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.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I think it is a bit ironic that my last blog post on my old blog was 4 years ago. Four years ago after attending United Methodist General Conference 2008 in Fort Worth, TX and going to Israel and after much thought and prayer I decided to leave seminary and end ordination process with in the United Methodist Church. This happened for a variety of reason which I am sure over the course of time I will discuss. So it seems ironic to me that I am starting a blog after attending General Conference 2012 in Tampa, FL.

This blog comes at a time when I am much more hopeful .

As, we enter week two post GC2012 I have come down a bit. There is definitely some grieving going on. I grieve for the Church, I grieve for those who have directly and deeply wounded by the church, I grieve for those of us who feel guilt for being welcomed in a place where ALL does not mean ALL, I grieve for the Bishops who lead this broken body,I grieve for those who have lost hope and I miss terribly friends old and new who built and are building a loving, Christ seeking community.

Yet, it is not only grief. It is excitement that in the midst of our pain there is a large group that wants to move forward and be creative and  figure out how we can be Methodists in a 21st century way. I am hopeful in the number of bishops both retired and current who have offered their support and well wishes. There is a who heap of gratefulness that the Spirit does work in mysterious was without a doubt at work at #GC2012 in the Conference as a whole and certainly in my life. In conference striking down legislation that made the church a place a small minority would be in control and in my life by giving me new friends and allowing old friendships to be sustained and nurtured.

So, this blog title is inspired by Bishop Kiesey's May 3rd Sermon . It was a bright spot of GC2012. This Blog moving foreword will be my thoughts on faith, religion, politics, sports and where they all intersect.