Monday, April 20, 2020

Community of Faith: New Places

This is an excerpt from some writing I did awhile back. I hope it leads you to think about your relationship with the church. When has the church been a "new place" for you? 

New Places
  I grew up on a farm in the middle of the northern Indiana. Many days were spent talking to livestock and jumping out of hay mounds with my three siblings. So, when I moved from rural community to rural community in the early days of adulthood, I did not feel like a fish out of water. The cornfields as far as the eye could see, the woods lining the back of our property, and the miles to the nearest grocery story all felt familiar and welcoming. I knew this terrain and loved the sound of cicadas and crickets in those early fall nights. 
I had also grown up as Old Blood in my town. The family joke was that my dad had to leave our small town to get a wife…because he was related to all the girls here. The third of four kids in a small rural school, the teachers loved me at the first glance of my last name. I was someone without even trying. This was not true in these new little towns I found myself moving to. I was a new person. They were the old blood and the familiar names and none of them had need for another friend. 
This was the reality that hit me hard when I took my toddlers to playgrounds or came to school sporting events. No one needed to bother with another person. I lived here, but I was not part of their community. Nor would I be. Each time I reached out, I was ignored or worse treated as a weirdo. Strangers don’t talk to each other in these places. 
This is the reality that hits many of us as we come to new places. We come as people whom the community doesn’t really care to include. The smaller the community the harder it is to break into. Indeed, some people who even marry into the local famous names, still never feel like they belong in these places. Forty years. Fifty years. This is not their place. They are only visitors. 
But not in God’s community. God’s church makes a place for new people. 
In fact, the Bible teaches that welcoming strangers is as old as Genesis. From travelers on Abraham’s doorstep all the way to Paul in Rome at the end of the New Testament. The church is a place for people without a place. Bible heroes are often heroes not for their capacity to love those in their city, but for their choice to love the travelers: Abraham, Lot, Rebekah, Rahab, the Woman at the well, the Disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Lydia. 
Each week the church lives into this with her welcome to strangers at her door. She welcomes in people without a community and gives them a place. She introduces new friends to old. She invites strangers into her community and then makes a way for these people in the larger community. She encourages residents to welcome newcomers.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Can the church survive seperation?

The news hit hard in this third week of social distancing of churches who are refusing to to suspend in person worship services, risking the lives of their congregation and the people the congregation comes in contact with. Not only is this dangerous, it also is bad theology.

For starters, the claim that God will "protect" his people in the sanctuary turns a virus into more than what it is. A virus is part of the natural order of the world, part of life itself. God allows viruses into our church buildings as much as he allows gravity, or the stray bird or bat. Viruses are not evil, they are nature. God doesn't curse people with illness, but he allows natural processes to happen.

While we are at it, lets talk about the sanctuary. The church building is not exempt from evil. It is a place we are intentional about meeting God, but God is intentional about meeting us every place we go. The sanctuary is not made holy by God's presence, its made holy by the searching for God that led us into it. No building is exempt from the worst of the world. In church buildings bombs and fires, gunshots and heart attacks have all occurred. A building does not protect you.

But we believe that the church is not a building, it is God's people. Can God's people still be together even if they can't touch each other? Our church is. People are calling each other, writing to each other, praying together, connecting together on Facebook not just one day but everyday of the week. We haven't stopped connecting because we can't come together physically on Sunday.

Now, lets talk faith. While those continuing to the meet claim they do so in faith, I argue that they are meeting because of a lack of faith. They are afraid that if they don't meet the church will not survive. I imagine that is what the early Christians thought when the Temple fell in their early days. But, she made it. And where ever Christians went, no matter how far from the building they were, God went with them. That's how the church grew.

It's much harder to have faith that the church will make it even if we are not meeting in the building, because we have to have faith in each other. We have to believe that when this is all over we will come back together to worship again. In my experience, it is much easier to trust God than to trust people. People have disappointed me more. But right now, we have to. We have to have faith in each other. We have to trust that we will not be forgotten. We have to do the work that has become harder: being the church even without a building. That is hard.

But maybe having a fast from our building, will help us remember what the church is. As the song says:

The church is not a building.The church is not a steeple.
The church is not a resting place. The church is People.
I am the church . You are the church. We are the church together.

Maybe God is teaching us how to be a more authentic faithful church.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Where are you, God?

Where are you, God? 

How many of us have wondered this in the last week as we have seen the world in chaos around us? As the news continues to stir anxiety and the shops remind us of the panic around us, we can lose sight of the One we trust in. God is here, and he has been reminding our house of that in small ways everyday. 

As we search for stationary to send notes of cheer to others and discover adult coloring books we can use, we hear God say, “I am here.”

As we discover the tennis balls I bought months ago and play tennis in an empty parking lot, we hear God whisper, “I am here.”

As we get a text from a friend after our first big meltdown, we hear God whisper, “I am here.”

As the gardening centers shut down, and we realize we already bought all the seeds we need, we hear God whisper, “I am here.”

As we get a new book of guitar chords for hymns and time to practice each day, we hear God say, “I am here.”

God reminds us in some little way every single day that God is here, with us. Even though life is uncertain…even though the world is chaotic…even though our daily lives have shifted…God is here. 

And even if the virus finds its way into our house…even if someone we love ends up in the hospital…even if the world is not the same after all of this…God is still here. 

God is with us whatever the future holds. Today, I choose to leave tomorrow with its worries in God’s hands. Today I am going to keep my ears  open for the whispers of God. Today I will live not in panic and anxiety, but in the sure hope that God is always with us. He is with us even when we are isolated from the rest of the world. I look to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Game of Monopoly

It has been a week since I started social distancing. I was sick, so I may have started in earnest before you did. Now I am just about over my cough and sore throat and feeling much better. That means staying home seems more like a prison than a luxury like it did last week. Luckily, after two very rainy days, today is beautiful. There is something about getting outside that makes one feel free. The dogs agree with me on this point. 

As I reflect on the Lent practice of fasting, I am really thinking about the things I have gained more than the things I have given up. Last night, Zeke set up Dog-opoly and we all came around the table happily to play. Zeke LOVES any version of monopoly and almost always wins. It wasn’t long before I owed him over $1000 in one round which meant I was left with less than $75. Ouch. It was looking really grim. So grim, that at one point I attempted to cheat and move forward one extra spot so I wouldn’t have to pay rent…until I realized no one owned that square yet. But then, later in that same round all 4 of my opponents rescued me. That’s right. They all changed the rules so I could live. 

That’s kind of where we are now, right? Out of compassion, those of us with much are changing the rules so that those with the least can live. Those who are the healthiest are staying home so the sickest can live. Those who are the wealthiest are finding ways to break the rules of capitalism to protect the most vulnerable. We are changing the rules of the game. I have felt that compassion in the leadership of the church as we change the rules of church.  I thank God that we have the resources to still connect from afar that weren’t available to those who faced pandemics in the 1918s or during the Black Plague. I am grateful that the God who was with people then is still the God who walks with us today. A God who never leaves us or forsakes us. A God that comforts us, provides for us, and brings joy into our lives. A God that still hears our prayers. I pray that we would all be responsible in limiting our contact with others. I pray that we would show extra care and encouragement to medical staff who have more demands on an already demanding job. 

Today is Lent. 
Today I give up my old ways of playing the game out of compassion for the most vulnerable. 
Today I give up my freedom to do as I please out of compassion for medical staff. 

Today I stay in and stay put that others may live. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

From a Pastor who is Coughing

March 16, 2020

It’s been a crazy weekend. After a lot of news the last several weeks about a new virus, the governor of Indiana and the Indiana United Methodist Church made some strong statements of limiting gatherings and encouraging social distancing. My church, although smaller that the 250 gathering limit, is primarily made of people in the most vulnerable population: 60+ year olds. The leadership wisely decided we should not meet at least this week. 

In the midst of these announcements I was sick. With a virus. And if I hadn’t gone through a box of Kleenexes in a day, I would have thought it was the new virus everyone was concerned about. Instead, I did my best to avoid people last week and hunkered down hard starting last Thursday. I saw my family doctor on Friday. They were cancelling all checkups with 60+ year olds over the phone as I checked in, and they didn’t require me to sign anything which meant I didn’t touch anything in the office. The doctor recommended I self-quarantine. She suspected the flu and gave me a little care bag of samples. She also said those ominous words, “You will probably get worse before you get better.” Great. 

Like every American I know, including a friend with MS, I hold a lot of guilt over “sick days.” I am always trying to push through the cold or rush back before I am actually well. As I have watched members of my congregation struggle with finding that balance, I have definitely longed for the day where sick people were given grace and allowed the full time they needed to get healthy. We are so busy doing things that could go without being done so that we have enough money to survive. It is quite crazy. We are so busy proving we are hard workers and responsible citizens that we put other lives in jeopardy of illness and disease.

And when we are scared, we want to jump to action. Which is super difficult in days like today. I feel really guilty about doing nothing. Yet my husband has told me not do anything. My doctor has told me not do anything. My governor has told me not to do anything.  God is whispering “BE STILL and know that I am God.” And yet, that voice whispering in my head says, “You are only worth the work you do.” 

So today I am letting go of the guilt. I am doing nothing. Lent is supposed to be a season of self-reflection and giving up those things that keep us from knowing God deeper. Today, I fast from feeling guilty. I am trusting God that tomorrow will come without me running. Tomorrow will come without me infecting others. Tomorrow will come even if I do nothing. 

Today’s Lent practice: 
Letting go of my need to be busy
Letting go of my feelings of guilt
Trusting that God will love me even when I do nothing

Saturday, June 15, 2019

God Moments at Annual Conference 2019

This was my first year at Annual Conference to vote for General Conference delegates. It also was an intense one, as it followed General Conference 2019. I was proud to be part of the Room for All Coalition and be a part of something bigger than myself. But just as it always does, it wasn’t just in the meetings that God was at work. This is about the God moments that happened in the halls and the breaks and the hotel. The moments when God took me by surprise this Annual Conference(AC). 

My journey as a Methodist has been relatively short. My first trip to AC was in 2009. That seems a lot longer to my daughter who has been going her whole life. Since I am new, I have worked hard to connect with the clergy close to me geographically in every single area I have been appointed. Being connected with colleagues is one of reasons I choose to be in a denomination. Most of these pastors I haven’t had deep discussions about my positions with regarding General Conference 2019. It’s easy to not wear that on your sleeve. 

Until your daughter turns 11, that is. This year, Lydia adorned herself in rainbows fully aware that many of the decisions this AC were about our reaction as an AC to the exclusion and punitive measures of GC 2019. She insisted that I do the same. When your daughter tells you to wear a rainbow, you wear it. Because how would I tell her no? Then Lydia sat in the Clergy Spouse booth, creating artwork heavy with rainbows. Nick couldn’t hide either. Lydia was going to make sure AC knew her parents were progressive Christians. 

It was late one night as I shared with the family the good news that the people I was voting for were going to be our delegates, that Zeke shared that he too was on the side of the rainbow. Then he asked the question, “How could someone not be?” Behind that question was the core of our theology as the UMC. Both my kids have been taught in UMC Sunday school classes, VBS, and after school programs the heart of our theology: Gods love you before you love him. God loves you. And you are to love others like God loves them. This is what I heard in this question. How can you keep people from being in a covenant relationship of love and call that Christian? How can you keep people from following God’s call on their lives and and not keep them from loving God by following their call?

But their question was not a rhetorical one like those above. It was one that expected an answer. So I did my best. I said what I know to be true, “For a long time pastors taught people that it was wrong  for boys to love boys and girls to love girls.” Pause. “Your dad and I grew up in churches that taught that.” Pause. “But you know what, we studied and learned and we decide that was wrong.” Pause. “God can change people.”  

When I served my first church in the UMC back in 2009, one of the geographically close people I met was Pastor Meg. Pastor Meg was a great pastor doing good work in her local church and even beyond at the district and conference levels. I ran into her this Annual Conference. She looked at my rainbow button, and said, “It’s good to know where you stand.” And introduced me to her wife. 

God can change people. Meg still feels called to be a pastor, and I pray that God changes us people so that she can. I pray that people don’t have to choose between a spouse and their call. I pray that we can make room for people to love others and love God at the same time. God can change people. Come, Holy Spirit, Come. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Wesley's Quadrilateral: My view of LGBT rights by way of Reason

This Epiphany season I am preaching a series of sermons on “How We Know God” using Wesley’s Quadrilateral as a template. Each Sunday in worship I will be talking about one of the 4 sources we use to know God: Scripture, Experience, Tradition, and Reason. Here, in anticipation of the General Conference on A Way Forward coming up in February, I will be writing about how these 4 sources of knowing God have informed my current opinions on the involvement of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. May these reflections spark you to reflect on your own opinions and how God has been present in shaping and changing your beliefs. 

Reason is the smallest side of Wesley’s quadrilateral because throughout history we have often used scripture to justify injustice. During the era of legal slavery, slaveholders and their churches justified their treatment of people as property by proof texting and twisting the scriptures. And yet at the same time, abolitionists used scripture to condemn slavery. Reason can be a dangerous tool when used without the other 3 sides. With that said, let us tread lightly.

2 Greatest Commandments
For me, reason makes us examine the world through the two greatest commandments. Love the Lord with all your being. Love others as you love yourself.  It’s easy for us to say we love, but the other side of that question is just as important: Do others experience what we are doing as love? I can abuse someone and say it is because I love them. However, those harmed or even those outside of the abuse may see those actions as unloving. They may say, “That is not what love looks like.” 

The acts against LGBT people have often looked unloving. Keeping them from caring for each other in sickness and health looks unloving. Keeping them from using their gifts and abilities because of who they cherish looks unloving. Keeping them from expanding their homes to love children looks unloving. Telling them they have no place in God’s family looks unloving. Forcing them to choose between romantic love and agape love looks unloving. Even worse, encouraging families to disown LGBT family members looks unloving. Jesus reminded us to be concerned more about judging ourselves rather than those around us. Let us first love correctly ourselves before we argue about the appropriateness of others' love.

3 Simple Rules
John Wesley used three simple rules to help him reason. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. 

Do no harm. When we look at LGBTs in marriage relationships, are they harming others? No, their marriage harms no one. By not allowing marriage, are we doing harm? Yes, we are keeping committed adults from making decisions for their loved ones in hospitals and allowing only one parent to have legal guardianship of children. Denying marriage has implications that hurt families.

Do good. Are LGBT people keeping us from doing good? No. By excluding them, are we keeping them from doing good? Yes. The church is often the place where we band together to transform our communities and by excluding LGBT folks from leadership, we are getting in the way of them do as much good for the world as they can. 

Stay in love with God. Is the inclusion of LGBT people in our congregations keeping us from growing closer in love with God? No. Are our policies keeping LGBT people from nurturing their own faith development through the church? Yes. We are keeping people from following God’s call on their lives. Our exclusion of LGBT folks tears them a way from the church. When it comes to ordination, we have alienated younger generation who recognize this is not a loving position. If you believe as I do that the church is God’s community to provide support and accountability and administer his grace, than forcing people out of the church is not good for their love for God. 

It seems reasonable to me that God would invite people into all parts of the church and into committed relationships. It seems reasonable to me that scripture, experience, and tradition all support this as well.