upper room daily devotions

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Prayer for Trinity Sunday

Holy God, like a potter, you reached into the mud and shaped a new form - us. As a mother, you loved and nurtured us into your people. With your holy imagination, you dreamed up mountains and clouds, rabbits, kangaroos, and creatures in the sea. With the power of your Word, you spoke your imagination into being. In the fullness of time, your holy expression - your Word and Wisdom - came to us as a peasant healer, who by his example and through his life showed us what being your children can look like. When he left us, he breathed into us your Breath, the same Breath that hovered over chaos at the beginning of time. And by his Breath, he never really left. You are the most Perfect One, the Ground of Being, the Perfect Relationship. We praise you, and we seek to see this world as you do, to tend its broken places, and to labor as you do to heal the brokenness found in your most precious creation. We pray in the name of the Triune God. Amen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pentecost - inside and out with John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan preached at Queen Anne UMC on the all transforming power of The Holy Spirit. It is like getting a spirit transplant in your body. It either takes over or you reject it. You can't just have a little bit of it or be affected in small degrees. All or nothing.

He preached in the service and gave three lectures. More at www.qaumc.org/the-well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Response to Charles L Worley

The most recent clergy harangue against LGBTQI people comes from a North Carolina Baptist pastor named Charles L. Worley. In a logic defying tirade, he says that LGBTQI, or more accurately "lesbians and queers," should be put behind an electric fence, fed (let's not be mean, after all), and kept until they die. Because, once they die there will be no more homosexuality.

Mark Sandlin at The God Article has advocated for a clever response to this "sermon" - send donations to LGBTQI friendly organizations in Charles L. Worley's name and send him a postcard or an email telling him. I did just that. Here is my email to Charles L. Worley.
"I have given a donation to Beyond the Bridge in your honor. Beyond the Bridge is an organization in Seattle that works to eliminate lgbtqi suicides with a special emphasis on teenager mental health. I want you to know that as a result of your hate-laced sermon, not only have I made a donation, but many, many more people are sending donations to organizations like BTB.

I am a pastor in Seattle, Washington. Our world is too polarized and too hate-filled. The God to whom I bow and the Jesus whom I follow do not instruct us to hate. Proof texting the Bible will lead to no good end. For every verse about love I put here, you will put up a scripture from Romans or Leviticus. For every scripture you cite, I can cite one equally as powerful. In the end, this is a question of faith - trust. I trust a loving God. I am not sure who you trust.

I pray for your soul. I pray for those whom you have harmed with your hate. I pray for your church. And, I pray for Christianity, which has become too well known as a place of ignorance and hate rather than a movement of love, justice, and compassion."
Is this a little snarky of me to do? Probably. But, it is also an earnest response. Over and over again, hateful people say the most evil things in the name of the God I worship. They take the word that I use to describe myself - "Christian" - and they twist and turn it into something wholly unrecognizable. I am exhausted from conversations with people who say, "Oh, I know about Christianity. I grew up in a church. They hate gays and are hypocritical about everything." Well, of course we're hypocritical; we're human, after all, but there is something we can do about being known for "hating gays." We can say without reservation that while theological difference is fine, hate is never fine. We can denounce those who kidnap our faith and hold it hostage. We can love our hurting children and tend the wounds that hate-mongering has inflicted on our brothers and sisters.

My next blog post was going to be called "Generosity is the Real Radicality." (Yes, I know "radicality" isn't a word). It was going to be about the hyper-partisan language wielded like a weapon in both civil discourse and sectarian discourse. It was going to highlight the need for a more generous dialogue about real and significant difference. I'll get to it, but first I had to respond to Charles L. Worley. I hope, though, that in doing so I have found some footing in the realm of generosity. But, I equally hope that I am clear in my point of view.

Hate is not acceptable. Hurting others is not acceptable. There is nothing godly or civil about it. It is not generous. I will not return Worley's unkind words to him, but I will not cloak my response in milquetoast language or pretend that my response is not strong and visceral. I will never change the minds of people like Charles L. Worley with proof texting the Bible; I will also never change them by meeting their hate with hate of my own. The Christian walk - to be a Follower of the Way - requires that I find a different response to hate. It requires that I love my enemy, pray for him earnestly, seek reconciliation, and work tirelessly for a hate-free world. Today, I hope I have approximated that requirement by letting Charles L. Worley know two things: His hate will not overcome God's love. And, this Christian pastor loves LGBQI people and sent money to a queer positive organization as proof of that love.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

John Dominic Crossan at Queen Anne UMC May 26-27

John Dominic Crossan comes to Queen Anne United Methodist Church May 26-27 as the next facilitator in our program "The Well, a gathering place for conversation." Speaking on his new book "The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus," Crossan will lecture three times and preach during worship on Pentecost Sunday.

The schedule for the weekend begins Saturday, May 26, with a lecture at 7 PM. Sunday begins with worship; John Dominic Crossan will preach during worship, which begins at 10 AM. In the afternoon, he will give two additional lectures beginning at 3 PM. Book sales and book signing will take place on Sunday.

"The Well" has focused on narrative and story during our early weeks. Robert V Taylor spoke about his book in which he uses his own spiritual journey as a tour guide for the reader along his or her own journey. Carrie Newcomer led a workshop called "Our Lives as Sacred Story." In June, Kathleen Norris will speak about time - our use and misuse of it - drawing from her book "Acedia and Me." And, in July, poet and activist Luis Rodriguez will join us, also taking on the theme of story.

John Dominic Crossan asserts that Christians can't get 21st Century Christianity right if we don't understand 1st Century Christianity. His work attempts to make Jesus, his followers, his Jewish context, and the early Christian movement real for Christians today.

His most recent book dissects the linguistic tool Jesus most used - the parable. Jesus spoke about the "kingdom" by telling stories. Yet, Christians very quickly lost that focus in order to emphasize Jesus himself. Why is that? What does it mean? What can we learn from Jesus' own teachings?

These are questions that thinking, questioning, and maturing Christians should attempt to answer.

The weather has finally turned nice in Seattle. It is Folklife that weekend. There are lots of reasons to be distracted, but I encourage folks in the Seattle area to sign up and come. Email us at thewellqueenanne@gmail.com or call at 206-282-4307 for tickets. The event is free and open to the public with a suggested donation of $30 for the full series of lectures.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

This Gay Pastor Responds to General Conference

Over the past couple of weeks the internet has been replete with articles, blog posts, facebook updates, and tweets about the decision made at General Conference of The United Methodist Church to maintain language stating that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." I actually don't want to rehash most of what has been said. Whether it's Chuck Currie (a UCC pastor preaching at First UMC in Portland), Sandy Brown (pastor at First UMC in Seattle), or others across the nation, most of what needs to be said has been said. Simply put, the decision to continue the marginalization of LGBTQI people is wrong. It is not about biblical authority or holiness. Rather, it is about power and fear of difference. For those who hold a theology that is challenged by fluid sexual identity or sexual orientation, there is more graciousness and kindness in stating that good Christians of good conscience disagree. Those who won't name our disagreement are much more interested in being right than loving, more interested in having power over than being in community with, more invested in shoring up their world views than being changed by the Other. These are my thoughts and they belong to no other person. I own them all.

My facebook wall has been filled with responses to General Conference - responses which range from disappointment to outrage, from the uncertainty of whether people can continue inside this polarized and broken denomination to deep sorrow because the bigotry of the general church is at odds with and doesn't reflect the love and welcome people have personally experienced in their local congregations. A number of these posts have been made by young adults and others who tuned in or attended General Conference for the first time this year. Others have been slogging through the debate on human sexuality quadrennium after quadrennium and they despair of any motion toward inclusion.

To be honest, I am more heartbroken over how other people have been hurt by General Conference than I am directly wounded by it. If I weren't somewhat inured to the issue by now, I would have left this denomination a long time ago. And, trust me, I've thought about it. Long and hard, I've thought about it. Today, however, I feel freed from the marginalization of the church (well, most of the time I do). A while ago, I decided to be honest about who I am, what I believe, and what I'm called to do; if the United Methodist Church provides a place for me at the table, so be it. If not, so be it. I don't say this flippantly. You see, my family is a generationally Methodist one. Not one, but two of my ancestors were Circuit Riders back in the early days of the movement. I can trace my family back to the very beginning of the Church of England. The Anglican way is part of me. The Wesleyan movement has left indelible marks on me. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Wesley's sermons, our hymnody, the idea of itinerating clergy, free will, prevenient grace, practical divinity - these are all deeply rooted in how I experience God and how I mediate God to others. However, I do not bow down to The United Methodist Church; I bow before God, and none other (at least that is to what I aspire). So, when I see this glorious movement, this wonderful heritage, wasted in worthless acts of evil and oppression, I hurt. When I hear young adults wonder how their church as a global body can differ so much from their local congregation, my heart breaks. When clergy who haven't been able to leave their closets come to me and cry in uncertainty about their place in this denomination, I cry with them.

There are those who like to quote scripture - five to seven specific scriptures - about how homosexuality is against human nature and God's plan for humankind. And, I don't want to parse those scriptures here. I'm willing to say, "Okay. Let's say that's right. So what?" That usually throws people off. They expect me to try an explain those scriptures away or to step into church apologetics, to get my "revisionist exegesis" on. I certainly can do that because the scriptures trotted out and put on display have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, but I very often choose not to do that because arguing won't change people's minds. Rather, I have found that I have to step away from the debate, not because I am afraid of "losing" or because I can't match them scripture for scripture (I can), but because experience (one of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral) has taught me that debate and argument do not equal holy conferencing; they do not change anyone's mind. And so, I reply with the question, "So what?" There are no biblical literalists. There aren't. There are biblical fundamentalists, Evangelicals, charismatics, and so forth, but there aren't literalists. The Bible is always interpreted. We have made many decisions over the past two millennia about our relationship with scripture. It is our holy book. It is our story. It is God's Word. It is not something to take literally, not if we take it seriously. My question of "so what" is not a challenge to scripture; it is a challenge to the person abusing it. I simply call them on their arbitrary use of God's word, which I believe is a violation of the first three of the 10 Commandments, which leads all too often to the violation of the sixth and ninth commandments.

Instead of arguing, I pray for the salvation of those who say unspeakable things about me. I pray for those who enliken me to someone engaged in bestiality, pedophilia, murder, rape, and torture (all of which have been used in comparisons directly to me). At General Conference in 2000, an African delegate actually said that homosexuality results from a witch's curse, to which American delegates in opposition to homosexuality nodded in agreement and applauded. I had no choice except to believe that a significant portion of the Southern delegates believe in witchcraft or they were willing to use an African delegate to promote their own political aims. I left and prayed for them all. The narrowness of their heart must be a burden. I have come to believe in something I once deeply resisted for both theological and linguistic reasons: I have become a prayer warrior.

The United Methodist Church failed to live into something better, something more humane, something more Godly. It decided to stay locked in a pattern of fear, scapegoating, and namecalling. What it - what WE - did this General Conference was to contribute to the death of every LGBTQI person who commits suicide. Their blood is on our house. Every time religious language is lifted as a club used to spiritually bludgeon a beautiful child of God who wants to live fully the way in which God has created them to be, it steals something of their soul until too many hurting and soul-weary people take their own lives or live in fear, or they hide in dark and cold closets (a form of living suicides). We - The United Methodist Church - have decided through debate and democracy to participate in aiding their deaths.

In response to our decision, I feel the need to state here in public what many already know about me. But let this be a clear statement of what I think, who I am, and how I intend to minister:  To LBGTQI people and those who love them, the church is wrong. You are beautiful and wonderfully made. You are a child of God. This pastor will baptize you, confirm you, commune with you, perform your weddings, bury you, and invite you into positions of leadership. I will continue to lift my voice and offer my body as a witness to God's radical welcome. To delegates feeling dejected, thank you for all you have done for me. I am reminded that the central image in our faith is a cross, a symbol of systematized pain used to shame and humiliate. In order to love, Jesus gave up power. I choose to continue to love and walk the way of the cross with him.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Effectiveness or Entitlement: The Lie About Guaranteed Appointments

Today the United Methodist Church radically changed how pastors are sent to local congregations. The worldwide church body called General Conference ended the ages long practice of guaranteed appointments in which ordained elders are guaranteed full time employment as long as they go where their bishop sends them. This is, of course, an oversimplification of the process, but that is the basic agreement. Pastors may be sent anywhere within the episcopal area (in my area, that is the state of Washington and parts of Idaho) for one year at a time, although rarely does a pastor remain for only one year. In turn, every ordained elder is guaranteed a place to go. The assumption in recent years is that this guarantee or "entitlement," as some have put it, has become a drive to mediocrity and our clergy are simply underperforming.

Proponents of ending guaranteed appointments have framed the conversation as a choice between "entitlement to full time work" or "effectiveness." We can't, they state, have both. I want to put an end to this fallacy. The guarantee is not an entitlement, a word that I believe has been chosen to elicit negative emotions from people who think ill of social entitlements. Entitlement seems to indicate a gift to which a person has contributed nothing. I know that this is not what the word actually means, but I believe it has been used on purpose for this reason. Yet, this is not the case. Clergy agree to itinerate in return for the appointment. Moreover, clergy also agree to a whole evaluative process that could include involuntary leave should they be found ineffective. The guaranteed appointment is not an entitlement. It is not an unearned gift; it is part of a larger agreement - in church speak, we call it a covenant.

Effectiveness, these same people maintain, has been driven into the ground by the taken for grantedness of our positions. Effectiveness, which can be measured by metrics, must be measured in our pastors with only the effective ones sent to our churches. Like every other United Methodist, I want our congregations served by only the best clergy - smart, outgoing, administratively aware, liturgically proficient, evangelistic, visionary, prayerful, pastoral, prophetic, and connectional. Of course, we thrive in some of these categories more than in others, but we should be able to do all of them with a reasonable degree of skillfulness. Where I begin to have a problem is at the point that we directly correlate church growth with effectiveness and we tie the guarantee to the loss of church growth.

We live in the death throes (some would say after the death throes) of Christendom. If every United Methodist pastor could preach with the fervor of John Wesley, heal with the mastery of Jesus, sing with the voice of Miriam, envision with the eye of Jacob, witness with the power of Mary, evangelize with the commitment of Paul, and organize with the strong hand of Peter, we would never recover our identity in Christendom. And, God bless us for it. Christendom was a horrible pairing of government and religion. It was an imperial manifestation of something wholly anti-imperial - God's kingdom. We must, with clarity and compassion, close churches that need closing, make strategic plans about where new churches need planting, and creatively envision a multitude of ways for us to embody "church." It is time for us to focus on growing a strong, deep, and mature faith in our congregations and let go of reclaiming the hegemony of a time gone by. Mourn it. And, let it go, people.

Next, we live into this newly forming world learning how to be deeply committed to our identity, alive in sharing our gospel, joyful about life in God, and prophetic about a world that is just and compassionate. This will result in some large congregations, many small congregations, and newly emerging communities which may strain the understanding of what "congregation" means.

What do we do with clergy who simply don't perform well? First of all, we shouldn't ordain them. Year after year, I sit in clergy sessions when we pass people through who are clearly lovely and sweet and beautiful but not gifted for ordained ministry. As much as we want a big tent, there are some things a pastor must be able to do - relate with people across difference, preside over a service with grace and gravity, talk to people outside of the church without condemnation and with invitation, and so on. Some of us good book reading pastors are not suited to the relational life of a pastor. Conversely, some of our more extroverted pastors have entered this profession as failed performers rather than as clergy. Don't argue. You know it's true. There are stop gaps at the front end of ordination that we could and should employ to keep us true to the sacred act of ordaining people who will care for our congregations, mediate the sacraments, and tend to our communities. For those times that we wind up ordaining people who seemed competent at their ordination but who haven't proven this promise true, we have processes for helping them exit ministry.

In Para 350 of the Book of Discipline, it maintains that "Evaluation is a continuous process for formation in servant ministry and servant leadership that must take place in a spirit of understanding and acceptance. Evaluation serves as a process for pastors to assess their effectiveness in ministry and to discern God's call to continue in ordained ministry." Right there, annual evaluations should help local pastors discern effectiveness and determine whether God still calls them to continue in ordained ministry. For those in need, further education may be required. For those in need, they can take a "leave of absence," whether that be voluntary of involuntary. Involuntary leaves may be the result of a complaint process. The complaint process, while it includes all of the things most people assume (theft, sexual abuse, etc), can also include an "administrative complaint" - "If the bishop determines that the complaint is based on allegations of incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform ministerial duties, he or she shall refer the complaint as an administrative complaint to the board of ordained ministry for its consideration of remedial or other action" (Para 362.2).

So, we have processes already in our system for dealing with ineffectiveness, why end the guaranteed appointment? Because we don't avail ourselves of these processes. We have fostered an avoidant culture. Rather than dealing with this avoidant culture, we create another process, which will not work either unless we are willing to take a look at who, why, and how we ordain in the first place.

It may surprise many that I am not opposed to ending guaranteed appointments. I contend, however, that in getting rid of the guarantee, we should also get rid of the appointment system. There is nothing wrong with a call system, especially one with episcopal input like the one used by Lutherans. The bishop supplies the congregation with a short list of names of clergy who might fit their missional profile. They interview and select from that list. It's a collaborative process that would fit our connectional system nicely. However, doing away with the guarantee and keeping the appointment process strains an already strained process and attempts to 'fix' something not fixable. The guarantee is not the reason for our shrinking membership roles, although mediocre pastors may play a part. Mediocrity and guaranteed appointments do not go hand in hand, and, thus, comes the lie of the choice made at General Conference: Effectiveness or Entitlement.

*Others have raised the alarm on things like congregational resistance to minority clergy, the prophetic voice, and so on. I chose not to deal with these because I think my argument is even more foundational. The choice needn't have been made at all.

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