Monday, May 29, 2017

It's Complicated - Thoughts on Memorial Day, Peace and Justice

I sat in church Sunday and listened to a very difficult story about a young woman, a nurse, embedded with a Ranger unit that was killed when she stepped on an IED while moving forward to help another soldier wounded by another IED. The story was being told, as it should be, so that we who sit in the comfort of our homes and churches and schools and workplaces remember that lives are sacrificed for our freedom, and for the freedom of others around the world.  This young woman was part of a forward operating group because she was a woman with whom the Islamic women in the area would converse.  She had "opted in" because she knew it was important work.

My goodness. It is such important work.

Stephanie reached over and touched my hand.  Does this make you nervous?

Yes.  Yes it does.  And she left her hand on mine.

I don't believe in war.

How is that for idealism?

I follow Jesus the best ways I know how - with lots of imperfection - and I am pretty sure Jesus went to a cross because he wasn't much into the way of declaring right and wrong, good and bad, in and out.  I'm pretty sure he went to a cross because he believed everyone deserved love and mercy and grace and compassion.  And the world doesn't get that.  It doesn't really want that.  Because...well, where's the "win" in all being equal?

And wars happen. There are forces of evil in the world - like Hitler was, like some radicalized people (please note I would say of ALL religious and ideological stripes).  And we live in a world where the only way to stop evil is to fight it.  I get that.

And there also mistakes in judgement about where military troops are involved.  Because ... well because... humans.  Humans make mistakes.  Humans charged with big decisions get it wrong sometimes. For reasons beyond their control.  And we end up in places doing things we probably shouldn't do.

And now, I have a son who has committed to serve his country in the way he understands his grandfathers served - with loyalty to democracy, to a country built on the idea of freedom, to shared responsibility for making the world a safer, better place where more people have freedoms.

(But oh my, our world is so broken right now.)

As his proud mama, I will cheer him on. I will wear my Go Army shirt, put a decal on my car, watch Army play Navy in football each year.  I will pray for our troops.  I will #runinblue #forthefallen...because God forbid ...just God forbid.  Enough.

It's complicated.

To my friends who are devout pacifists, I see you.  I respect you.  I love you.  Some days I could be you.  But not when it costs me the opportunity to mourn with those who mourn their fallen. Not if it costs me the opportunity to advocate for justice and good policy making to make our war time decisions the very best they can be (because we're already at war...).

It is so very complicated.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Exploring lonely - the empty nest, leadership, mid- and clergy-life

I was sitting with my pastoral counselor one day when she asked.... "Are you lonely?"

I was stunned.  Of course not.  I'm an extrovert.  I am surrounded all day by people.  I interact endlessly.  I draw my energy from those around me. My natural empathic connection means even if I don't know much about the person next to me, I know something about them. Lonely! Ha! As if...


I'm not lonely.

(insert chirping crickets...)

I sat with my reaction to that question in the coming weeks.

What is lonely?

What do I do when I am "alone?"

How am I filling my time when someone doesn't NEED something of me?

Who are my friends?

Not colleagues.
Not the kids who are all testing their wingspan in the real world.
Not my spouse.
Not my mom or my sibs.

Who are my friends?

And it began to sink in.  At 47, I've been super-busy being in relationship with people who need something from me. Who help me feel like I have a place and role and purpose in the world.  Food, clothing, administrative skills, counseling, teaching, leadership, fundraising, management.

But that hasn't left much room for cultivating girlfriends. People with whom I can just kick back and be.  People who will listen to my hard day and just say, "Wow.  That sucks.  You have so much going on.  Red or white?"


Thinking about it, I've spent 23 years in relationship with three beautiful beings, shaping them, helping them stay safe, learn life skills, grow strong.  And they need less and less nurture. And their lives take on greater and greater risk.  And my job is to stand by, cheer them on, process when they want to process, respond to the occasional crisis.  Occasionally provide the funds for life - tangible and emotional.

And I think I've got the hang of marriage - I have a great friend and life partner.  And we can't be the only one bearing the others burden. We can't listen objectively when we might get hurt, be in the wrong, want to "fix" the other's challenges.

And it turns out this clergy work requires a LOT of duty to care.  But it isn't a source of care for me.

And it turns out that emerging as a leader professionally isn't always popular or fun or collegial.

I appreciate my pastoral counselor.  I pay her to listen.  That's ok.


It's lonely.

Yes.  Yes.  I am lonely.

I find myself filling hours pouring over facebook, waiting for responses, waiting for engagement. Checking email.  Work and personal. Because someone might need me.

I see that now.

Lonely, I think, has something to do with learning to be alone.  I suspect it has to do with learning to be comfortable with yourself.  After years and years and years of being present for others.

And when I think about it that way, it seems like an opportunity.  Like -- if I learn to like myself as my own company when I am alone...maybe that isn't lonely.

Here's the thing.  I am aware. Sometimes I am sad.  I am exploring and learning, naming and claiming.  Watching what shows up. Trying not to judge what shows up. Not to judge my feelings.  Because it's ok to be sad. Or lonely.  Or sometimes scared of what comes next.

And I am aware that when I push lonely out of the way, sometimes God shows up differently too.

Clergy boundaries.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

When the bubble bursts...pondering global community

"This" conversation cannot be accomplished in soundbytes. Or Facebook posts.  The world is too complicated - the world of church, and the United Methodists, and human sexuality.  You can't talk about these things without talking about empire, and colonialism, and reformation, and scriptural authority, and the rule of law, and evolution, and science, and globalization, and fear, and politics, and...

I think you get the picture.

Last Friday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church issued a series of decisions that reinforce language in the Book of Discipline (the law book of the church) which declares homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching and establishes that clergy are not to be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."  The ruling actually expands the definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual," and leans heavily on the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman. Essentially it says that if two people of the same gender are married, they are admittedly self-avowed practicing homosexuals.  (And, I see the logic in that conclusion.)

Which is NOT where the United States is legislatively.


Although it can hardly be argued that we have achieved wide "consensus" as a society on what marriage is, how it is codified, and how civil marriage and "church" marriage relate.  I think that in the current presidential administration, we will see this issue resurface again and again.

Did I mention that it was complicated?

And really, that's before we address ethics.  Or love.  Or community. Or God's authority and call.

Let's be clear that the responsibility of a judicial council is to rule on matters of church law.  There are ways for church laws to be changed, through the General Conference, the global legislative body of the church that meets every four years.

As a woman who met Jesus at a well at midday, received living water and is charged to go tell others where to find that water, let me go on record saying that I believe that love wins. So does grace. Always.  I believe that God's grace is bigger than all our petty expectations about our own salvation or who else is in or out.  I believe people should have the right to find a soul mate who completes them, even if that soulmate is of the same gender. And I believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are called by God into various roles including calls to be Elders and Deacons within the United Methodist Church.  Fundamentally, I believe we are all created in the image of a creative God who does not make mistakes.  Nor does that same God call people into places to be stopped by other human beings.

And rationally, I also understand why the judicial council ruled the way the did.  And I can see the complicated situation we face as a denomination moving forward.

The United Methodist Church is a global denomination.  Its greatest growth is occurring in the southern hemisphere.  Most of my dialogue partners on this matter are here in the US.

The reality is that there are parts of the world that simply don't share the emerging US acceptance of gender identity and sexual orientation.

I feel like my ability to see the diversity of God's creation and to accept has an element of privilege. Confession: I don't know what to do with that.  I don't know how to be part of a movement that encourages a wider view of grace globally. (And as I type that, I'm pretty sure that a counter voice in another part of the world says that they don't know how to be part of a movement that encourages a wider view of piety and holiness...) Words and their definition and the context in which we use them matter so much.

We gather as a denomination once every four years.  In my experience, the average member in the pews of a UM church is barely cognizant of how the global connection works.  I've heard so much sputtering about leaving the church, leaving religion.  Here's the thing...progressives, liberals, whatever you want to call them, are getting a reputation for throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away.  If we want to have a real conversation about the God we share, we have to stay in the conversation and explore scripture.  And we have to be willing to hear one another's lived experience.

Several someones have mentioned to me recently the way that homosexual activity happens and is buried as taboo in several African cultures.  I haven't heard that firsthand, but if my brothers and sisters in Africa fear for their very lives, of course they are not willing to advocate for sexual orientation that is not understood as "normative" in their culture.

That's not the same as my lived experience.

And as a global church do we find common ground?

Disagreements standing in the way of unity are not new.  Paul's epistles are mostly advice about how to get along, how to distill what matters most, how to be one in Christ.

John Wesley is quoted saying, "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."  The denomination's own web pages about doctrinal history continue on:  
But, even as they were fully committed to the principles of religious toleration and theological diversity, they were equally confident that there is a "marrow" of Christian truth that can be identified and that must be conserved. This living core, as they believed, stands revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal and corporate experience, and confirmed by reason. They were very much aware, of course, that God's eternal Word never has been, nor can be, exhaustively expressed in any single form of words.

How is it that we engage to understand personal and corporate experience across so many cultural differences?  Especially with a mounting backdrop of scientific evidence about the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identity? And in the case of Bishop Oliveto, there is a moving account of how her election was a movement of the Spirit among delegates in the Western Jurisdiction. Who judges the Spirit's movement?  (I assure you, there are many on all sides judging the Spirit's movement on this one...)

Both a gift and curse of my call is that I am located in the context of theological a place that is United Methodist but also has a wide range of denominations represented.  For nearly all of my 10 years there, I have described one major strength of the seminary by describing the surface tension of a bubble.  The magic of the Wesley community is that often we are widely-divergent thinkers and believers staying in conversation, stretched out like the surface of a soap bubble. Our faculty and students value varying insights and the result is the bubble seldom "pops."

But it is a lot harder to maintain that surface tension throughout the whole of a single denomination. How is it that we communicate, share, witness so that we are one holy community.  I suspect it is nearly impossible to agree on most things across our beautiful, God - created diversity.

But I hope we can agree to do no harm, to do all the good we can, and to stay in love with God.

I hope we can agree to love one another.

I hope we can agree that God calls people. That grace is abundant.  That mystery still exists, miracles happen and only God sees it all.

I don't have an answer.  I understand the complication.  I love the beautiful diversity of people.  And I love the church that is enlivened by and attuned to the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Settling In to Love

It's been a strange season.

I watched the institutional church that is so deep in my veins nearly implode this week -- and the public sources of contention are issues broadly termed "human sexuality."

You know:
Is gender strictly binary?
Can people of the same sex marry?
Can gay people be ordained?

You know...things Jesus discussed all the time.

(Oh, wait, I'm really, really trying not to respond to the world with snark.)

Deep in my soul, I sense this is about other things.

Things like:
Generational transfer
Authority and grace (for a thought provoking read that explores this tension in the current political contest, read here.)
How we read and live scripture

All of this reminds me of's a feeling in my gut.  And I trust my gut.

I can lay my career trajectory alongside the faster and faster and faster evolution and normalization of technology.  I know how frightening the movement of technology has been for many.  I rode that wave and can see how it shaped the work that I do, the way I interact with the world, and really who I am. And technology is and will be.  And it's not always perfect.  But it has also made amazing things possible.

I sense that we are in another series of shifts and changes that make some people very, very uncomfortable.  But does that make those shifts wrong? Does it make those shifts a sin?  Does it make those shifts something we need to use God to defend against?  Are we going to stop it? Could we?

I am one pilgrim on this journey.  And I journey alongside a lot of different people.  One thing I've learned in the past 12 years is that love is a hard thing.  And it makes the difference.  And deep down, all of us, just desperately want to know we are loved and lovable.  And that is who God is to me...God is love.  God loves God's own creation and fights for it every day.  And Jesus summed it up when he advised commanded us to love God and one another.

1 Corinthians 13: 4 -7 describes love.  Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Just before that, at verse 2, Paul writes"If I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."

Someone will call out the challenge of wrongdoing and truth in response.  Ok.  That takes me back to interpretation and the tension of authority and grace.  I am going to err on the side of love.  Because that is how my gut responds.

And I'm praying for the shifts and changes that we will all endure.  This is not our world.  In it, as caretakers, we are called to love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

First Sunday after Christmas, Year C - Helpers...

These are the seasons where trying to stay "ahead" of the lectionary is hard.  Writing about Christmas in the final hours of Advent, especially when I hold the Christmas Eve candlelight service as the line of demarcation, crimps my sense of right and wrong.  Ha!

I am captured in these readings by the role of helpers.  Hannah has dedicated her son to God's service, and the 1 Samuel text gives us a glimpse of her dedication to his formation.  Each year she makes him a new priestly robe, so that each year as he grows, he grows into his priestly role.  Surely there was a lot more at work in Samuel's life -- God was with him.  But his mother, his caregiver, his daily nurturer, his snot and bottom wiper if you will, was also dedicated to his formation as a child and servant of God. The Christian educator in me surfaces this week as I check my reactions to parents standing mid-aisle during Christmas eve, blocking the back half of the congregation's view of the altar or table, to capture on video the priceless moment that there little one croons "Away in a Manger."  That is precious -- most precious if you are presenting that child in the sanctuary as a child of God dedicated to God's service.  Note in the text that Hannah and Elkanah were in the Temple to make sacrifices and to worship.  We know Hannah had a deep gratitude for this sweet boy who was a gift to her from God. (OK.  Enough...rant over.) Are we really attending to praise and thanksgiving and dedication in this season? It is oh so hard in the search to make a warm memory or feel something other than overwhelmed.

The psalmist calls us to praise and thanksgiving.  The line "he has raised up a horn for his people," calls to mind working with Rev. Lou Piel, who blew the shofar to announce the birth of a King at each Christmas eve service. After the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas dinner consumed, my prayer is to find space in my own life to give thanks for the gifts that Jesus, our Emmanuel, is in my own walk with God.  In the wake of a busy season of worship upon worship, maybe it feels good to gather in the sanctuary and sing joyfully - Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and my favorite - Go Tell It on the Mountain.

The passage from the letter to the Colossians seems once again a timely reminder - to both thanksgiving AND the extra dose of love and care everyone needs.  The image of clothing ourselves (which harkens nicely back to Hannah's lovingly crafted robes for Samuel) with compassion, kindness, humility and love (I probably should have visited that before the rant about 1 Samuel and worship, right? Yes.  I should have.) is somehow deeply helpful after the rush and crush of the season. How can we imagine ourselves equipped and ready to be a source of love and mercy in the chaos of emotions that is the space between December 1 and January 6?

And finally, from Luke, there is the retelling of Jesus departing from his family's caravan, his parents discovering him missing, and finding him after three days in the which point he turns to them and says, what are you worrying about -- I am in my Father's house. (I am a parent of adolescents and young adults.  I get to say, "Isn't that just like an adolescent boy.") There is so much in this passage.  For me this week, the deep and abiding question is about where I end and my children and their identity and life as God's creation with free will and their own call and gifts begins.  Highly contextual reflection in my life right now.

Our life as Christians can be shaped a great deal in the next 72 hours if we are living in the moment, waiting, watching, wondering and then receiving and giving thanks.  And on the other side of God entering into life with us, we are also called into walking along side others, shaping them by our example, our deed, our own exploration.

Complicated week.  Complicated season.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent 4, Year C - Reading from the 5%

This week we swim deeply in God's promised justice and the hope of those who feel the pinch of scarcity, need, oppression.  And we set out our holy family, our wise men, our shepherds - decorated baubles mostly made in foreign lands.  Perhaps we have a set carved of olive wood from the Holy Land.

It is hard to read this story from the position of "the 5%." Or "the 10%." Or "the 1%."  Likely, if you are reading this post, you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, a couple of bibles on your shelves, gas in your car and milk in your refrigerator.

In the midst of our privilege, it can be hard to read the fullness this week's texts.

The prophet Micah speaks out of a gut-wrenching and tumultuous time for the Jewish people.  There were wars and raids and uprisings.  People were displaced, national identities uprooted. In these scary and hard circumstances, the people longed for a perfect King to lead them into a time of peace and prosperity. Can we imaginee how they must have felt abandoned by the Lord God.  With the boot of your oppressor at your neck, you long for a savior.

The psalmist begs the question "How long, o Lord?"  Can this age of suffering continue indefinitely? When will the God who kept covenant return to liberate God's people? "You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure."  The implication is that this is God's torment, God's justice...the people are paying a price.

Really?  Is suffering God's will?  The Israelites' trajectory was from slavery to independence to seasons of thriving intertwined with seasons of hardship, culminating in the destruction of their way of life with God. Along the way, their humanity caused them to stray, to wander, to seize power rather than to seek justice.

Hey now. That sounds a little more familiar now.

We are living in a world with a lot of pain and suffering.  And maybe, just maybe, we actually experience it in our own lives.  And I know that I have lots of resources at my disposal to numb whatever is causing me distress.  I can turn off the TV and go to the mall.  Or I can search the Internet to find someone who will speak good news into my life. I can have a glass of wine (or two). I have a lot of options for distraction from any hardship I face, and in reality, any hardship I face is likely minor.

I think this week's text really requires us to look at pain and suffering and fear and to watch for signs of hope.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author is linking Christ's sacrifice as the initiation of a new covenant. It doesn't matter that the Israelites (and all of us) wander...we are all redeemed and sanctified in Christ.

The gospel text from Luke is Mary's song, commonly called the Magnificat, proclaiming her understanding of the hope and liberation that the baby she carries will bring. "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Which am I?

I am both, and I have the opportunity to choose a path of love and hope and peace and justice. Everyday I make the choice anew. And everyday, God walks with me, chooses me, weeps about my mistakes and rejoices in my turning. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 3, Year C --- Still Waiting

THIS is why I like Advent so much.  It is a big tease.  We're still swimming in prophecy.  No Mary, no Joseph.  Waiting is hard. It reminds me a little bit of the advent calendars that I enjoyed as a child -- the ones with little perforated windows that you open to reveal a picture.  And for about the first 20 days of the month, the pictures were sort of generic, hard to figure out where they were pointing - cookies, candies, toys, maybe a snow man.  But as you got closer, the symbolism grew.  A star, a shepherd, an angel.

We're not yet to those really easily understood "windows" yet here in Advent 3.  

Drawing deep from the prophets, both the reading from Zephaniah and the reading from Isaiah represent the hope of Jews in exile.  Zephaniah references retraction of judgement, a promise of changed circumstances in which the oppressed will victorious, exalted, beloved, safe.  Speaking into recent current events, these promises are refreshing.  

I am really drawn to Isaiah 12:3, which replaces a psalm this week - "with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." This passage seems like a pep talk of sorts -- speaking of the goodness that is to come. Praise and thanksgiving are encouraged...for promises yet to be fulfilled, only glimpsed in hope.  Were the people able to see signs of things getting better? Or was it a sense of "surely this much change eventually. Our God has liberated us before.  Surely God will again liberate us."

Similarly, Paul's letter to the church at Philippi seems to be encouraging hope for things yet unseen.  Praise and thanksgiving are precursors to fulfillment. The Lord is near.  But the Lord is not necessarily right here.

But in the gospel reading from Luke, John the Baptist is a little less encouraging.  Repent you brood of vipers...  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  This sounds like high stakes.  His encouragement is to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Fruitful lives will be spared.  And baptized with the Holy Spirit.  This mention of the Holy Spirit by St. John the Forerunner has also captured my attention this year.  So often we attribute the promise of the Spirit's arrival to Jesus' promises as his end draws near.  But here we have John unveiling the possibility right before the launch of Jesus' ministry in Galilee.  

What does it mean for our faith to be high stakes?  Not born of tradition or of ancient promises, but of the lived belief that the Kingdom of God requires our fruitfulness?  Do we live like our lives matter to the greater good?  I've been swimming in a lot of reading about community lately. And a remembrance, in this season of global fear and unrest, that we are ALL made in the image of God and we cannot in fact SEE God without seeing the God in the "other."  That is high stakes.  Our choices matter.  Our lives matter.  Our love for others matters.

God, in the midst of shorter nights and longer darkness, help me to see glimpses of you even when I have to look in dark corners that I would often pass by without a second thought.  Help me remember, before launching into my opinion or my self-righteousness that everyone I encounter is also made in your image - another piece that belongs with mine in seeing the fullness of Your glory.