Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The trailer for the new TV series, Heroes, asks the question, "What is it that unites strangers?" As the video unfolds, we get a glimpse into the fantasy world of nine ordinary people who suddenly realize they can do extraordinary things as hidden superpowers emerge. With the pulsing music and startling images we are drawn into a world that insists "We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save the (hu)mankind."

While the series is a commercialized, fictional tale, I wonder if this trailer could not be used as the soundtrack to our Christian calling and faith tradition (okay, devoid the violence). This week we will celebrate All Saints Day in the Church, remembering those who have gone before us, those who have laid the foundation for our faith, those who have made a path for us. Despite our tendency to over romanticize the saints of the church, we must confess that all were ordinary people.

Remember Esther, an ordinary girl who finds herself embroiled in a struggle to save the peoples of Israel. Remember Ruth, an insignificant Moabite woman trapped in a foreign land, who through her extraordianry love for Naomi initiates the very line of David, the root of Jesse. Remember David, a shepherd boy raised up to lead the people. Remember Samuel, a young boy called by God to listen and follow. Remember Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah, ordinary men who struggled with their call to prophecy. Remember Mary and Martha, ordinary sisters who were called to listen and learn at Jesus' feet and to stand as witnesses to the Gospel. Remember Peter and James and John, fishers who were called out of their quotidian work for an extraordinary journey with Jesus. The list goes on and on, extending beyond the limits of Scripture, traveling through the course of time as faithful women and men have heard God's call and responded.

These are the saints of the Church. Ordinary people who are called to do extraordinary things.

We, too, are the saints of tomorrow; ordinary people called to do extraordinary things day by day. We are called not to be great in a flash, but rather to cultivate and practice our simple acts of faith. It is in the daily living out of our faith that we build a foundation for bringing forth God's Commonwealth little by little. Together these simple acts of faith become the momentum of a movement of love, compassion, justice and mercy that will change the world.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save the (hu)mankind."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Prayers for the Church

Today I received word that yet another person was denied membership in the United Methodist Church because of their sexual orientation.

This time it was a committed, lesbian couple who had been attending New Horizon UMC in Champaign , IL for over a year. At the end of the membership class they were asked to meet with the minister, who directly inquired whether they were lesbian. When they affirmed their orientation, he told them that the UMC does not allow gay/lesbian people to join the church.

Let us pray for this family, for the person serving as pastor, and for our Church.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Denomination to Study 1032

On the one year anniversary of Judicial Council Ruling 1032 ,which upheld the right of a pastor to deny membership to an openly gay man, the United Methodist Church has formed a commission to study the impact of this ruling on the Church.

The commission includes Rev. Martin McLee, from the Reconciling Congregation, Union United Methodist Church in the South End.

Read more about it, here.

Sharing Communion

As we struggle to find life-giving and appropriate ways to understand and practice communion, we can learn much by watching the children among us.

This week as I offered the bread and cup to our 1 1/2 year old member, I was reminded of the simple joy of sharing at table. Taking the bread and dipping it into the cup, she nibbled a piece for herself and then, without hesitation repeated her actions, this time sharing her offering with "Blankie," her beloved friend.

Growing up in a community that values inclusivity and openness at the table, she intimately understood that these gifts of bread and cup are meant to be shared. It is at the table where our community is knit together in the simple act of sharing a meal.

Although simplifying it to this extent does not magically solve any of the theological problematics of communion, it points us in a new direction, away from theologies of death and redemptive violence, toward new interpretations of life and love and sharing. While we may struggle to find adequate theological language to describe what happens at the table, the very practice of breaking bread together communicates a simple message of inclusivity, nurture, celebration and sharing; a message so simple in its actions, that a young child already deeply understands this sacred ritual.

No one is excluded, not even Blankie!

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Reminder Why Marriage Matters

This week our nation had another reminder why marriage matters in this country. Following the death of Massachussets Congressman, Gerry Studds, it was revealed that his legal husband and life partner was not eligible for spousal benefits under the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Read more about the story, here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Broken Bodies

"This is my body which shall be broken for you..."

These are the words I have been using during communion for the last few weeks. While the traditional language in the Book of Worship uses present tense ("This is my body, broken for you"), I have been using future tense as a way of representing the time-limited nature of this event. These are, after all, the words Jesus spoke to his friends about what was going to happen the next day. I use the future tense as a way to place this event in its sequential context and to represent the actual breaking of Jesus' body for his religious, political and social transgresions against the dominant structures of power.

In recent months this breaking of Jesus' body has taken on a particular significance for me. In a world where people face daily violence and death, in a country where our governemt uses tactics of torture and terror to "fight terrorism,"and in a denomination (and wider Church) where people's bodies and spirits are broken daily because of unjust doctrine and polity, Jesus' own experience of being broken is important to me. I need a God who knows my pain.

The fact that Jesus, the embodiment of the Divine on earth, knows our pain and struggle helps us to see God, not as a paternalistic and detached diety who only offers pity for our suffering, but rather as a truly empathic presence who through the very body of the Divine takes on human suffering. That God struggles and suffers with us is radical. In this way, we have a God who is in intimate solidarity with us, who knows our pain, and who offers not pity, but compassion.

Yet, when we focus soley on the broken body of Jesus, neglecting to move beyond the cross to the resurrection, we risk becoming paralyzed in our own struggles, re-traumatizing those who have suffered and glorifying suffering in and of itself.

June Goudy writes in her book, The Feast of Our Lives: Re-Imaging Communion, "the use of the eucharistic images of body and blood, which suggest the trauma of Jesus' violent death on the cross as well as the identification of his death as a new means of life, strikes many believers as a denial of their pain and a re-traumatizing of their personal lives. If memories of one's own blood being spilled or one's body being bruised are stored in one's body, then it is difficult to have God's presence associated with victimization."

Let's be clear, the power of the crucifixion lies not in the torture and murder of a person, but rather in the miraculous way in which life defeats even the most cruel death. It is Jesus' life and his witness to the power of life over death that brings meaning to this horrific event. Jesus did not die to satisfy an angry God, or as a ransom to the devil, or to somehow mystically atone for human sin. Jesus' body was broken because he dared to preach a gospel that transgressed normative religious, social, and political practices and beliefs.

While we cannot ignore the suffering of Jesus' death, we can find alternative meanings in it and in the ritual of communion.

What would it look like to re-image the eucharist? What would it look like to leave behind the funereal focus of liturgical death and suffering, long associated with the ritual of the eucharist, and instead create a festive, life-giving, celebratory ritual of true communion, that is, in the words of Goudy, "a moment of awesome connection and 'radical amazement' that gifts us with the larger truth of our existence?"

What would a re-imagined, re-enlivened, re-newed communion look like for us at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Job's Legacy

It seems no coincidence the week the lectionary begins the Job cycle our nation witnesses three horrific shootings. Within a week six children and three adults are dead from Wisconsin to Colorado to Pennsylvania. It is in the midst of a nation trying to make sense of the senseless, that we begin reading this story.

The Book of Job is a classic attempt to find meaning in suffering. It seems that since the beginning of time humanity has struggled to make sense of the pain and chaos of the world in which we live. Why do bad things happen to good people?

At first glance we may be tempted to interpret Job as yet another version of the omnipotence of an almighty God who brings forth both good and evil. After all, it is God, who in a bet with the devil inflicts upon Job every type of misery possible, taking his health, wealth and family as a test of his faithfulness.

Yet, when we delve deeper into the book, we , like Job, begin to question this image of a detached, capricious, all-powerful God who blesses and curses as if all a whim. In the course of his suffering, Job argues fiercely with God, questioning how God can be both all good and all powerful and allow such horrific things to happen in the world. Through his own radical suffering Job begins to see that this image of God does not make sense. Our experience of life's pain, sorrow and tragedy tell us that God cannot be all powerful and all good at the same time...for then why would God allow humanity to delve into the depths of such suffering?

The theologian Burton Z. Cooper interprets the book of Job as a journey from the traditional image of an all-powerful God to a new image of a vulnerable God. In his article "Why God?" he writes this:

"Job is healed when a new image of God appears to him. Now be can let go of the monarchial image of God. He is healed because, in letting go of the image of all-controlling power, he is letting go of the experience of God as the enemy, the one who "crushes" him. The "thee" that he sees in "now my eye sees thee" is God the friend, the vulnerable one, who is there with him in his suffering and whose caring presence heals him. He does not repent of his concern for God's justice; biblical faith can never have enough of that concern. Job repents of his loathing for life, his sense of despair, his lack of faith in the goodness of the creation. Thus, he is ready to return to life."

Far from being an answer to the question of why we suffer, the Book of Job helps us to understand the utter meaninglessness in our suffering. It is as absurd as a bet between God and the devil. What Job teaches us is that despite our inability to make sense of life's tragedy, we can be assured of the presence of God in the midst of it all, vulnerable and suffering with us.

The three shootings this week cannot be made sense of. No matter how much psychoanalysis we might do on the perpetrators, no matter how many times we question the security of our schools, no matter how often we might seek to understand the root of violence, we will never make sense out of the senseless. Suffering is a part of the chaotic world in which we live.

The only thing we know for certain is that in the midst of it all, God is with us, embracing us and covering us in Divine tears.


People go to God when they are sore bestead,
Pray to God for succour, for peace, for bread,
For mercy for the sick, sinning or dead:
All people do so, Christian and unbelieving.

People go to God when God is sore bestead,
Find God poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,
Whelmed under the weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead:
Christians stand by God in God's hour of grieving.

God goes to all people when sore bestead.
Feeds body and spirit with God's bread,
For Christians, heathens alike, God hangeth dead:
And both alike forgiving.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Christians and Unbelievers" in Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. E. Bethge, tr. R. H. Fuller (New York: Macmillian, 1953), pp. 224-25. Trans. adapted by author.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Christian "Gay Agenda"

IRD staffer, John Lomperis, has issued a warning to conservative UMs, calling on them to take the "State of the Church" survey sponsored by the General Church to keep the "radical," "pro-homosexuality" fringe from skewing the results.

So, click here and take the "State of the Church" survey. Let your voice be heard!

Can you trust a Methodist in power?

Garrison Keeler's recent editorial asks the question, "Can you trust a Methodist in power?"

I suppose it depends on which one's in question...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Caution Against Bigotry

This week's lectionary text (Mk 9:38-50) comes at a time in our nation when the question of who is for us and who is against us seems to be the topic of the day.

The disciples are worried that there are other prophets and preachers ministering in Jesus' name who do not belong to the disciples' inner circle. It seems some have heard Jesus' message of love and liberation and have run with it outside of the disciples' proscribed community of faith.

But Jesus is not so concerned. He reminds the disciples that the important thing at hand is not who these people follow, but rather what they do. Are they healing people? Are they preaching the good news? Are they working for justice, peace, love and wholeness? Are they bringing forth the Reign of God? If so, who cares if they are different.

Jesus' answer reminds the disciples that just because folks are different from us, doesn't mean they are not doing the work of God.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, understood this passage as a "caution against bigotry." In his sermon of this same title, Wesley is clear that the differences that divide us are meaningless in the face of the work we do in seeking God's commonwealth of peace and justice. Highlighting the salient differences of his day, he wrote:

"What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even them, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid them either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still."

It is not the differences that divide us, but the common cause that unites us.

"In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in GodÂ’s work, and praise GodÂ’s name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give themselves wholly up thereto. Speak well of all wheresoever you are; defend their character and their mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, their sphere of action; show them all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in their behalf,"

It seems an easy answer, but a lesson we as a nation have yet to learn. In the midst of the "war on terror" and "crackdown on immigration," we continue to draw the lines tighter and tighter of who is in and who is out. This week Congress even voted to make those lines concrete in a 700 mile fence between the US and Mexico.

We are left to ponder Jesus' message of unity in the midst of this division and exclusion.