Monday, June 18, 2007

Following Jesus

A few weeks ago someone asked via blog comment why I decided to follow Jesus and live a Christian life. He wrote:

"I have a weird request. I'm on a quest at the moment to discern if I want to define myself as a Christian. I want to ask people I respect what it means for them to follow Jesus. In some ways I know there's not simple answers, but in some ways I want simple answers or a short definition of what it means to follow Jesus, for you. I'd love to see it on your blog. It would really help me out with where I am spiritually at the moment."

While it is true there are no simple answers to this question, here's a brief explanation of my own faith life.

I grew up a nominal Christian. Although before marrying my parents had both regularly attended church, they found themselves unwelcome in their faith homes when neither their Catholic nor Protestant communities could welcome them as an "inter-faith" couple. My early religious education consisted of yearly celebrations of Christmas and Easter, occasional visits to a neighbor's Baptist congregation, and a well-worn children's bible.

As a child I found myself drawn to this person called Jesus. I read and re-read the gospel stories. One in particular caught my attention above the rest. It was the story of Jesus and Jarius' daughter, the young girl Jesus brings back to life. As a child I was not so much amazed by the story of resurrection, for certainly there were plenty of other childhood fairy tales with miraculous endings, rather I was awed at the way in which this Jesus, this person who was so important, so esteemed, took the time to heal a little girl like me. From a child's perspective, it was his compassion for the marginal and outcast of the adult world that captivated my attention. Somehow I knew, though I'm sure no one ever directly told me, that this person loved and cared for all persons, no matter who they were or what they did and it was toward this type of unconditional, compassionate love that I was drawn.

As an adolescent, the stories I heard of Jesus grew faint as I watched what seemed to be hypocrisy in communities of faith. I heard my parents re-tell the stories of their own rejection from the Church because of ecumenical fissures and I watched TV evangelists cheat poor folk out of their monthly checks only to adorn themselves with the finest clothing and jewelry. If as a child, I liked this Jesus, as a teen I certainly did not like his followers.

It was not until I was in high school that I began to re-connect with the Jesus stories of my childhood. I had begun to attend a United Methodist Youth Fellowship (not for the Jesus-y parts, of course, but for the cool trips they took!). There I began to hear once again these stories of a person filled with compassion and love, acceptance and welcome. Over and over again I heard tales of this Jesus and his ministry.

While as a young child, I focused on his loving presence, as a teen I began to hear his message. It was not only one of love, but of justice as well. Suddenly, I began to see little by little Jesus' vision for the of peace, forgiveness, non-violence, justice, inclusion, welcome and hope. This was a vision to live by! This was indeed the hope of the world! This was how I wanted to live my life!

As a senior in high school, during our last youth group lock-in, I dedicated my life to the Jesus way. I knew then and there that I wanted to live a life marked by Jesus' message of love, peace and justice.

While as I grew older and deepened my faith my understanding of this Jesus way developed and matured, my basic commitment to following Jesus and being a Christian remained the same: LOVE and JUSTICE.

It is the love I intuitively felt reading the story of Jairus' daughter and the justice I experienced in Jesus' message that continue to call me to a Christian life. Jesus incarnates for me God's great love and justice and points me toward a way of life that seeks to embody that message. It is in and through Jesus that I most fully experience the Divine. For me, Jesus' proclamation of the kin-dom is the best way I know to participate in God's great vision of peace and justice for the world. It is this vision to which I dedicate my life and into which I strive to live more fully.

For me, being a Christian simply means seeking to live my life patterned after the message that Jesus preached: justice, inclusion, love, peace, non-violence, forgiveness, mercy, compassion. It has little to do with complicated theological formulas, doctrines or creeds. Rather it is rooted in my experience and attraction to this Jesus and the way of life he embodied.

Simple it may seem, but living that life is certainly not easy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Protecting Marriage

Yesterday marked a historic day not only for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but also for our nation, as legislators decidedly voted to protect marriage. The Massachusetts Constitutional Convention secured the right to marry for all persons by voting down an anti-gay measure that would have put marriage rights up for a popular vote.

Support for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has grown over the past three years as the state witnessed thousands of same-sex couples vow to love and cherish one another in civil and religious wedding ceremonies. Far from the predictions of imminent doom and the destruction of the family, we in Massachusetts have been privileged to watch as love grew, the institution of the family became stronger and same-sex couples and their children finally received the same protections heterosexual couples have always enjoyed.

The scene yesterday at the State House was a living testimony to the way in which the expansion of the right to marry has created a more welcoming, loving and accepting community and culture. Diverse families stood together at the steps of the State House singing and chanting, gay and straight together, young and old alike. While children from toddlers to teens gathered with their parents to lobby once again for their right to be a family, the Raging Grannies led the crowd in songs sung for their grandchildren and great grandchildren to come. It was these living witnesses to the power of love that changed the hearts and minds of legislators.

Earlier in the morning, Bishop Shaw led over 200 clergy who stood in support of same-sex marriage in a procession from the Cathedral to the State House. As we set off, Bishop Shaw reminded us, "though the vote today may be close, it's not close at all in God's eyes. In God's eyes justice has already won!

Yesterday was indeed a good day for marriage! Let the wedding bells ring!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Faith, Hope and Love: Reconciling Convocation

Do you long for inspiring worship?

Do you yearn to connect with others who share your passion for a fully inclusive Church?

Are you looking for phenomenal preaching?

Are you hoping to learn more about how to create change in the Church and world?

Are you in need of spiritual revival?

If so, come to the Ninth Reconciling Convocation this August 2nd - 5th in Nashville! You won't be disappointed!

Gather with Reconciling United Methodists for the Ninth National Reconciling Convocation in Nashville at Vanderbilt University, August 2-5, 2007. We are called to confess our faith, proclaim our hope, and celebrate our love in Jesus Christ.
Prepare to engage faith leaders: Dr. Miguel De La Torre, Dr. Gayle C. Felton, Julian Rush, Grace Imathiu, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Bishop Sharon Rader, Dr. David Myers, Rebecca Voelkel, Trey Hall, Michael Yoshii, Garlinda Burton, Randy Miller, Dr. Ignacio Castuera, David Meredith, Tiffany Steinwert, Dr. Joretta Marshall, Dr. Youtha Hardman-Cromwell, Jorge Lockward, Sue Laurie, Troy Plummer and more.

Spread the word about Faith, Hope Love! Contact your pastor, church office, campus ministry, and encourage them to mark their calendars and send representatives who can bring the Faith, Hope Love experience back home to share. Scholarships and Child care available. Five pre-convocation forums!

More information

Monday, June 11, 2007

Where will you stand?

Rev. Richard Black, on the occasion of his retirement from the New England Annual Conference this past weekend, told a story of his time in Guatemala during the unjust dictatorship of the 1980s that speaks to our contemporary struggles for peace and justice.


Rev. Black had been active throughout the 1980's in the liberation movement for the people of Guatemala who suffered under the weight of an oppressive political regime. Those who spoke out against the government were rounded up, swept off to internment camps, and disappeared. People lived in daily fear of the policia and guardia, never knowing when they or their daughter or father or cousin or neighbor would be caught up in the secret raids. Many fled their homes and hid in the hills, seeking refuge from impending arrest. Without food or shelter, these fugitives depended solely on the compassion of a group a priests and nuns who under the cover of night would sneak out to provide food, clothing and supplies to these invisible nocturnal communities.

Once during a visit to Guatemala, Rev. Black had the opportunity to meet with one of the religious workers who supported the refugees. During the day Padre Miguel worked in an elite private boys' academy for the children of the dictatorship, but at night he served those his patrons hunted.

Rev. Black was amazed by Padre Miguel's work in the midst of such a dire and seemingly hopeless situation and so he asked Padre Miguel, "It seems so hopeless. How can you continue to do the work you do?"

Padre Miguel laughed and said, "All you North Americans are alike! You want instant everything...instant food, instant cameras, instant gratification. But here in Latin America we understand that not everything comes in our time. Some things come in God's time."

"The struggle for peace and justice is a long one. We in Guatemala have been living under a colonial regime since 1523. We have been struggling for a long time now, but we are convinced that peace and justice will come. Isn't that the promise we read in Scripture? God's promise of liberation and freedom for all people?"

Then Padre Miguel sat back and paused, he stroked his beard and placed his broad hands on his rotund chest.

He said, "When I die, I hope I go to heaven. And when I get to heaven I hope I meet Jesus. But I don't think Jesus will ask me, 'Miguel, did you accomplish peace and justice in your life?' No, I think instead, Jesus will ask me, 'Miguel, in the struggle for peace and justice, on which side did you stand?'"


That is indeed the question Christ puts to all of us.

In the struggle for peace and justice, where do we stand?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church: Part 2

Following the 1972 General Conference at which the issue of homosexuality was first raised, groups of people on all sides of the debate began organizing. In 1975, Wheadon United Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois hosted the first gathering of the United Methodist Gay Caucus, a group that would later become the organization known today as Affirmation. Making connections with other groups across the nation seeking to repeal the incompatibility clause, they initiated plans for a witness event at the coming 1976 General Conference.

At the same time, Rev. Harvey Chinn published a series of articles in the United Methodist Reporter that portrayed homosexuality as a mental illness and argued for maintaining the incompatibility clause. Leading up to the 1976 General Conference, Chinn, along with other prominent leaders in the conservative movement began to talk of possible schism, citing differences over the issue of homosexuality as the leading cause.

It is interesting to note that despite the General Conference’s legislation of 1972 that declared the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching, activity within the denomination made it clear that the debate was far from over. In fact, the deep concern on the part of conservatives to enforce and strengthen the 1972 statement, suggests that the general tone of the denomination leaned toward removing the incompatibility clause.

At the 1976 General Conference in Oregon the debate began to heat up fueled by the flurry of anti-gay rhetoric in select denominational publications. Both a motion to include an explicit welcome of all people regardless of sexual orientations and a motion to initiate a Church wide study on human sexuality were defeated. While advocates for full inclusion understood these petitions as a small step toward the denomination’s “willingness to continue in dialogue,” opponents argued that a welcome of all people would lead the Church down a slippery slope toward ruin.

Albert Outler, renowned Wesleyan scholar and theologian, argued against an explicit welcome for “all persons regardless of sexual orientation into the fellowship and membership of the United Methodist Church,” accusing gay and lesbian people of promiscuity. Reminding the body that the Church “stipulate[s] against homosexual marriage,” Outler went on to state that a welcome of GLBT persons would create an “irreversible disaster in the United Methodist Church” of “antinomian” support for “moral decadence.”[1]

While efforts to strengthen the language around homosexuality from “we do not condone” to “we condemn” failed to pass, the language around same-sex marriage was changed from not “recommending” same-sex marriage, to “not recognizing” same-sex marriage. In addition, the first of several restrictions on full participation of GLBT persons was introduced, instructing the Council on Finance and Administration to “ensure that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any “gay” caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality” (¶906.13). This was one of three reports focusing on church funding. The first ordered "that no agency shall give United Methodist funds to any 'gay' organization or use any such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality." The second mandated "the use of resources and funds by boards and agencies only in support of programs consistent with the Social Principles of the Church” and the third prohibited "funds for projects favoring homosexual practices."[2]

Despite the hostility toward gay and lesbian persons exhibited through much of the rhetoric from the floor, the denomination was not concerned about restricting the rights and privileges of faithful gay and lesbian persons in the Church. At this point in the history of the Church, the ordination of gay and lesbian persons was recognized and affirmed by the denomination. Efforts to oppose gay and lesbian clergy failed at both the Judicial Council and General Conference.

In 1979 the Judicial Council ruled in decision #462 that nothing in the Discipline of the Church allowed conferences to bar persons from ordained ministry simply because they were homosexual as long as they were in good standing with the conference. The following year at the 1980 General Conference, the Church affirmed the right of annual conferences to determine the fitness of individuals for ministry and openly rejected prohibitions of gay and lesbian persons for ordination, instead stating that "the United Methodist Church has moved away from prohibitions of specific acts, for such prohibitions can be endless. We affirm our trust in the covenant community and the process by which we ordain ministers."

It was not until 1984, after the founding of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank that works in mainline denominations to promote a right wing political agenda, that the Church instituted a restriction on the ordination of gay and lesbian persons.

[1] Floyd, p. 9.

[2] Soulforce, “History of Policies on Homosexuality in the United Methodist Church,”

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Changed Hearts, Rigid Votes

In the latest issue of the United Methodist Reporter Richard Hearne's column "Why I'm (Still) a Methodist," describes a dear friendship across political lines. Hearne writes with compassion and tender care about his friend, David, whom he met during a Walk to Emmaus retreat. He speaks of David with both deep respect and authentic affection. Hearne's point seems to be that despite our ideological, political and theological differences, real loving relationships can be formed.

Although on the surface it is an emotional piece about relationships that transcend ideological diversity, in the end this article seems merely to reinforce our political and theological differences, drawing a line in the sand that not even friendship can overcome. By sentimentalizing this relationship, Hearne gives lip service to his openness, while in fact remaining closed.

Here, this passage exemplifies Hearne's own reluctance to being open to authentic change. He writes:

"Because of my friendship with David, I was open to meeting with Parents, Families and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a group that supports the ordination of gays and lesbians, before I attended General Conference. While the meeting didn't change my vote, it changed my heart.

At the meeting, I ran into a minister who I'd known for years. One of his children is gay; I never knew that. That made me realize I need to be careful about what I say. I wondered, 'How long has this pastor listened to comments or jokes that cut him to the quick?' The meeting with PFLAG, encouraged by David, made me more mindful of what I say and how I act."

I find it puzzling that after listening to the heart-wrenching tales of exclusion and discrimination told by parents of LGBT persons, some from his own colleague, all Hearne can do is wonder about the impact of "comments" and "jokes" on these families' lives and question whether or not he has said something offensive in the past.

It seems unimaginable that he could have listened to these parents and not understood the way in which his own actions in supporting the denomination's discriminatory stance on LGBT persons excludes them and their families from full participation in the life of the Church. It seems as though his relationships with those different from him have a limited impact...changing the way he feels, but not the way he votes.

How is it that one's heart can be changed, but one's vote remains staunchly the same? If hearts are truly opened, how can ideological and political positions remain so rigid?

I wonder how many of our General Conference delegates compartmentalize their work and lives so that they can separate how they feel from how they act. As a denomination I think that we must begin to ask the question to what extent our values, that is those things we cherish in our hearts, are consistent with our actions, ideas, politics and ultimately votes.