impact of evil on a people across the generations.

There is a lingering pall that falls on the family of one victimized so terribly. And that was the case for Victor's family. Being the children of a Holocaust survivor is never not in the room when the family gathers. It's the pain of the father that is visited on the children. There is so much loaded in the nature of the victimization. The very recollection of it revealed that the pain is always within reach....it's just right there.

Polish Catholics were also victims of interment and encampment during World War II. And this family was among those impacted. While the details of the story are theirs to tell, the gist of it is this. Forced separation. In post-war, one sibling ends up in Sweden where she grows. The other goes to America. Living in the belief that the other sibling is either dead or never again to be found, connections are made and identities confirmed 60 years later.

So a few years ago Victor undertook a pilgrimage to Sweden to meet his aunt and her family. Her name?  Wiktoria (Victoria).

It was then that he hit "play" on the DVD and the room witnessed this reunion/introduction. His aunt, who has since died, was in a elderly care facility. Her granddaughters, Camilla and Martina (the young ladies I'd dined with and toured the 9/11 Memorial together only days before), videotaped the introduction and served as translators.

All of us in the room were glued to the television. It was sweet, powerful, exciting, with some sadness added in, too. They communicated with each other through their smiles, the countenance, their teary eyes. The girls guided conversation as they could, but there was so much unspoken that didn't need to be spoken. It was being communicated loudly and clearly. After this long, the grace found in being there with someone else was what mattered most.

And then there was this moment of greatest import. Victor brought a present. It was his grandmother's (bubci), her mother's  rosary. Her recognition of what she held was almost instantaneous. She spoke the name "matka" as her frail hands clutched her mother's prayer beads with a combination of reverence and passion. It was these beads that Victor's grandmother, Victoria's mother, had given to him.  It was the first thing she had touched of her mother's in 66 years.

Not a dry eye in the room. It was sacred.

Once the video ended, Victor shared the sense of opportunity that lay ahead for their family. The relationships they forge honor the ones who were forced apart long ago. And to that end, even though the family from Ohio and Sweden are as different as can be, what they hold in common is priceless.

In a note I sent to Victor shortly after we had returned to Memphis, I shared with him a sense of what I thought the night meant from what I had witnessed.

It is no small thing to be invited into the telling of a family's story of deepest pain. A pain that traverses multiple generations. It is a pain that speaks to the capacity humanity has to do violence to one another, and the ripples across time that such violence is felt. For many, too many, stories of this sort cripple the ability to love, to feel, to embrace. And like too many survivors and their progeny, they may no longer be in the camp physically, but make no mistake...part of them never left.
But your family has sought liberation. It is a work of grace, to be sure. It takes awareness of what was, the willingness to deal with it openly, and the dogged determination to declare that in the end, Love wins, always. The scriptures speak of being "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses," who cheer us on as we "run with perseverance the race that is set before us." Victor, my new friend, the cloud of witnesses- the ones who've gone before, the giants upon whose shoulders you all stand, are celebrating with you all and through you all.


I was honored to be there...to witness the sacred..to be there as a family tells its truth...a new truth that changes the trajectory of what will be. That's a God thing if ever there was one.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Clarification of My Remarks at Annual Conference

Seems that in light of the confusion surrounding my statement on the floor the annual conference, that some further word of explanation/interpretation is in order.

The confusion comes primarily from that the fact that due to the poor sound set up with the PA, the people on the dais and the podium could not hear what anyone said on the floor.

First, let me offer a series of admissions.
It was not my intent initially to name Selena as one who had endorsed the candidacy of someone from another conference. When I was called back to the mic to further clarify my remarks, I first thought the bishop wanted me to be more specific. What I later learned was that they literally couldn't make out what I said because they couldn't hear it. While that bell cannot be unrung, my only regret is that I spoke her name without her having the benefit of knowing I was going to do so in advance. The fact of her endorsement is hers to interpret.

What I was seeking initially was this: to remind people that although we cannot bind a delegate to vote for anyone (each delegate is a free agent at that point), the conference needed to understand that although we had endorsed Randy, it was no guarantee that the delegates (whom the conference had elected to represent them them year before), would honor it. It is easy to fall into the world of assumptions that it's a foregone conclusion that the delegates would abide the desire of the conference who elected them. It is not the case. Never has been.

One of the last things that was spoken during the General Conference report was not really a part of the report as much as it was word of caution spoken by Selena to the Annual Conference that we needed to know where our delegates stood on issues before electing them. It is the logic of her point I was trying to make.

A second admission.
I support Randy's candidacy. As I look across the landscape of candidates, there are some who are quite gifted for the work of bishop and will serve the church well. There are others who shouldn't run and will further hurt the church if they are elected.

None of them have heart for the Realm of God held more deeply than Randy. In this time of great systemic distress in the Church, we do not need any more system managers. The system itself must be re-formed. It will not reform itself. It can't. I've already addressed that in previous writings. More than that, however, our bishops must no longer be those who feel entitled because they're next in line, or their CVs are veritable brag sheets of what they've done.

Their love for God, their deepest desire to follow Jesus, and their desire to craft a movement of people in the image of the Acts 2-4 Church is THE thing. All other issues are secondary to that.

I know Randy's heart. I lived in a weekly accountability covenant group with him for a time when we both served in the Jackson District.

Does Randy have the experience of time on the cabinet that other candidates have? No. But so what? Neither did Ken Carder. And our conference has not had a spiritual leader of his kind since. And God knows we need one.

There've been candidates elected preeminently qualified within the system to be bishop, but nary an imagination of any prophetic substance. Systemic experience isn't a sufficient barometer.

System stuff can be learned.
A faithful heart for Christ lived with integrity cannot. You either have it, or you don't. Randy does.

A final admission.
While a delegate must vote as their conscience dictates, to not vote for the candidate from your conference seems to me, in the words my mother uses when something seems just a bit off, to be "tacky." It's just poor form. There's nothing theological about that. It just begs the question, "why?"

Well, there it is. Some thoughts about what happened, as I understood it, and what was driving me, which time at the mic doesn't allow. I hope that clears anything left unclear about my part in this.

In the meantime, I offer prayers for all delegates and candidates for the days ahead. I offer prayers especially for our episocopal area and the leadership we must have in this next iteration of our life together.



Dispatches from Renewal Leave: Witness, Part I


It was Wednesday of our week in New York before I saw Leslie. 

She had come into the city with the family from Sweden, her son and his friend, to take in a matinee of "Wicked."

Kristy and I were attending the matinee of "The Best Man.". Wow, what a show with a veritable murderer's row for a cast - James Earl Jones, Angela Landsbury, John Laroquette, Eric McCormick, Candace Bergan, Michael McKean - unreal, and while the 3rd row seats were an admitted splurge, it was something to see. 

Leslie told us to meet them at the West Bank Cafe, just off the theater district. Leslie's husband, Victor, is an actor, and this is a favorite spot of his. Kristy and I got there first and had time to sit at the bar to take in the atmosphere.

I wasn't at all anxious about the dinner.  I was excited, hopeful even.

She walked in several minutes later with her party.  Her gait was familiar.  In fact I recognized her by her walk as she came in before I could make out her features inside the darkened restaurant.  Making my way toward her from the bar she noticed me coming toward her.  Hugs, introductions, oohs and ahhs of how we look given the time that's past...and to our table we went.

I was taken by how quickly she and I struck back up after these many years.  It was minutes...almost instantly.  It was as if we'd all gone through a semester break and were back at Hogwarts as the new year begins.  

It is a wondrous thing when there are relationships like that.  I have a few.  I cherish them all.  Certain people operate at the same frequency.  We may look and act differently.  We may come from different places.  But when placed in proximity with one another there is resonance.  It is immediate and undeniable.  Leslie and I resonate.  Years of distance didn't matter.  The current moment did.

Shortly after taking to our table, Victor arrived after having spent the day at work filming an upcoming HBO movie.  As interested as I was in meeting a working actor, I was even more curious to meet the man who married my friend.  Leslie is a formidable woman ( I seem to associate myself with such people - - throughout my life).  It was going to take a particular spirit to honor her nature and while building a life of meaning.  

Our dinner was wonderful.  We didn't linger in small talk.  Rather, the comfort we found at table in our fellowship was as satisfying as the food we shared.  Their son and his friend were charming (the friend was offering to work me a deal for Mets or Yankees tickets..."no problem, I know people.")  The young women from Sweden were there.  Camilla and Martina, beautiful young women who had come to New York for the week to see the city and to meet family they never knew they had, were open and curious about everything, even stangers from Tennessee.  They took this photo around the dinner table.

Having been aware that the moment of meeting was just a few days away, I felt the need to be certain with Victor that Kristy and I were welcomed to be there.  Neither of us wanted to be instrusive on what was so obviously a time of great signficance in this family's life.   What the dinner confirmed in me was what I think I already knew.  Leslie and I resonate.  Leslie and Victor resonate.  The transitive property of equality (that's right, I used a mathematics reference) dictates that Victor and I would, too.  Not only were we welcomed to be a part of the evening to come, I got the sense the Victor was glad to have someone witness it. 

It was indeed a night of confirmations. 
Some relationships transend time.
Among the things I've done in my quest of this past year in pursuit of wholeness is to do that which I've never given myself permission to do before - tie the disparate chapters of my life together.  No longer sequestered from one another, it is the unity of them as a whole entity that defines me.

The relationships I've been able to touch and re-engage prove to me so powerfully that resonance is real.  Any regret I feel for not having pursued this earlier in life is mitigated by the joy I feel now in having done so.  But when you're lost in the wilderness, how do you even know where to begin to find your way out?  

Answer?  You take a step.  Both literally and spiritually, you take a step.  And I've taken many in the past year.  Sometimes those steps are as close as the street outside your door.  Sometimes it means you catch a bus at the Port Authority into Jersey to observe a sacramental moment - one of profound grace and power, the moment that says, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "Goodness is stronger than evil."

Or as I come to think of it, love wins...always.

Next Dispatch from Renewal Leave:  Witness, Part II

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dispatches from Renewal Leave: Leslie


This is Leslie. 

I'm sitting in her house in Montclair, NJ, and together we're looking at old photo albums of our days together as a part of the community of Vanderbilt Divinity School in the mid/late '80s.

Up until last month I had not seen her since 1992 when she showed up unexpectantly in worship at Asbury.  Except for a Christmas card here and there we'd really not kept in touch.  I knew she had married and that she had a child. 

Such is life, right?  

People's journeys intersect ours along the way. Who they are and what they share with you while your lives are engaged in that thing you hold in common leaves its mark. And yet, once that chapter comes to its close, folks move on. 

It's the normalcy of life. In it is wrapped the totality of emotion and experience.

Leslie and I were friends, but not to the exclusion of others. We were among a cadre of 12-15 who hung together though the crucible that is Divinity School. We communed and commiserated through the existential crises that's part and parcel of sensing a holy call (in all the varied ways that's manifested), being educated in an historically erudite setting, and all the while relishing in our humanity. At times that was in the extreme.  Often it was fun, very fun.  It was always intense.  Always.  We worked hard.  We played hard.

How we all found each other is really a mystery. We were all very different.  For a time, for a season, we were congregation, therapy group, fraternity and sorority brothers and sisters together (with everything imaginable thereto appertaining).  If the instrumental theme from "St. Elmo's Fire" is swirling in your mind, it applies.

We all left The Divinity School, went our seperate ways and took up our charge to live out the call and do the work...."Ministers as Theologians" were we.

Reconnecting has been among my most pressing spiritual work through the emergence of my wilderness.  Aspirations for physcial health, being what they are, had to be balanced with renewed work within.  No inward work can have integrity unless it's expressed outwardly.  That's as basic as understanding faith and righteousness itself.  

When I knew I was taking renewal leave some months ago, and I knew I was going to spend a week in New York, I thought I'd try to find Leslie.  Had an old email address.  She's not on Facebook.  I wasn't sure she still lived in the area.  So, I did what anyone would do in this situation.  I "Googled" her.  Lo, and behold, she had a website.  I clicked the link, and up popped this very professional headshot with details of her counseling practice as well as contact information.

I reached out.  She responded enthusiastically.    Back in my Vandy days, when being relevant mattered more to me than it should, I wasn't "Johnny."  I was "John."  That's how those folks know me.  
"John!!!!  Yes!  I can't wait to see Kristy and you."

The next week she called me to tell me that the week I was coming might be a challenge and wanted to make sure I was ok with it.

"What's going on?"  I asked.
"Well, my husband's family from Ohio are coming in that week to meet part of the family they've never known before who are coming in from Sweden, and I'm playing tour guide and host."

"I certainly don't want to get in the way.  If something works out, great, and if not, that's ok." I said.  
"You won't be in the way," she said, "it could just get 'intense.'"


Leslie always had a way of saying the word "intense" that was, well, intense.

"Why have they never met before?"  I asked.

"My husband's father and his sister were separated after the war....they survived the Holocaust, and after 60 years their children have found each other.  This week at my house will be the introduction."

"Wow! We don't want to intrude."  I said.
"You're not, and Victor (her husband) wants to meet you."

"Leslie, we wouldn't miss it."
And we didn't.

Next Dispatch from Renewal Leave:  Witness

Monday, April 30, 2012

Intractable


We interrupt this renewal leave for just a few minutes of reflection.

in·trac·ta·ble
[in-trak-tuh-buh l]
- adjective
1.not easily controlled or directed; not docile or manageable; stubborn; obstinate: an intractable disposition.
2.(of things) hard to shape or work with: an intractable metal.
3.hard to treat, relieve, or cure: the intractable pain in his leg.- noun
4.an intractable person.

I've observed the proceedings in Tampa these past days.

I've done so only through the words of those there, some of whom I know well and hold with deepest respect and affection, as well as others I know who are there for whom respect and affection are not the first thoughts that rise up in me ( it's my spirit work to do on that front, I admit freely).

I've not watched it online. I've not needed to. There are enough of you out there doing it for me - commenting and linking by the hour it seems. Right, Dad?

Some thoughts going into the home stretch (an apt image given the Derby is coming, and soon).

What we are seeing in Tampa is the product of a system so entrenched, so intractable that even if the winds of Pentecost were to blow through the place we'd be inclined to complain that it's interrupting the ever so important work we've come to do.

In a time when the world moves fast and systems and structures must adapt to be relevant, we continually demonstrate that ours is incapable. It's not entirely our fault. As my friend Sky recently commented, we've reaped what we've sown. And yes, I knew exactly what he meant.

Place incapability alongside unwillingness, and you've a deadly duo.

And let's be clear, we are unwilling.

We are unwilling to change. On a personal level, we understand how hard that is. How do you like when you are told you need to change? Get your back up a bit? Now imagine that feeling on steroids and wrapped in religious rhetoric. There you go.

Why are we unwilling? Why are we incapable?

A word first about the latter. Ours was a system from its inception that had built in protections from dramatic change. It's baked into the cake. There's some wisdom in that, no doubt. But we've met change slowly and often after the ship has sailed.

Historically, we've displayed capacity to adapt to social change more quickly than systemic change, but that has not always been the case. The Social Creed of 1908 was a masterwork of its time reflecting the influences of the Social Gospel and the emergence of industry's effect on people. Read it. It still holds up.

But we've not always been so bold.

We equivocated on slavery. We were embarrassingly slow on women in ministry and then patted ourselves on the back for how forward thinking we were. We change only after the issue is no longer prophetic in witness, just a sad commentary on why it takes us so long to do the God thing.

Systemic change though is another thing altogether. It's a tough one. Once established, systems seem to live on held together with the glue of arrogance that the world must adapt to the realities of its existence, not the other way round.

Unwilling? You bet. What we're seeing in Tampa is a global delegation who arrived convinced on certain questions. There is no room for the Spirit to move if you're already locked in on how you'll vote on certain questions based on the constituencies who have you in their back pocket.

There's nothing wrong with differing perspectives seeking to get theirs to you in advance. I signed the Common Witness statement. I did it because the Church is wrong and needs to change.  I did it because this is not an issue, these are people, people I know, people I love, people whose faithfulness to Christ often places into judgment my own.  I believe...no, I know it is the more faithful response to the call of God than what we're currently observing, but beyond showing support, my signature doesn't mean anything.

What does have meaning is the willingness of those gathered to stop acting like Congress whose members have been sufficiently lobbied (with all that entails) who find it their sole mission to placate the gods of the special interests that put them there, and act more like disciples of Jesus Christ whose measure of faithfulness is whether or not we are following him.

Consider, we purport to be carriers of Good News that liberates, and yet we behave as if we don't need it.  It's hard to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world when you're not open to being transformed.

We need to stop acting like we've arrived, and act more like people willing to follow wherever that leads us.

But that takes faith. And courage.

And when our intractability so supersedes our faith it then reveals our highest priorities...it doesn't matter how well we wrap them in religious speak, when our priorities and our votes persistently protect the ways we want and how we want them....the truth is before us.

The inability and unwillingness to adopt change of any kind - be it in structure, authority, or true inclusion have nothing to do with God and everything to do with a system impotent to reform itself.

Biblically speaking, think of it as hearts hardened, or the lack of power shown in the face of unbelief.

Absent substantive reform we've two options remaining---revolution, from a split (not likely because even that takes courage), or cascade collapse from the inside out as a result of a system that values its survival over faithfulness.

Nothing is more arrogant than thinking that the Realm of God can't come into being in its fullness unless The United Methodist Church is there. And while no one would say it quite that way in Tampa, we're acting like it's etched in stone.

Unless we show we've the capacity to move, to follow, to exercise faith it may just be etched in stone.

A tombstone.

But that may not be so bad.  What's this Easter thing about?

I've got two more weeks---I'm out.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eight

Eight years.

So much has happened in eight years.
So much life lived.

I look at my children and see what eight years looks like.
I look at myself in the mirror and there they are etched in winkles and grey hair.

Eight years ago our family lost Jimmy.

For most of those eight years it was my open wound whose pain I could not hide despite my best intentions to do so. It revealed itself in my appearance, demeanor.

Whoever said time heals all wounds is full of shit.
It doesn't.

God's grace does--in the people who love you and see you through, no matter what, even when you don't want to be loved. I'm blessed to have a few of those people in my life. I've not thanked them for who they are to me like I should. They're not seeking it.

We've all had to deal with the impact of Jimmy's life and death in our own way. My sister and my parents have had their own pains to wrestle with and through. Jimmy's wife and son are eight years in living life and seeking to do it well.

And so have any of you who knew him.

Make no mistake about it, the kid left an impression.
Eight years on I'm realizing he still does.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 24, 2012

It's Always in the Room

This post contains unedited, racially charged language. If that offends, good. It should. God knows it did me to write it. But we can't deal with what we won't address.

Treyvon Martin is dead.

I believe he's the victim of a crime....a hate crime. That, at this hour the person who pulled the trigger is not in custody propagates the perception that black kids, especially young black men are to be suspected, feared and a problem to be handled and "extreme prejudice" is a justifiable solution.

By all accounts, not least of which is the 911 tape, George Zimmerman was possessed to profile and pursue Treyvon. But why? What was it that deafened George's ears to ignore the order of the 911 operator to stand down?

Was it rage demanding action after a rash of thefts?
Was it lust for recognition that George was the neighborhood watch hero?
Was it a perceived need to protect territory from certain people who dress a certain way who were invading his space?

Whatever was true about why Treyvon sought cover from the rain, as he stood under the awing of an apartment complex clubhouse, on his way back home to catch the second half of the NBA All Star Game--to George, moved to get out of his vehicle, pursue Treyvon, brandish his 9mm, place his finger on the trigger and pull it, what is clear is this - Treyvon received no consideration whatsoever. And why should he? Unless my ears deceive me, to George, Treyvon was not a kid packing skittles and ice tea seeking cover from the rain as he took a short cut home. He was a hoodie wearing thug. He was a "fucking coon."

It's not unusual that when something occurs so egregious that the population collectively recoils at its injustice. The tendency, however, is that we isolate the issues the event raises to the place it occurred. True enough, Sanford has a history. In this case alone, how is it that Zimmerman wasn't placed into custody immediately, even if he was "standing his ground (how one stands one's ground when pursuing someone is a neat trick)?  How is it that the weapon involved wasn't placed into evidence? Why was Treyvon's corpse drug tested but not Zimmerman?

Every community has a history. Some more tortured than others, but all communities do.
I've heard too many commentators in their relentless (if not fruitless) pursuit for relevance, set up the rhetorical straw man that it's so hard to believe that in the 21st Century we still have to deal with issues of race...as if but for the few caricatured reprobates out there we'd have the whole racial thing licked.

It's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The web of issues intertwined in all that occurred in Sanford that day are not the exclusive domain of that Florida town.  The truth that must be acknowledged is this - they reside first in the human heart. As such, it's always in the room.

Always.

I don't care how enlightened you think you are...how above it all you position yourself to be, if there is someone else in your presence...anyone else, it's in the room.

Awareness of difference is as fundamental as realizing that "you" are not "me." That which is different impacts each of us, well, differently. As does different differences elicit different responses.

He's white. She's poor. They're gay. These folks don't speak my language. He's a right winger. She's a bleeding heart liberal. They live on the other side of the tracks. While some differences prompt interest, curiosity and open willingness to know and learn something of humanity that we've not yet seen; other differences bring the response that those who are different must be perceived as a threat.

Any set of differences that gives rise to the thought "and you know how those people are," is a reliable indicator that those differences threaten.

Each of us must wrestle with the implications of "different than." Some of us celebrate difference in what we believe to be a sign of God's Realm. But even the most open minded and open hearted of us must confront the reality that not all our responses to difference are particularly holy.

George Zimmerman's reaction was based on a multitude of factors. It's hard to imagine that race was not chief among them. We all get to see the consequence of his reaction...a young man is dead, a family grieves, and Treyvon becomes another symbol of a long struggle.

The national media doesn't broadcast my responses to difference. But God knows my heart..which is too bad because there's much I try to hide. We who follow the way of Jesus know only too well that our responses to differences are to be molded in the way he did. How we accept the stranger is a sign of our faithfulness.

I can say "I love God" and that "God loves me" all day long.  But those words fall empty in the absence of real outward expression.  And I can only express my love for God outwardly by being in relationship with "you," whoever you are and with whatever particularities of difference from me in which you were created.  My job is not to make "you," "me."  It's to celebrate the "you" you are in relationship with "me" thereby creating "we."

Jesus embraced difference because he never ignored this truth....

It's always in the room.


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