Monthly Archives: April 2019

Tired, Sad, Still not leaving

Last week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church met to rule on the legality or the constitutionality of decisions made in February by the General Conference. I have not posted much about the what happened. Judicial Council has a particular role in the United Methodist Church. Two years ago, I wrote a blog on the ruling the Judicial Council made on the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. It explains the process and my response.  You can read my thoughts here.

Those who know me well, know I was grieved and saddened and angered that in 2019 we still can not move forward on full inclusion. On my church’s website, I posted this video in response. I have no say or vote in the matter, but I felt that the One Church Plan, while not perfect, offered the biggest tent for people who have deep disagreement over the issues of human sexuality to dwell together.

I was wrong. The General Conference voted (by a slim majority) to not only uphold the current stance in the Book of Discipline but to add punitive and mean measures to make sure everyone toed the line. The Judicial Council’s role is to look over the legislation and make a ruling on what is legal and what is not. While this comes from a Progressive point of view, this chart is a good visual for understanding the decisions made.

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I am not particularly surprised by the most recent Judicial Council rulings. Their job is to see how decisions are legal or not legal by the United Methodist Discipline and Constitution. That does not stop me from being sad. I understand that different people can come to our Holy Bible and interpret it in different ways. What I have trouble understanding is the punitive nature of how to punish those who disagree.

The Reverend Doctor Rebekah Miles has reflected on the General Conference actions and the Judicial Council’s response.  I highly respect her thoughts and recommend you read her article in its entirety. She is the Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at Southern Methodist University, an elder in the United Methodist Church and has attended General Conference many times.

Personally, what stands out for me in Dr. Miles post is this statement:
Only one offense with minimum penalty

Speaking of the many things, including celibacy, that have nothing to do with sex, we can at least take strange comfort in the fact that none of them will trigger mandatory minimum penalties for clergy. We, in the United Methodist Church, have mandated minimum penalties for only one offense: officiating at a same-sex marriage. Your pastor could steal the church’s money, have sex with various and sundry people, or even stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, without triggering a mandatory minimum penalty. But if he agrees to officiate at the wedding of his beloved lesbian daughter, we have made it more difficult for his conference to avoid a clergy trial and have mandated that the conference must suspend him for a year without pay if it is his first offense and take away his ordination credentials if it is his second. 

This is stunning. I can basically do all kinds of immoral and unethical and illegal actions, but the United Methodist Church has no minimum penalties for those actions. Now, at any point in the process, a pastor can lose their credentials, but the only “offense” that has specified punishments and penalties are for officiating at gay weddings (which in the United States is legal in all 50 states.) I can get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce and remarry again and again and again; no questions asked. I can abuse people, steal money, create a hostile work environment at church, and there is no minimum penalty for these offenses. If you want to know what “chargeable offenses” are in the United Methodist Church you can find that information here.

Perhaps this is an overstatement, but the truth is that the Discipline of the United Methodist Church does not prescribe any particular resolution for these pastoral failings. This is an entirely new path that the United Methodist Church is taking. The definition of what it means to be homosexual has been changed as well as the understanding that if a person is celibate, they can still serve as an elder, a deacon, a bishop, etc. Now, it only takes a declaration of being “gay” to exclude one from ministry.

After thirty five plus years, I might be given some grace if I had decided I didn’t want to fight any more. It might be understood if I decided to give up, to turn away from any organization that would be so closed, so deeply entrenched, so unwilling to continue to delve into scripture and to find the grace and love I see in Jesus.

I am still not leaving. I am probably too stubborn and pig headed to give up. I just can not imagine giving up on the church that I have served and loved for decades. I may have to, but I am not willing to stop working for what is just and right and good yet. I continue to share with the young LBGTQ people that worship at First that hope is still available. That some day, it is possible that they can live fully into who God has created them to be in the life of the church. Someday, when they want to pledge their love and their life to their partner, I will be able to be their pastor.

I hope and pray that will be true. I know there are discussions on the future of the UMC. I know we may be looking at schism. For the first time in decades, I am believing this may be the way forward. In the meantime, I will continue to work, to pray, to preach, to pastor and do the work of God in downtown Wichita. I will continue to open the doors for all people, no matter their age, their race, their ethnic background, their social economic status, their political leanings, their gender, or their gender identity or their sexual orientation. I am not leaving, I am not going away. I am continuing to believe and base my ministry on love, on inclusion and on justice.

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Jesus on the Move, from Doubt to Faith

Easter continues! On the second Sunday of Easter, if one belongs to a lectionary church, the gospel is always John 20: 19-31. This resurrection story moves from that first Easter evening to the next week. The author of the gospel recounts the story of the disciples experiencing Jesus raised from the dead. Thomas was not there and did not see the risen Christ. Thomas also said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the wounds themselves.

I love Thomas and Thomas’ courage and conviction to not believe or just to go with the crowd and pretend to believe. Thomas was determined to find faith and have faith on his terms. In the television show, “Lost” Ben shares with Jack a thought about Thomas the Apostle. You can watch it here.

My sermon takes longer than the one minute of the video to witness to Thomas’ faith and loyalty and integrity. I am grateful every year I have a chance to unpack and proclaim this wonderful Easter story.

Today’s worship was simply wonderful. Our choir director Diane Fast is retiring, but not leaving. She is moving from being our choir director to our choir director emeritus and will be overseeing our choir scholarship fund which gives scholarships for students to be part of our choir. The music each Sunday is always wonderful and amazing, today it was outstanding.

I am grateful to be serving such an amazing community of faith and continuing to be on the move with Jesus.

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Year of Gratitude, April Week 4

The days following Holy Week and the first Sunday in Easter.  can feel a bit like a hangover: tired, grumpy and a little lethargic. There are many people to thank for all the wonderful services leading up to and including Easter, but fatigue often takes over and thanks get forgotten.

We are in a year of gratitude and have committed to finding ways of living our thankfulness. We are ending April which has us focusing on:

Growing Edges: Spring comes this month and for Christians, Easter. Flowers begin to bloom and gardens are planted. New life is all around. This month we give thanks for growth: physical, spiritual and those places where we need to grow.

T. S. Eliot wrote in his poem “The Wasteland”

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Why is April cruel? What is it about spring that seems so cruel? Perhaps, life in the midst
of death seems cruel in the midst of violence and grief. April can seem crazy in terms of
weather in  midwest, we go from 80 degrees to snow and freezing rain in the midst of an
hour. The month does point to new life: the blooming of the lilacs, the iris, the tulips and
all the other spring flowers point to life, instead of death.
Today, I am reminded of death and life because I was with someone and their family and
as they moved from this life to next. It was a surprise, and as always such a privilege to
be there. In our funeral tradition, we say the words, “in the midst of life, we are in
death.”  And that is true. Easter reminds me that death is not the final word. In the
resurrection of Jesus,  I am reminded that life is stronger than death, love is stronger
than hate and good is stronger than evil.
So I am grateful this week to be a pastor who has the honor of being there in the most
intimate moments of people’s lives. I am grateful to preside at the communion table, to
preach the high and low moments of the Christian year. I give thanks to serve in so
many ways. In this calling, I give thanks that I experience new life again and again
and again through God’s grace and love. I do have a couple of thank you notes to write, a
couple of events to put in my gratitude jar and some time to just say “thank you” to the
God who has created and continues to create, who loves and invites me to love as well.

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God on the Move, EASTER!!!!

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! I love Easter, the flowers, the white and gold paraments, the music including Charles Wesley’s hymn Christ the Lord is Risen Today and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. I am aware that not every Easter service includes these musical selections, but when I am pastoring a particular congregation, these two pieces must be done! I am particular that way. Some might say rigid!

For  me, it just isn’t Easter without it. After the long, lean days of Lent, what a joy it is to sing and proclaim the new life given through resurrection. This Sunday at First United Methodist Church, the anthems were particularly lovely. The day is itself, dawned bright and beautiful. I was able to take this picture before the sunrise service.

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I have celebrated Easter in the midst of rain, snow, cold winds and cloudy days. Today’s sky was spectacular! There is one more service today at the Gathering, but I remind us that Easter is not just a day, or a season, it is a life changing experience. You can find today’s worship service here.

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!

 

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Year of Gratitude April: Week 3

The cold winter has created a beautiful spring. I have never seen the flowers in my yard or in my neighborhood more abundant or beautiful. Recently I have been “so over winter,” so it seems has the spring flowers.

On my walk this morning I was greeted by this very cheery woodpecker

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Can you see it? Right in the middle of the picture. The lilacs across the sidewalk were full and the smell was heavenly!

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In my own yard, my iris are so full of blooms and my wisteria as well.

So as I continue my year of gratitude and particularly this month of finding my growing edges, I am grateful for Holy Week. Today is the last day before the Triduum (the 3 Holy Days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday) before Easter.

Today is known as “Spy Wednesday.” So named, because traditionally this is the day we remember Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. Two years ago I blogged this reflection on this day.  In it, I quoted Leonard Sweet who had written, “there is a sliver of Judas in all of us.”

That phrase haunts me. Holy Week is a reminder to take stock of how how I betray Jesus in word and deed. As I look at the flowers from my walk this morning, I am reminded of the sweetness and beauty of the grace of God. The flowers shown don’t just pop up, but must be tended and watered and the season just right. Yet they are always there, whether they are blooming or not. God’s grace is like that, always there. Whether I turn away or don’t pay attention, God is still there.

So today I am grateful for the traditions of Holy Week. Tomorrow evening I will gather with the good people at First United Methodist Church, there will be prayer stations, foot washing, holy communion and a meal around tables. On Friday we will gather to hear remember those last hours of Jesus’ life and word and music. On Saturday, I will wait. As the people have waited generation upon generation. I will write a thank you note or several to all those people that make Lent a special time.

And I will rise early, Easter morning……for darkness can not stop the light, hatred can not stop love, evil can not stop God on the move. My betrayals and my failings can not keep Jesus in the tomb….After the long night…..morning will dawn….

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God on the Move: Palm/Passion Sunday

Last year I wrote these words in March:

Holy Week begins. This sacred time invites us into these days of exhilaration, intrigue, theological arguments, exhaustion, betrayal, injustice, trial and execution. That is a great deal of drama to pack in one short week. Yet, often life is like that, perhaps not the extreme ups and downs of being hailed the savior of the world on one day and being crucified and mocked on another, but we know those ups and downs.

Holy Week is a time filled with highs and lows and deep questions about justice and love and a longing for that reign of God that Jesus promised. For me, Holy Week is a reminder of how fast myself and many others can go from the high of exciting parade, to the rage of a violent mob. God moves through love, but sometimes that love is too much to take.

So I enter Holy Week acknowledging my complicity in the evil that often poses as neutrality and thoughtfulness in the world. I acknowledge the sin of my silence, when my voice would make a difference. My own Holy tradition is filled with music that reminds me of those last days and hours of Jesus’ life. Perhaps not “traditional” music, but it is good for my soul:

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At First UMC  are multiple opportunities to move with God through this sacred time. On our website all the special services are listed. Today’s worship service can be found here

In our Christ Memorial Chapel are windows depicting the life of Jesus. These amazing works of art filled with joy each week. In the center lower section is the scene that we remember on this day:

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I invite you to move with me this week through these hard and holy days that we may be ready to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the Good News of Christ’s resurrection!

 

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Year of Gratitude April: Week 2

There is a lovely hymn with these words:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Natalie Sleeth wrote these words as an anthem in 1985 and it became a hymn in 1986. Since then, Hymn of Promise has appeared in multiple hymnals and is used for both memorial services and Easter. This song has become deeply beloved as well.

Today in Wichita, after several days in the 70’s and 80’s a cold and bitter wind has swept down from the north. In some places blizzard warnings have occurred and certainly jackets and coats are back on instead of a light wrap or no wrap at all. The tender petals of the flowers are taking a beating and some plants may be hurt by the dramatic change in weather. I grew concerned, so I went and cut a few of the tulips and brought them indoors, so I could enjoy them if the wind battered them too much.

tulips vase

They are beautiful on my table. These tulips remind me that I sometimes need space, away from the battering and blowing winds of life to just be. Holy Week, with all it’s added activities can be such a place. The services can allow me time to focus on what really matters in push to Easter.

This week my growing edge is more physical than spiritual. There is 5K on Saturday, and while I have been working hard to get ready for it, this week was filled with really long days. I stretched, but lost several days that I would have preferred to walk and do longer distances. No matter, I am giving thanks for the ability to walk a 5K, for the finances that allow me to pay the entry fee and in doing so help First’s school partnerships with Park and Washington Elementry Schools.

I wrote a thank note to someone who had given me a tulip plant. It is an orange and yellow tulip and it is lovely. I look forward to putting in the ground to enjoy in the years to come.

What are your growing edges physically this week? How are you finding  space to pay attention to those edges and to prepare for Holy Week next week: phyisically, emotionally and spiritually? How are you adapting to the cold winds that come unexpectedly in the season of spring and in this season of your life?

Beginning with Palm/Passion Sunday and through Holy Week, these words from Hymn of Promise help me to focus and center:

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

May Holy Week be a time of blessing and of promise. In the midst of the busyness, may you find some moments to give thanks to the God who offers hope and love.

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