Thursday, June 28, 2012

 So this was the sermon I wrote to preach last Sunday. I preached some version that was close to this

I just love Mark. I actually knew that I could pull off a last minute sermon knowing that we are in a Mark year in the lectionary. Mark gets right to it. There is no fluff. Mark put Jesus and his disciples right at the center of the story.  The other thing that I love about Mark is that he is tough on the disciples. They just don’t get it, they don’t get Jesus. A mentor, of mine often said that the disciples in Mark should be name the DUH-ciples.  This  story is one of those quintessential moments when the disciples don’t get it. Now I am not a Bible literalist, the stories are just to vast and varied for me personally to take them all literally. So when I look at this passage I am not sure that Mark is necessarily talking about a physical storm. If fact for me in this particular story he can’t be. He can’t be talking about an actual thunder storm because in verse 40 “Jesus reprimands his disciples: ‘Why are you such cowards?’ Don’t you have any faith at all?”  Faith wouldn’t play a role in this story if it were an actual thunderstorm. Remember a number of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. They had been out to sea, they had survived storms. They are not likely to go running to Jesus for some type of reassurance. For them this was a typical day on the job. They knew you either lived through a storm or you didn’t.  How many of you have ever seen the show Deadliest Catch? In case you haven’t the show follows several fishing boats as they Fish for Alaskan Crab. If you have ever wondered why Crab is so expensive watch this show and you will figure out why.  Anyway, they see storm after storm and they never seek out the captain. The disciples are not going to Jesus because they are afraid of a lot of wind and some pretty bad rain. No the Disciples are going to Jesus because they are afraid that in this is an actual storm or just a “storm of their life” they are afraid they are going to lose Jesus.

How many of us have been there? In the storm. We are in freak out mode. Everything is falling apart.  The alarm doesn’t go off in the morning, you rush to get ready      there is no coffee,    you drive to work there is an accident,    that presentation that was due on Friday it’s now due this Wed., a phone call comes   your kid is on a field trip with summer camp she/he fell and broke their arm, you get home to hear a phone call- aunt Sally died.  It’s one of those times when you say huh things can’t get any worse, but you don’t say it out loud because you certainly don’t want the universe to think you are challenging it. Or maybe that storm is some something different, maybe it is your best friend moving away, or you’re going through a tough time in your marriage, or you are at the point of a divorce , or have a serious diagnoses or love one with a serious diagnoses, or maybe it is grief. Or some combination of the above or nothing from my list, but you’ve had a storm. We do. We have them.  We are the disciples. 

So I think what we often hear, what we want to hear in this story is just go to Jesus. Just take your problems to Jesus and Jesus will fix them. He quieted the storm for the disciples he will quiet our storms too. Well, if you thought that was where I was going so you figured you could tune me out for the next 15 minutes or so you were wrong.  You need to tune back in, sorry. What I focused on when I read this scripture, what called to me the loudest was that reprimand or in other translations Jesus rebuke of the disciples, “Don’t you have any faith at all?” He isn’t please with them. He doesn’t pat them on the head and say wow you have figured it out. Give me your problems and I fix them. He gives them the fix but, He is frustrated, and annoyed.
I read this story and I was so drawn to it because I feel like our Domination,  is in this storm and we are like the disciples,   we are looking for a quick fix. Now I know Pastor Dee was at General Conference, and Pastor Alan is very tuned in to what happens at the General Church level, and you have members of this congregation who are very active at the general church and annual conference level. So, I am sorry if some this information is information that you know. However, I went to General Conference, GC 2012 as it has became affectionately known as.  I attended as part of a coalition working on social justice issues. So I had months of preparation going into GC2012 and I knew a storm was brewing. There were a lot of storms brewing but the big storm was how do we restructure the United Methodist Church to make it viable again. I  am sure you might have heard this before but Methodism along with other Mainline denominations are dying. We are losing membership is droves.  So for about  a year prior to GC2012 a group of church leaders both laity and clergy got together to figure out how to fix the church or in their words make it more viable. The report on how they thought we should do this came out about  2 months in advance of GC2012. I read it and I just knew a fire storm would brew and it did. Basically the idea was to cut the general board and agencies( which in the simplest terms is to carry out the missional work across the connection. They include COSROW, GCORR, UMNEWS, UMCOR etc) many of the things that define us as Methodists. They want to combine many of those agencies into one small consolidated group. When that didn’t work they sought to combine in particular COSROW and GCORR in to one small group. Basically  ending the groups that carries out social justice and ensures equality for a number of marginalized groups.  Now  my thoughts on the reasoning behind  this is a sermon all unto itself.  The heart  of the matter is  how it this scripture applies is; This small  group like the disciples,  Wanted a simple answer. 

What this small group did not seem to have was a whole lot of faith. You see in order to try to get the church to accept this plan they showed this sad presentation. The presentation had all kinds of depressing numbers in it. Membership decline, the lack of young clergy, there was even a segment where we watched as a woman locked the doors to her church for the very last time as the church closed. They used all sorts of wind and rain to make us want to run for a simple solution.

There were many of us who watched the video and who heard the plan who were scared. Not sacred about what they had told , and showed us. We were scared of how they were going to fix it. You see in this scripture Jesus is telling the Disciples that fear cannot rule their actions. Not even fear of death. What must rule their lives is Faith. They must hang onto faith even in the face of death. They must understand that in Faith there is even something bigger than his physical presence.
Jesus wants his disciples to get that   what is most important is their faith, their relationship with God. What is not important is the boat, or the presentation that is now due 3 days earlier, or the diagnoses that seems unbearable, and sure as heck not what our membership numbers look like. What Jesus wants them and us, to understand is our faith.  Jesus wants us to get is that in their own faith there is “possibility” and “power”. They had the “power” to quiet the storm.

Now that is scary to think about.  We, in our faith have “possibility” and “power”.  I cannot tell you the number of times that I just wanted to throw my problems at the feet of someone else or even lay them down for God to pick up  and be returned with a step by step list of how to make it right. What Jesus is asking of us is to stop acting out of fear and start stepping  boldly with faith. The plans that were put forth at GC2012 were to save what we have now. Basically to save what isn’t working.  In the storms of the Church and in our lives we want the comfortable.  Ever hear the saying that the Church’s job is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Well if ever there is a time where that is true-- it is right now. Accept that the problem is- that we are the comfortable. We are comfortable in what we have or actually in more cases than not what we had and we want to go back to it.

We have lost sight of Jesus. We have lost sight of Jesus bold acts to stand up to the Pharisees and point out their hypocrisy, we have lost sight of Jesus sitting with prostitutes and tax collectors, we have lost sight of the healing on the Sabbath because it is the right thing to do instead of doing the right thing in the eyes of the outside world.

Jesus isn’t present for his disciples and for us simply to fix the problem. Nor can we quell our storms on our own. We need Jesus we need Jesus and his example to get us through our storms. In James we hear faith without works is dead.  Faith in Jesus cannot act on its own to heal our wounds. A faith lived out in Jesus’ example where we are living into the possibility, and being creative and innovative of the solution is when we start creating the realm of God on Earth.

Can we be a community that lives and acts on faith? Who do we want to be those who talked about the power of faith or do we want to be the ones who have experienced the power of faith and have helped others to experience it as well.

The end of the story there is  Hope they click  they see what Jesus can do.  Do they fully understand what Jesus can do. I think they start to understand that with Jesus in their life anything is possible. Not just by him but with him, and alongside of him And that is good news

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Five

When  I had my old blog I used to do this all the time. There is a great group of women who are clergy, church professionals, discerning a call, or just actively involved in church who share their blogs on this site. Every week hey do these so I thought I would too!!

Happy Friday, Gals and Pals...
Our FF today is in honor of spontaneous thinking!
1.  What religion/faith besides yours captures your curiosity and why?  Judaism because I always have such great religious/ faith discussions with my Jewish friends.

2.  What is the first or most memorable pop song you ever learned as a kid?  Hard to pick just one! I would have to say "I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder

3.  If God were a color.....(finish this sentence creatively) it would be funky

4.  If you were going to make a sandwich right now for lunch, and you magically had all the items you need for it, what would that sandwich be?  BLT on homemade dark honeywheat toast and Oscar's apple wood smoked bacon

5.  How are you doing?  Really, how are you? A full bundle of emotions: happy, sad, anxious but mostly happy

Bonus:  What are you enjoying/loving right now? Having the most amazing, supportive, caring friends!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Yes, I know it is not Easter. It is not even Eastertide.  In fact we are in Ordinary Time. However, I am in a resurrection spirit.  Religiously and Politically  I feel as though our country is in some deep need of resurrection.

It is one week post Upper New Annual Conference. An annual conference that looked far to much like General Conference just with less fighting and politicking. The only reason there was less fighting and politicking was due to the fact that it was shorter and we handled no petitions or resolutions. Yes you read that correctly in a day and a half of work ( yes we were there three but it was really a day and a half of holy conferencing) we passed a budget which did bring on  some spirited debate and we took one vote for the endorsement of an Episcopal candidate in which we endorsed no one. The highlight being we did play a lightening round of the Episcopal candidate dating game. We asked each candidate three questions:  "Which biblical figure other than Jesus  do you closely identify with"  " What are your experiences with diversity" "What experience do you have that would make you a good Episcopal leader?" It really sounded like the dating game trust me. However, no tough discussions were had and no work was done. Yes, we are in need of a resurrection. 

Our political climate is scary.  Large amounts of money is being spent by a small amount of people. Money wins elections. We are using misinformation and half-truths to hurt one another. Women are being pushed further into the margins. Even women on the conservative side are beginning  to chip away at their own rights. It seems to me that they are in an abusive relationship and they are beginning to believe the abuse is  a sign of love. The LGBTQ is consistently being discriminated against and victims of deep prejudice and being denied their rights. Immigrants are being demonized., minorities are being imprisoned and put to death. Yes we are in need of resurrection.

The church and government. Yes, I know in this country we like to keep them separate ( although that is more about having no state sanctioned religion than not having religion influence politics) . However, the are both in a rough state. We need to be more compassionate. We need to listen to one another. Instead of tearing one another down, instead of trying to keep things as they are, we need to raise each other up and look for ways to grow.

We are in need of resurrection.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NOLA:Oh How the Spirit moves

So I had a pretty intense and extraordinary weekend. In my third week of travels out of the last four weeks I was  in New Orleans for the long weekend. I was there to officiate the wedding of a dear friend from college ( more on that later).

It was Pentecost Sunday, my favorite Sunday or the year, so church was a must. The hotel had a listing of near by churches. There were two United Methodist Churches near by so I looked them up on my iPhone. The first one looked all well and good but the second one peaked my interest. St. Mark's UMC's front page says Warm, welcoming, reconciling, SOLD. Let me tell you I am so glad I did. It was everything that Church should be. Gay, straight, white, black, latino, rich, poor, and everything in between. This was Church. There were amazing moments of prayer, of lay leadership, sharing of scripture, reading of the gospel, sharing of a message and offering. The laity address was one of the most moving things I had hear, and that was followed the congregation being offered the space to take a flower from a table and place it on the alter and then be there in prayer. I am normally not a kneel in prayer but I was so moved and did so and felt so moved. St. Mark's also celebrated 100% payment of apportionments. Now in my current frustration with the UMC that is not as important to me. ( PLEASE DO NOT HEAR THAT as a CALL TO WITHHOLD APPORTIONMENTS), but it was moving because looking at the socioeconomic  makeup of the congregation it meant everyone was sharing what they could, some sharing more, some sharing less, but all sharing.

I left this church and sad in a park and cried for 20 minutes. I was so moved. So overwhelmed at how welcomed I felt in this church. Overwhelmed by the commitment to following Jesus this church had.I wonder why the church did not look like that in every place. I wondered how I could be a part of that world. How could I make the Kindom become a reality? This church was certainly on it's way to being there or was at least as close I had ever seen. I was also caught in my need to make an impact on the world. My desire for my whole life including my career to be making a positive impact on the world. God told me to be patient. And for those of you wondering God did not move my hear to pursue ordination, but God does continue to keep me tied to the church.

And if that wasn't enough for Pentecost Sunday...

My dear friend Amy married her partner.  Shannon at one of the most gorgeous wedding sites  I have ever seen, the chicory. I was extremely honored to be asked to this ceremony. Amy and I had been very good friends in college and had not stayed in as good of touched as we would have liked, but Amy remembered that at one point I was going to be clergy and asked if I was would preform the ceremony. Being a United Methodist if I had been ordained clergy the answer by disciple should have been no, but since I decided not to pursue ordination and the legal pieces of the marriage were being taken care of before the actual ceremony I was happy to do it (even if I was clergy I would have said yes!). So on Pentecost Sunday I married Amy and Shannon. In a beautiful ceremony that the three of us planned together they were married. God was clearly present and I was so glad to represent the church, as associate an conference lay leader, in a marriage that was clearly steeped in faith and commitment to love and family.

I received a lot of positive reaction from the ceremony. I was so moved. So happy for Amy and Shannon, but also happy for myself. Happy that I could do this for them and it not have  it impact my career, not risk being brought up on charges by the church. I was also sad that, that is the reality for my clergy friends within the UMC. I truly felt that I was providing a service of Christian Love for my christian sisters and friends. My clergy friends can not with out the risk of repercussions. It is a shame. It is shameful. It was awful for me to have to explain to the people there why and how I could do this ceremony, the stance of the UMC and how it had not changed this year.I, again, had to explain why I stay, and as a straight women i am sure some were slightly suspicious of  hardship it presents me. Let again say I stay, because I love God. I believe that in so many ways God is at work within the UMC, I stay to make sure the voices of ALL are heard, I stay so that someday ALL will mean ALL. I stay and work for change so the Shannon and Amy's son can grow up in a church where his two moms and their marriage are recognized in their wholeness.

Thank you Amy and Shannon for letting me take part your day. Thank you Spirit for always moving.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Be the Voice of Love

We are in an interesting time and place in the world. Religion seems to be permeating almost every political argument in the news. Maybe it always have and I just didn't notice. The religious right has always been the loudest voices, but finally the religious left is speaking out. For whatever reason we aren't the voices  heard often on television news, but we are certainly making a presence on the Internet and op-Ed columns.

The two issues nearest and dearest to my heart are lightning rod issues in congress and therefore in the news: Women's rights and LGBTQ civil rights. These two issues bring out the religious talkies in force. Often speaking against equal rights and protecting women. I am not sure how people of faith can do this! They claim to be followed of Jesus but I wondering what gospels they are reading. Two things Jesus never did cast people aside or try to force them into believing what he believed.

Clearly he trying to change the world but he never forced the world to change. We would look a whole lot differ t if he had. What I wonder how it is can these folks be followers of Jesus and spuee such hateful language. How can you stand in the way of two people committing themselves to a loving relationship? How can you vote against or try to weaken the Violence Against Women act? How can you do those things and still call yourself a follower of Jesus? Sorry that just doesn't compute to me.

I certainly do not have my faith all figured out. I certainly think I get it wrong a lot of the time. Especially when I say hurtful things about another person. I can say this that the times I know I get it wrong I ask for forgiveness  from God. I think we should be doing a lot more asking for forgiveness instead of damning people on behalf of God.

I am glad there is another voice out there, but we need to be more mainstream. If we are going to engage those who have turned their backs to Christianity or organized faith of any kind we need people to know we are not all close minded. Christianity is not the religion of hate and discrimination.  Christianity is the faith of love and kindness!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Church in the South:Back to our roots

I am just returning from a mini-vacation in North Carolina with my best friend seeing her brother and her family. It reminded me of how much I love the South. This is always surprising to me because I am such a liberal Yankee. While on vacation I always try to go to church. I have to say I was worried about the southern stereo types coming into play. Even though general conference proved to me that there are many awesome exceptions to these stereotypes I was still quite nervous. I did look up several reconciling congregations, however since we were at my friend’s brother’s house and he would be driving me (they drive pretty expensive cars, so I was a-okay with not driving myself) I wanted to go to one that was convenient.  Still being pretty fresh off of general conference and with North Carolina’s recent marriage vote I was a little nervous as to what I would find. Yet, not going to church was simply not an option. Church is where I connect with God best and being someone who needs to work on spiritual discipline I need to go to church.
Not, surprisingly I am always in evaluation mode when I attend a church. I always think ‘would this ever be my church home if I were to live here.’ I am not sure that this church would be a church home for me, but I would at least take a second look. They definitely had some work to do on greeting visitors and making them feel welcome. Other than the greater at the door and the passing of the peace I don’t think one person said hello and no one asked my name or why I was there. Not that I want someone to fall all over me but, I thought they could do better.
While, not likely that if I were to move to the Raleigh area I would make this church my church home I was glad I was there. I definitely saw God at work in these folks. It was discipleship Sunday. The whole service was laity lead. Each person shared scripture and their experiences in adult Sunday School. This church offers all of the Disciple classes and a variety of other book and Bible studies. While the language took a little while to get use to ( a lot of father God and Christ our lord and savior) these persons shared heartfelt stories. These classes had clearly touched their hearts and souls. Every person up there beamed, as they spoke about gaining a deeper sense of the scripture, budding friendships, the fellowship and especially the growth in their relationship to God.  This is exactly what you want to happen in these classes.
It was not what I was expected from my Sunday worship experience, it was certainly welcome. To use a Wesley expression, I felt my heart strangely warmed. This is  the Church at work. This is how church is supposed to be, these persons felt nurtured and fulfilled. They had been given the space and take the opportunity to listens to the calls and nudges of God to develop understanding of their relationship to God and one another. In my last post I passionately wrote about my desire to stay in the United Methodist Church and this moment was one of those reminders why.  While it was not entirely clear the theological and doctrinal stances of this church (my assumption is a little right of moderate) it was clear their commitment to growing further in love with God and developing strong relationships with each other. It was clear that a curriculum used heavily with in the Methodist church, and the idea of class meetings had provided that space for them.  I was happy. I was happy know that I had a shared connection to them in our history. I was happy that while no one spoke to me directly, there was a space for me to worship in this community. There was an excitement stirred in me to see laity take on the role of leading worship and sharing the transformative power of God at work within the Church.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I am staying

I still hear the crying from General Conference. As posted in several places (although I read it on Jeremy Smith’s facebook he has a great website ) both sides are ready to pack up in leave. The good old boys are pissed that they didn’t get their way on restructure. The liberals are pissed that LGBTQ stances have not changed. Young adults are angry that their voices are not heard or when they are heard they seem to be tokenized. Bishops are angry that protests happened on the floor GC. Other Bishops are sad that the church is still intentionally excluded people and do not know how to heal the hurt they see in our souls. We have no idea how to be a Global church and live in partnership and harmony together. What are we going to do?
Well if your answer is to leave or not pay your ministry shares, to basically stomp your feet pick up your ball and go find some other playground, then I am offering you a heartfelt good bye. I am sad to see you go even if I disagreed with you theologically or doctrinally. However, just like the kid at the playground who picks up his or her ball and leaves, the other kids do not simply leave and go home they find or create another game to play. I am those kids, I am staying. I am going to work with the others who stay to find a creative, inclusive way for the United Methodist Church to continue. So if you leave just like the kids on a playground I will be sad to see you go, but I am not going to follow you nor am I going to grab on to your shirttail trying to make you stay put.  Quite honestly I know that the church  cannot stay as we are now. I know that we will run out of money and run out of people in the United States. However, what I know we will never run out is God’s love and grace.
I mentioned this several times when I was at GC as angry and as hurt as I was that if we are here fighting we are here fighting for a reason. We want to save something, even if it is just some small piece of the UMC.  The reason to fight was not to break away or create our own thing. If leaving was what we truly wanted you don’t show up, you don’t take a stand, you don’t spent countless long days fighting. You  take stand and you walk away. You send a letter, you stop sending money, you take down your cross and flame, change out the hymnal, you burn the book of Disciple, and let the courts decide who gets your building, and even then if you really are serious about leaving you give your building over to the annual conference and let them deal with, for there are certainly other buildings to be had. In fact you don’t write blog after blog, open letter after open. or have hours long discussions. You make one statement and you leave. So left and right I am calling you out, neither one of you wants to leave. If you did you would be gone.
Even, as I write this I know I was in your shoes. I seriously considered leaving. I considered it so strongly that it caused a pretty scary fight with my best friend. I was ready to leave. I spent 45 minutes crying­­ and hours on the phone talking to dear friends ( both religious and not) about how gut wrenching this decision could be. Asking, ‘How could my church be so cruel to my friends?’ ‘How could my church actively try to silence the voice of women and minorities?’  ‘How could I tell my friends who know where I stand theologically and politically ( although my theology certainly influences my politics) and just my general personality and character that I was staying in this church?’ I asked ‘What will my friendships that were form inside the church look like from the outside?’ I was seriously considering walking away. It pained me.
Here is what I decided. The United Methodist Church raised me. It formed and continues to form me. The theology, the hymns, the Sunday school classes, conversations at summer camp, an undergraduate degree from a United Methodist school, time at a United Methodist seminary, time pastoring a  United Methodist Church and now serving as an associate conference lay leader, have encourage my relationship with God and probably outside of my family had the greatest impact on who I am today. I cannot, let me repeat, I cannot simply walk away from that. I am not saying that at some point won’t. In this moment it seems even more important that I stay. I am not staying in order to dig my feet into the ground and get my way. I am staying to work with those who agree with me and work with those who disagree with me to continue a United Methodist Church where people can meet Christ in others. Where people can be challenge by the stories and teachings of Jesus, a church where we challenge one another to grow in love. I cannot think of one friend or family member, even though I love them completely, with whom agree with 100% not one! We can be a family. We can agree to disagree. What we cannot continue to do is point fingers and place blame, we cannot continue to exclude. We cannot do this because Jesus did not do this and that is who we must follow. Even Jesus got frustrated with his disciples, and His disciples got frustrated with him. They stayed, Jesus and the Disciples stayed together. They listened, they learned, they cried, they loved. Most importantly they loved. They loved God, they loved each other.
I am staying. I hope you will stay too¸ and not just stay in name. I hope you stay in full participation, because the spirit is not done with us yet and that is why I am staying.