Tuesday, October 29, 2013

United Methodists - communication through press release?

It has been an interesting week in the United Methodist world of politics, to say the least.  It started several weeks ago when retired Bishop Melvin Talbert announced that he had been given, and accepted, the invitation to preside at the wedding of two United Methodist members, Joe and Bobby.  In his press release, Bishop Talbert relayed that he had talked with Joe and Bobby and knew them to be a loving couple that is very active in their local United Methodist Church.  However, their pastor had turned down the invitation to preside at their wedding because the UM Book of Discipline (our rule book) forbids UM clergy from presiding at a wedding of a same-sex couple.  (However, the Book of Discipline BOD also says clergy should be in active ministry with homosexual people).  The wedding date wasset for October 26 in Birmingham, Alabama.

A few days later, another Bishop made another pressrelease.  Bishop Debra Wallace- Padgett who is assigned to the North Alabama Annual Conference.  She had not talked to the couple, but wanted Bishop Talbert to rescind his decision and not preside at this wedding. 

Bishop Talbert told press that he would do the wedding.

The Executive Council of all the Bishops of the United Methodist Church met and wrote a press release asking Bishop Talbert not to do the wedding.

The couple wrote a press release asking that people talk to them, get to know them as faithful Christians and United Methodists rather than issue press releases about them.

Bishop Mary Anne Swenson (whose name was on the ExecutiveCouncil press release) issued a press release that she was not at the Executive Council meeting and wrote a dissenting opinion.  She encouraged the Bishops to break from the BOD’s “unjust” law.

The daughter of one of the groom’s wrote a press release about how wonderful her dad is and how happy she is that he is getting married to a wonderful man.

Have you written your press release today???

All of a sudden it seems like the church of Christian conferencing is now the church of press releasing.  When John Wesley told the American Methodists to conference together for making decisions and ordering our common life, I don’t think he had this blizzard of press releases in mind.     Whether you are for or against the issues of same-sex marriage, these last two weeks should teach us some valuable lessons for our UM Church and for our local churches.
From left, the Rev. Kevin Higgs, Bobby Prince, the Rev. J.R. Finney, Joe Openshaw 
and Bishop Melvin Talbert. (Photo by Greg Garrison/ggarrison@al.com

First, there is no such thing as relationship by press release.  Press releases inform the general public of what has been done or what is going to be done, for a stand you are taking or a decision already made – it is not a persuasive device for interacting with another person.  Learn the lesson from Sinead O’Connor and the “open letter” she wrote to Miley Cyrus.  Back and forth went the public “letters” with growing insults and threats.  No relationship was built there – nor is it possible.  An “open letter” is not true communication, it is a form of public shaming and only results in the object of the letter feeling attacked, belittled and disrespected publically.  The Executive Council of Bishops should not have publically written to Bishop Talbert asking him not to do the wedding.  Someone should have gotten on a plane or a phone and talked to him, Bishop to Bishop.  The press release should have stated that personal one-on-one communication took place and xyz was the result of the communication. 

Then the couple at the heart of the matter would not feel attacked by their Bishop, and Bishop Swenson would not have had her name on a document she did not concur with, and the couple’s daughter would not have had a need to protect and defend her dads.  It all starts and stops with real communication.

Second, this entire incident shows just how much of a failure our Christian conferencing has been around this issue of homosexuality.   I have to say that Iowa has tried very hard to have effective Christian conferencing around this issue.  We have had Annual Conferences where we talked together in small groups, where we allowed extra time for people to come to the mics and share their opinions and stories on both sides of the issue.   Both were admirable attempts at true conferencing beyond politicking and vote counting.
The year we allowed everyone who wanted to share an opinion get up to the mics and speak their 2 minutes was especially helpful, I thought.  And many of those speeches (on both sides of the aisle) stick with me.  Particularly, two lay women’s speeches against acceptance of homosexuality continue to speak to me about today’s situation.  One woman, in her 60’s, said (I’m paraphrasing)  “but what if everything that we have shaped our lives around and gave up for, now you change your mind and say its ok?”  She communicated the great barrier we have to overcome if the United Methodist Church is to change its stand – what about all the people who believed our teaching and gave up happy lives, or pushed away children or family members?  What do we owe them in the way of support, counseling and explanation now that we change our mind?  What spiritual work do we need to do for them? We who call for change can’t expect people to give up long-held beliefs without helping them to work through the implications of change.  How do we reunite families?  How to we apologize for making people live straight?  Live lonely?  How do we help them accept themselves when we have said for so long that they are not acceptable? 

Another woman, in her 40’s, came toward the end of the sharing time and looked at the Bishop and said (again paraphrasing), “I’m so confused about all of this, I’m not sure what to believe or what the Bible says, why Bishop can’t you lead us and help us to understand?”  Our Bishops are supposed to be our spiritual leaders, and they have made important spiritual and social statements on ecology and other important issues.  Yet, very few of them have spoken publicly on the issue of homosexuality.  I suspect that many feel their opinions would get them “in trouble” with their conference members.  Yet, there are so many laity and clergy who yearn for leadership.  Could our Bishop lead us through a Bible study on the scriptures used to condemn homosexuality?  Could every Bishop do this and explain while looking at the scripture why some feel Leviticus says this and why others feel Leviticus says that?  Doing this together at Annual Conference, at General Conference, would help us all to understand what the scriptures actually say and the points of view around them.  Then give the Bishops the right to state what they believe and why.  Let the Bishops lead us and share with us their views on scripture.  This is why our Bishops are elected for life – to take the risk of leading us even when we are mad at them.

Our present conferencing work has not done enough – Bishops staying neutral or silent has not helped our church.  We are at the point where, because conferencing has failed to bring us together, then some are going this way and other that way.  I believe we are seeing the first signs of a major rip in the UMC.  The question is, can we be healthier from here?  We must stop communication through press release and really communicate and be in relationship with each other.  Our Bishops must step up and lead us despite any blow back they may get.   Pastors, like-wise, need to lead and talk openly on this issue.  It is not fun to have someone leave the church, but I can honestly say that people who have left my churches saying it was because of my views on homosexuality always had other motivations as well.  Members that are truly seeking God’s will know when a pastor is also truly trying to seek God’s will and respond to disagreement with care and curiosity rather than rejection and hostility.  It really is all about communication and being in relationship with each other even when we disagree, knowing that only God has all the answers.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween - All Hallow's Eve

I have always loved Halloween.  As a kid who often felt uncomfortable in my own body, Halloween was the time I could be whatever I wanted.  For my family, Halloween has always been about imagination and fun games and being whom ever you want to be.

I understand some Christians don't like the scary stuff and some of the occult themes that come out in movies around Halloween.  But the history of Halloween itself is very old and includes Christianity.
Halloween as we have it today is a mish-mash of many different traditions that came out of a pre-Christian Europe that was scared of spirits and made sacrifices to keep evil spirits away.  As Christian missionaries came into Europe, they explained the Jesus' death and resurrection means we do not have to be afraid of death or dying.  Our spirits are in heaven, not haunting the earth.  Missionaries changed the day from one of fear to one of celebration, laughter and remembering our dead on November 1st which is All Saints Day.  (Don't believe me, read another author's perspective here)

Unfortunately, some Christian denominations do not require their clergy to go to seminary or college.  They don't learn the history of missionaries and the church as well as they should.  So some Christian churches have started to campaign against Halloween and saying we shouldn't participate in Halloween.  They point out that the Christian missionaries were Roman Catholic and that their beliefs about purgatory are just as bad as the pagan's ideas.  However they forget that the Roman Catholic Church was the ONLY Christian church at that time and that every denomination has its roots in Catholicism.  Yes, our beliefs about the soul have changed and we have rejected the idea of purgatory, but what the missionaries did in transforming pagan practices into Christian is what we should still be doing today.

The Apostle Paul said, "I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial"  1 Corinthians 10:23.

The question isn't: should I or shouldn't I celebrate Halloween??
The question is always:  What should I do that is beneficial to my spirit and to the faith of others who see me?

If you can celebrate Halloween focusing on how your faith makes you unafraid, not dwelling on occult movies, having fun with your imagination -- then I say: Go for it!

If you get suckered into fear and your kids are dwelling on the yucky killing/murdering side of Halloween -- Then I say:  take a step back!   Spend some time thinking this through and maybe take a year away from it.

The first year my sons came home was in August and they were still adjusting to everything in America and didn't understand the concept of Halloween at all.  So we took that year off.  We carved pumpkins and went to a church party but that was it.   When they were more grounded and could understand better what I was explaining about Halloween we went all out and had fun.

With all things, go forward in prayer and listening for God's leading you in the right path!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fair, Living Wages - a Moral Issue


How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25. Learn More


The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.


The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week. Learn More


The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the last 30 years.

Jesus talked about paying workers fairly and about being just overseers of others.  If we are to be a moral nation, we have to care about those who are earning the minimum, and whether that minimum is enough to support life.

America has a social safety net for those who cannot work, are disabled, elderly etc.  But full-time workers should not have to go to our social safety net for help.  Companies who have able-bodied workers and simply don't pay them enough to live on are unjust.  It is immoral to pay people so low that they have to go to SNAP (food stamps) to feed their kids even while they are working 40 hours a week serving food.

Working 40 hours a week should earn you enough to cover the basics of life: food, shelter, transportation, health insurance,  clothing etc.   Minimum wage ($7.25), even at 40 hours a week, simply isn't enough.   If the minimum wage had simply kept up with inflation since being signed into law  today it would be $10.74.   California has, as a state, raised their minimum wage to $10, but this is a national issue, an issue directly related to our constitutional proclamation that all deserve "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  It is unpatriotic to not pay American workers enough to support the basics of life.

Write to your senators & congressional representative on this issue
sign this petition through Credo, a faith-based organization that promotes justice in our nation's laws.

We have to support the poor, the least, the one's Jesus cared for.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible is a great privilege.  Before 1517, there was only one Christian denomination in Western Europe -  the Roman Catholic Church.  And it was the long held belief that only the educated clergy should read the Bible (in Latin).  Lay persons only knew of the Bible what they were told in short homilies.   In 1517 Martin Luther, a German monk, made a protest of the Church by posting his 95 beliefs of how the Church should be changed.  One of those 95 beliefs was that the Bible should be in the language of the people, and that lay and clergy alike should study the Word.   Luther translated the Latin Bible into German and began printing pamphlets and books on a new invention - the printing press.  This began an explosion of literacy -- for the first time the lay people were encouraged by their pastors to learn to read and to read their Bibles.  It was a new right that they embraced with their whole hearts.

Like many rights that we take for granted, being able to read God's word for ourselves is one of them.
Lets make an effort to embrace the gift of God's story for ourselves.

Suggestions for getting started:
+Get a Bible you can read easily such as New Revised Standard (NRSV)  Common English Bible (CEB)  or The Message.  Look for one that is a "Study Bible"  in other words it has notes and helps at the bottom of each page to assist you as you read.

+Start with the New Testament, the story of Jesus' life, in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)  If you have never tried to read the Bible, start with Mark - its the shortest of the Gospels.

+Read one story (usually marked with headings)  and ask yourself these questions:
Who are the main characters?
What is happening?  Can you tell the story in your own words?
How are the characters like you?  Who do you identify with?
What are they learning about God?
What does this story tell you about God?  About yourself?  About faith?

Blessings in your reading!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Prayer and Justice

Prayer leads us into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and wanting to be like Jesus, to do the things He did such as caring for the poor, demanding justice for the woman caught in adultery (yet where is the guy???), turning over tables to protest abuse of the poor.  Prayer leads us to the heart of God, and in God's heart is a deep well of love for the poor, oppressed and hurting people of the world.

Here is a great video related to Prayer and Justice- Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guided Meditation/Prayer

Sometimes Christians think there is a big difference between prayer and meditation.  This is silly.  Meditation is simply a form of prayer, a style of prayer that has been used by Christians for our 2,000 years.
Here is a prayer meditation video that guides you through a time of guided meditation.
Follow the directions in the video and enjoy!    Below the video is a devotional about St. Teresa of Avila whose feast day is today.

Teresa of Avila, October 15 (1515-1582)

written by Mary Luti

"I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations." - Psalm 89:1

Once upon a time, a young woman with a restless intellect, a dread of marriage, and an unfocused attraction to God, slipped out of her father's house to a convent outside Avila's walls. There she became a troublesome nun, some might say an unstable one. It wasn't until she was forty that she finally gained confidence in her spiritual authority and mission. After that, she was even more troublesome.
In a time when the Church thought women incapable of sustaining an inner life without contracting madness or heresy, she created communities of women contemplatives, teaching them not to be afraid, even of Satan, and especially not of alarmist clerics. "I don't fear Satan half as much," she said, "as I fear people who fear Satan."
In a kingdom that had pressured Jews like her grandfather to be baptized or else, then discriminated against them because of their "impure" blood and dubious orthodoxy, Teresa bucked the common practice of excluding such converts from religious orders. She took all comers.
In a church where holy people were supposed to be perfect, austere, and forbidding, she prayed to be delivered from sour saints. An admirer once remarked on her voracious appetite: "For such a holy woman, you sure pack it in." "Listen," Teresa shot back, "when I pray, I pray; when I eat, I eat!"
She was a woman of her times who saw the conquest of the Americas as a providential opportunity for evangelism. She characterized the Reformation as a "re-crucifying" of Christ. Yet she thought people should be praying for Lutherans and Indians, not slaughtering them, and she complained to God about obtuse churchmen who squandered "his" gifts by outlawing women preachers.
An indefatigable founder, businesswoman, and administrator, she was also a determined writer, writing several important books in unruly, captivating prose and thousands of revealing letters.
She suffered all sorts of debilitating illnesses, and her death was a misery. But she was glad, she said, to die "a daughter of the Church." The Church canonized her, molding her into a disembodied paragon of orthodoxy. We remember her today mostly as an ecstatic visionary, a great mystical soul. In a way, that's too bad; it might be the least interesting thing about her.
Grant us the same courage to grow in grace as you gave your servant, Teresa, O God; the same determination to do your will, the same delight in your endless mercies, and the same sane realism for living a grounded life in a complicated world. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Power of Short Prayers

Your challenge this week for Calvary's sermon series is to step up in knowing Christ thru prayer.

Think you have to learn how to pray really long, fancy prayers??
listen to Joseph Prince preach on the power of short prayers

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wonderful Food

Another wonderful Fall Festival Feast, good food, new friends and old friends meeting and eating and serving together.  $3,903 raised for our church!  WOW!  Thats a record!   Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to all who worked so very hard on the dinner and to all who came and ate with us!!!

I want to remind us that in everything that we do as a community, fundraiser or worship, has to be done with the same spirit of love, acceptance and care.   We all would like things done "our way", but when working with a community we have to make room for others.  One of the highlights of the evening for me was  the enthusiasm of kids who came to eat late and then wanted to help clean up afterwards.  They didn't know what they were doing, we made some messes, but eventually we made progress and got things done.  Was it as quiet and organized as having only the adults help?  No way, but the kids felt like they were an important part of the church community, and the adults were tired so the help was much appreciated.  

In all things, we have to practice our vision: Accepting all through the unconditional love of God!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

From the Pastor's Bookshelf: A Jew Named Jesus by Rebekah Simon-Peter

I first have to make a confession, I started rereading The Apostolic Fathers an Essential Guide by Clayton N Jefford and like before I got about half way through and had to put the book down.  It is important information, Jefford writes about several of the early Christian writers who lived right after Paul and the first apostles.   But, without the original source material included (Jefford writes about the writers and their writing) its really hard to follow him.  I cry uncle on that book (until I get ahold of the original writings perhaps).

Anyways, so I moved onto a book that I got at the last conference I went to (School for Congregational Development in Denver, awesome experience!).   The book, A Jew Named Jesus, by Rebekah Simon-Peter.  The author is a United Methodist pastor who was raised Jewish and was deeply practicing in her early 20's but had a vision of Jesus calling her to investigate the New Testament and in that pursuit she fell in love with Jesus and went to seminary.   Another pastor does a more in depth review of Simon-Peter's work here.   I primarily want to talk about how her book affected me.  I thought it was an awesome book that directly addressed some of my own dis-ease with preaching about Jesus and committing our lives to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit was truly in my picking up this book and in my reading it at this time just as I was struggling with this issue in my preaching.  Simon-Peter talks about the challenges Christianity has had in putting ourselves first above other faiths, and takes another look at scripture to reveal that this attitude is not one in either Jesus or Paul.  Jesus was a practicing Jew, in life and in resurrection.  Paul, even after "conversion", remains a faithful Pharisee throughout his life and advocates for Jews being Jews and Gentiles being Gentiles as long as we are all one in Christ.   Simon-Peter addresses the roots of Anti-Semitism in early Christianity beginning with early Bishops and continuing through Martin Luther - a history that I have to admit I knew very little about.  This history set the stage for Hitler's focus on the Jews as "other", deserving of murder for they "murdered God".  Simon-Peter helped me to know how to preach and teach with a greater awareness and with a clearer theology of God's salvation history including Jews and Gentiles.

Simon-Peter not only helped me to face my own prejudices and discomforts, but made me long to know more about the religion Jesus practiced.   She fell in love with Jesus and you feel that excitement come through her writing -- love for the man who was the Jewish Messiah, and the Messiah for all humanity as well.   Her book is super short (100 pages) so its a great quick read for anyone.  And it left me wanting more.

Update 10/10/2013 --  Brian Slater, a Chosen People Ministries missionary from Israel will lead us in "Messiah in the Passover" on Ash Wednesday 2014!  I think it will be great!