Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

The following is liturgy used at Tecumseh UMC to work through a difficult week nationally as I reflected on how the focus of our public discourse has been misdirected toward President Trump’s prejudiced rhetoric, white supremacists, and the two shooters in last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  While each of these have some responsibility for the conflict and suffering of our recent days, what is missing is a call to us–to America, and especially white America–to look into our own hearts and lives.  After all, we elected Trump having heard plenty of his hateful speech.  We are willing to be tempted into fear of the non-white ‘other’.   And we now routinely cycle through trauma, outrage, then acceptance of “the new normal” with every new mass shooting.  We are complicit.

Call to Worship

The table is set
The food is prepared

Invitations have been sent . . .
to Whites, Blacks, Browns, Reds, and Yellows;
to Anglos, Africans, Asians, and Latinos;
to citizens, immigrants, and refugees—with and without documentation;
to straights, gays, and trans;
to conservatives, liberals and progressives, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents;
to you and to me.

Will you come to the table Christ has set for all?

Prayer of Confession

Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed. (James 5.15-16)

Holy God, we are a people loathe to admit our mistakes, ill-chosen words, neglect of others, and harmful actions.
Lord, in your mercy . . .
Break our hearts and forgive us.

We too easily forget that all people—every race and nationality, party and ideology—are created in your divine image.
Lord, in your mercy . . .
Break our hearts and forgive us.

In our day we have too often welcomed the hateful speech of others, claiming they refreshingly “tell it like it is” while denying how such speech affirms our darkest impulses and tempts us to validate our own fear and hate.
Lord, in your mercy . . .
Break our hearts and forgive us.

Leader: We have allowed ourselves to become insensitive to the suffering caused by the violence of word and deed.
Lord, in your mercy . . .
Break our hearts and forgive us.

We thank you, Holy God, that through your Son Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Bring us now to repentance—change our hearts and lives that we may be more Christlike in all our ways.

The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Let us lift up our hearts.
We lift our hearts to the Lord.

Let us give thanks.
It is good and right to give our thanks and praise to God

We give thanks to you, Almighty God,
not to serve the need of ritual or tradition,
but because it is good and right for us
to acknowledge your love wherever we are
and in any season.

You created a good world.
Having made us in your image and given us life,
you placed us into the world to care for it
and build community with each other.

We confess that we have not been satisfied to be your people;
that we have rebelled against your authority
as spoiled children wanting things our own way.
We have abused your creation and each other
through what we have done and left undone.
We have let prejudice, difference of opinion,
and fearmongering build walls of suspicion and hatred between us.
We have broken your heart.

Yet out of love, you pursued us and cared for us.
When slaves in Egypt, you freed us.
When wanderers in the wilderness,
you offered us a covenant to guide us
in our relationships with you and with each other.
When we strayed, you sent prophets to call us back to you,
prophets who cast before us your vision
of justice, righteousness, and peace.

For these mighty acts of love, we raise our voices with
all people on earth and all the company of heaven
to praise your name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

You are holy, perfectly righteous,
and likewise your Son Jesus Christ who, at the right time,
entered our corrupt and broken world to be a beacon of hope
to a people stumbling desperately through the dark.

Through him you gave sight to the blind, good news to the poor,
belonging to those on the margins and beyond,
and love to the untouchable.

Through him you lifted up the lowly and humbled
and repudiated the status, position, and honor
of the rich and powerful.

Through him you fed the hungry and healed the sick for no charge.

Your own Son came to us as a servant to be Emmanuel,
your presence with us.

He obeyed your will without question,
trusting in your wisdom and your plan
as he freely accepted death on the cross.

Through his suffering, death, and resurrection
you gave birth to your Church,
freed us from sin’s power and our souls from death,
and renewed you covenant with us.

[ Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Bread – took, gave thanks, broke, gave to disciples, said…
Cup – took, gave thanks, broke, gave to disciples, said… ]

In this remembrance of your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves with thankfulness as a living sacrifice
in union with Christ’s offering for the world.

May your Holy Spirit rain down on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and juice
so that we may experience them as the body and blood of Christ.

In that experience, may we be the body of Christ for the world.

Knit us together with Christ and with each other by your Spirit,
that we may go boldly into the world to minister and to offer the gospel
until Christ comes again in final victory, and we join his heavenly banquet.

Through your Son Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
all honor and glory is yours, Almighty God, now and always.

Amen.

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Let us in The United Methodist Church stop calling ourselves, or even aspiring to be, countercultural.  We have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are thoroughly accommodated and inured to our 21st century American culture.

Lest you think I am adding my voice to those of conservatives who decry the an accommodation to society’s cultural mores regarding human sexuality by progressive UMs and conferences such as the Michigan Area Conference, such is not what I have in mind.  Instead, I am taking a much broader view and seeing a UM church comprised of conservatives/traditionalists/evangelicals and progressives/liberals that looks like the greater culture in which it lives.

I had hoped, at the start of General Conference 2019 and again at the start of the Michigan Annual Conference 2019 that its delegates would do what we have forgotten how to do in our society’s public discourse: hold constructive conversations that present the issues of the day in depth so that opposing views (and opposing sides) might be understood and considered.  I had hoped that there would be substantive theological and ecclesial debate in which both conservative and progressive view would be compellingly defended.

Instead, from GC2019 through MAC2019, the pattern of presentation (the word debate is inappropriate) was like that in our national discourse.  Each side raised their flag, stated their position without defending it, labeled the other, and assumed the other performed political maneuvering to undercut the other.

Conservatives claimed adherence to orthodox biblical authority and church tradition regarding homosexuality without arguing why their position remains the necessary one today after so much in the church has evolved in the last two millennia (for example, we no longer attribute mental illness to demon possession, withhold the bible from the laity, or treat divorce as a sin leading to excommunication).  Nor did they address the suffering caused to LGBTQIA+ by their position, nor current scientific understanding of sexuality and sexual identity beyond calling anything other than cis-gendered heterosexuality a sin.

Progressives appealed to the pain LGBTQIA+ feel when confronted with language such as “homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibitions against ordination and same-sex marriage without dealing with almost two millennia of church tradition regarding human sexuality, and, more importantly, the passages in the Bible that speak quite forcefully about homosexuality.  They did not defend their position in a way the church, with the Bible as its primary source for theology and authority, could embrace let alone understand.

I realize that what I wanted to see—thoughtful, constructive, and critical debate—would have been hard work.  Unfortunately, without that debate all that was accomplished was the further separation and solidification of the opposing positions with an unhealthy dash of suspicion and distrust thrown in.

We had a chance to be countercultural and we wasted it.  We call each other names (using labels), raise our flags of “orthodoxy” and “inclusive love”, and eye each other warily across the ever widening divide.  How is this different than the world around us?

The following is a Facebook post that looked meaty enough to blog.  It references the following UM News item:
https://www.umnews.org/en/news/denominations-future-under-discussion-quietly

It sounds as if there is a sense of ownership of the denomination underlying the discussions mentioned in the attached article–more so by the progressive side but also by conservatives.
What everyone might want to consider is the statistical implication of the GC2019 vote to adopt the Traditional Plan. It was 438 for to 384 against. The difference is just about 6% or +/- 3%. Anyone who does polling will tell you that this figure is the standard margin of error. Any poll within this margin is statistically equivalent. Except for the technicality of a majority vote (a quantitative but not qualitative rubric), one might conclude that neither side “owns” the UMC; neither side “won”.
For progressives, who are feeling that there is no place for the draconian hard-line of conservatives in their church, and conservatives who are feeling a bit triumphant that they “won”, the statistical equivalence suggests neither side has accomplished anything but a more public articulation of our differences.
I expect all of the above may be labeled “gobbledygook” (or worse) by anyone who feels that discernment of the divine will has been achieved by a narrow numeric superiority and that there is nothing more to be said. One can print this off and paper a bird-cage with it if desired.
My take on this, from a qualitative interpretation of the vote, is that both sides dug trenches and threw ideological grenades at each other, never really making a compelling case that might have inspired at least a moment of consideration of each other’s views. It’s not enough to simply say, “LGBT persons feel disenfranchised and 2nd class, which is wrong” or “this is what the Bible and the church have always said, therefore it is so”. Such statements are little more than introductory summaries to the debate.
(time to wrap this up . . . have probably hacked off enough people for a Tuesday morning)

The Michigan Statement, today, hit the newspapers.  It now belongs to our culture as an artifact of our time that represents the religious, social, and political dynamics of our culture, not just United Methodism in Michigan.  In its public form, it is a simple statement of support for full inclusion of LGBTQIA persons in all areas of the life of the UMC, particularly within the Michigan Conference.  It includes a confession to LGBTQIA persons for the pain inflicted by the GC2019 decision to affirm 47 years of homosexual exclusion in the clergy, a more recent rejection of same-gender marriage, and the assertion of more severe sanction for disobedience in these areas.  In addition, the statement declares support for LGBTQIA persons.

In addition to the public statement, displayed on The Michigan Statement website’s homepage, is a link to a page containing the much longer letter read to the Michigan Area bishop on 9 March during a session including the bishop and Michigan Conference clergy (no laity were present).  That letter says the same thing as the briefer public statement, albeit with greater verbosity.  It also says something that the statement does not say–that the undersigned vow to disobey the prohibitions of homosexual clergy and same-gender marriage found in The Discipline.  This takes The Michigan Statement a step further than I am willing to go and further alienates me from the veritable who’s-who of Michigan Methodism who have signed the letter.

Collegial alienation, or at least some distancing, is something I do not want but is something I can deal with.  I expect to not always agree with my peers in ministry, although disagreements have been rare.  But I do worry about what might happen should increasingly more partisan colleagues come into positions of influence over clergy assessments and appointments.  So far, I have not been willing to entertain the cynical distrust I am hearing from others.

Unfortunately, a document, which has been published but not widely distributed by our conference Board of Ordained Ministry, makes me wary.  In it is a declaration to disobey The Discipline‘s prohibition on gay clergy should it be determined that a LGBTQIA person displays the gifts and graces for ministry.  My concern is how the BOM might deal with clergy that do not agree with their position, or, like me, reject disobedience of church law.

I continue to be disappointed that many on both sides of the divide are not taking time to pause, breath, pray, contemplate, and take time to not react.

I just heard on our local NPR outlet a report about the BOM’s vow to disobey (4:00pm).  I suspect this to be the result of a press release given them by someone representing the BOM.  If this is the case, it is more than a little disturbing because it implies the conflict is being pushed into the arena of public opinion.  I find this unwise.

America–October 2018

Posted: 2018/11/02 in Christianity, Church

[This was first posted on Facebook on 28 October 2018]

America, October 2018 — division, derision, deceit, & desperation for a better world — Today’s epiphany is that the Church …
… does not exist merely as a retreat and ancient rock of stability in an unstable world,
… does not exist merely to remind us that God loves us and Jesus saves us (if we need weekly reminders, we haven’t been paying attention and need to look at our trust in God),
… does not exist merely to entertain with great music and arts,
… does not exist merely to give preachers a pulpit for eloquent and articulate (and occasionally inspiring) oration,
BUT the Church DOES EXIST in order to SHOW THE WORLD A GLIMPSE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD…
…where grace, peace, love, community, compassion, care, generosity, courage, truth, forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice are the rule of the day.

BTW – the church is full of real people. One of them may hurt you or at least make you unhappy. Your pastor may not do whatever spirituality you want in the way you want it.
So what! If you claim Christ as your Lord & Savior, then you might try seeing past these to the bigger, more important calling of being part of that glimpse of the Kingdom that offers hope to the world. Just because the world has forgotten forgiveness doesn’t mean that we who follow the crucified Christ have done the same.

Lord, have mercy. Brothers and Sisters, let’s change the world! Lord, have mercy.

 

How shall we respond to the October 27th mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA?  An article on the United Methodist News Service website offered a thought-provoking recommendation by the bishop presiding over the Pittsburgh area:

It will not do for United Methodists to expect God to step in to bring about change after a deadly shooting that killed 11 and wounded six at a Pittsburgh synagogue, said the Pittsburgh Area United Methodist bishop.

“As you pray, I urge you not to suggest to God what you want God to do to bring about change,” said Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi said in a statement. “But rather, I urge you to listen to God so that God can reveal to you what to say and what to do in order to provide comfort to our Jewish sisters and brothers, the first responders and all those for whom this tragedy reignites previous trauma.”   (emphasis mine; see the full article here)

This caught me out because I have a bad habit of telling God what I want God to do about various troublesome things as if God hasn’t been paying attention and I know best.  How weak my own faith if I believe that God has not witnessed the tragedy and is unaware of the suffering!  How presumptuous of my ego to tell God what has to happen in response!

Of course, we pray for God’s grace of healing, comfort, and peace for all affected by the shooting, from the families of those killed to those recovering from their wounds to the congregation and neighborhood of the synagogue to first responders to all who are touched by the tragedy.  But then, I feel an urge to pray that God tweak lawmakers so that how we manage guns in America be made more safe and sane, and that President Trump’s hair fall out for responding to the tragedy by suggesting the victims shared responsibility for the tragedy by failing to have an armed guard in their sacred space.  Whether unrealistic, unreasonable, or simply silly, these last two petitions are hardly worthy of both the God whose vision and wisdom transcend the universe and his humble servant who is often not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

If I understand Bishop Moore-Koikoi’s recommendation correctly, then I agree that the first step in our response is to shut-up and listen for God’s guidance with regard to sharing the comforting and healing love of God with those most directly affected by the shooting.  Our subsequent response is like the first–shut up and listen for God’s guidance for what to do next.  Typically though, this is then the time when our own preferences and politics enter in and we seek to impose our own solutions by having God do our will under our guidance as if we know best.  Worse yet, we might even go a step further asking God to implement our solutions.

Maybe it’s time to simply ask God for what is right and what God wants of us in this situation.  We might also ask for help in shedding our intellectual ego and presumptions so as to more clearly listen for God’s wisdom free of our presumptions, prejudices, preferences, and politics.  And then we might ask God what God wants us to do rather than telling God what we want God to do.  After all, we’re here to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ in the world.

The shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue are horrific and tragic.
Now then, what, God, do you want us to do?

Evangelical Christian support for President Donald Trump, while a political phenomenon, is also a fascinating study in Christian ethics, or, more specifically, the complexity of mixed ethical systems.  In an interview aired on NPR’s Morning Edition on August 29, the Reverend Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, a Southern Baptist megachurch, did a fine job of articulating the complex ethical calculus Evangelicals apply to President Trump.  And before getting into that calculus, we need a brief refresher on Christian ethics.

There are two major ethical systems that we use to guide our decision making.  One is Utilitarian Ethics, in which the primary question to be answered is, In a given situation requiring a decision, which will lead to an outcome expected to yield the greatest good for the most people.  On the up-side utilitarian ethics is practical.  On the down-side it easily leads to the ends justifying the means.  The other ethical system is Virtue Ethics, which asks, In a given situation requiring a decision, which is most consistent with the virtues and values that express one’s understanding of who one wants to be.  Its up-side is a consistent correspondence with one’s understanding of the ethical example of Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers.  Its down-side is a possible lack of practicality and a danger of placing principle over the needs and common good of people.

In the Morning Edition interview, Jeffress articulated his ambivalence with both ethical systems early on, when he said, “I think evangelicals understand there’s a difference between supporting a president’s policies and supporting individual behavior” — a jump from utilitarian to virtue ethics.  Pressed on which policies Trump has supported that he supports, Jeffress side-stepped a little and said of Trump, “He has been the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-conservative judiciary president of any president in history . . . that’s why these evangelicals enthusiastically support him.”  When pressed on Trump’s moral failings, vis-a-vis “sleeping with a porn star . . . paying hush money . . . mistruths the president has stated time and again,” all of which Christians generally find reprehensible, Jeffress said, “The Gospel message is all of us have sinned.  We’ve all fallen short of God’s glory.  We are all sinners.  We all need a savior.”  True, but where Jeffress exposes his ambivalence is in failing to offer the same grace in judgment to Bill and Hillary Clinton.  As the interviewer pointed out, evangelicals were critical of Bill Clinton because of his personal faults arguing that “you cannot compartmentalize someone’s morality.”  Moreover, he flatly stated that “I don’t know in what moral universe anybody could argue that Hillary Clinton is more moral than Donald Trump,” and mentions, without identifying “a litany of Hillary Clinton’s offenses.”  If I understand Jeffress correctly, then one who commits adultery, consistently deceives, and often denigrates persons is as moral as someone who does not commit adultery, has deceived, but in frequently, and does not generally denigrate others.  I have to admit that I do not know in what moral universe such an equivocation makes any sense.  Jeffress needed to simply admit that he is willing to overlook some serious and unrepentant sin in order to support someone who puts forth a policy agenda he believes is needed.  He also needs to own up to his political bias that prevents him overlooking the sin of those with whom he disagrees and does not trust (specifically the Clintons).

Another interesting bit came during a shift in the conversation when the interviewer asked Jeffress about the ways he felt that evangelical Christians are “treated as a persecuted minority in this country.”  He responded that Christians have become marginalized, rolling out the trope, in so many words, that America was once but no longer a Christian nation.  Although I want to save a discussion about this idea for another essay, I do want to answer Jeffress basic complaint that Christians are restricted in serious ways from practicing our religion.  I for one have never experienced this restriction, but then I have never insisted that everyone around me, regardless of their religious tradition (or none at all), practice the religion that I do by virtue of imposing Christian practice and symbolism on people in schools and the public square.  For me, evangelism is not a matter of public policy but relationship as the Gospel is passed from one to the next in places where we have earned the respect to be heard (especially by our moral behavior).

I think I now better understand evangelical equivocation and ambivalence.  It is hard for me to accept, coming as I do from a holiness tradition (Wesleyan Methodism) whose ethics are summed up in this question by its founder, John Wesley, “Are you going on to perfection?”